Love them or hate them – Online Travel Agents (OTAs) are here to stay. With many hotels having to tighten their belts due to the rising commission rates of the OTAs, accommodation providers are seeking alternate means to gain online bookings.
On the other side of the coin is the consumer who prefer to book hotels via OTAs because of a number of benefits that the OTAs provide such as comparisons, reviews, card security, live help, etc.
The OTAs have established themselves as a necessary part of the travel and tourism sector – a market driven force.
What can your hotel do about this?
I will show you a strategy that you can implement in your accommodation business to take advantage of the OTAs. You will see that OTAs aren’t all bad – all it takes is a simple change in perspective and a few small changes to your business & marketing model to capitalise on what they can provide.
OTAs commissions should be seen as a cost of customer acquisition. This is where you need to change your perspective. Start thinking of the OTAs as an introducer of new clients. Which is the beginning the customer relationship lifecycle so you get commission-free (direct) bookings on following visits.
Getting Guests Back
The focus of your business should be to build a relationship with your new client, so that they i) return; and 2) pay directly (commission-free) via your website.
A great saying that I have always liked is “what gets incentivised, gets done”. So you will need to encourage return visits by implementing strategies such as loyalty programs complete with special offers. You must also encourage direct bookings by having a great online booking engine on your website that is secure and easy to use.
So what incentives can you offer?
Increase Repeat Visits
Loyalty Program – A loyalty program is a great way to encourage repeat visitors. Remember that a loyalty program is only as good as the value that it provides.
Of course in order to foster and further establish client relationships. You will need to ensure that your have a client database, or CRM that is capable of sending email newsletters and VIP offers.
Also talk to your IT team about setting-up automatic response messages that send out happy birthday messages with vouchers as a gift.
Social Media Engagement
A fantastic way to improve your social media is to ask happy clients to like your Facebook page. People love to let others know that they are on holidays. This provides them the perfect opportunity to do so – while advertising your hotel. Be sure to have professional photos on your hotel page profile – this is what others will see when users like and share your page.
People will like what their friends do. If guests’ friends see the hotel or resort that their friends stayed at, they are more likely to visit the same hotel if they have had a great travel experience – third party referrals are a powerful.
To really set your social media campaign on overdrive, start a competition on Facebook. Competitions on social media can easily go viral if you make it a requirement to ‘share’ your hotel’s page in order to enter the competition. Gro Social has great software to make Facebook Competitions easy – check out www.grosocial.com
Taking Care of the Business Side
Such strategies will need to be implemented at the business level. This means that areas such as front desk, marketing, operations and sales should be working together.
For example, the moment that guests check in, they should be told about your free loyalty program and the benefits of joining it. For this you will need to have forms created, unless of course your IT department can integrate this function into your front office software.
Upon checking out, guests should be told about social media page and provided a card with the Facebook address and ask them to like it. Social media engagement is important. So the marketing team will need to update your social media sites with fresh, relevant and useful content.
Once you have your guests’ details on social media and your marketing database, you may then send offers, news and updates to them. Remaining in contact is important to further grow your relationship – thus increasing the chances of a direct booking upon their next visit.
How to Boost Direct Bookings
Your website should also have a quality booking engine which allows for direct bookings. This should be secure and have a professional appearance and an easy to use interface.
Although Allotz Autopilot is the leading channel manager on the market, you may choose to have only the booking engine component. This will provide an fast and easy way to have a secure and user-friendly booking button on your website. The real benefit with Allotz Autopilot comes by way of its packages feature. Now you will be able to add things such as dinner vouchers, champagne on arrival, etc if guests books directly through your website. You can still do this while maintaining rate parity.
While we have discussed how to build customer relationships following the initial sale through OTAs. Allotz Autopilot’s booking engine also encourages front-end bookings. Many guests shop around online and will check the property website pricing before booking with an OTA. If they see great offers through the right booking engine on your website, but not on the OTAs, it will encourage them to book directly.