Don’t expect technology to do wonders for you if your house (read hotel) is not in order from an operational perspective or if it is poorly reviewed online or has negative word of mouth. So, if you are sure that you are sorted on that end but still aren’t getting enough sales, then here are some great tips to put your hotel on the map. These quick hacks will help you bring your brand to a larger audience so you can give your room sales a boost it needs.
1. Adapt to dealing with OTAs swiftly
Most hotels still consider online travel portals as an illegitimate child that they need to take care of but are not really looking after.
Moving towards an OTA and online sales focussed mindset is a tough leap for many hoteliers used to dealing with offline agents, manning the phones and spending time at the front desk on their own. Adapting to dealing with OTAs requires hotel owners and managers to spend more time behind your laptop than many owners have been used to.
Yes, you have to pay high commissions to OTAs but your destinations search results on all OTAs are some of the biggest and most effective marketing platforms for you to be visible on. These search pages are directly being viewed by serious buyers actively looking for a hotel in your destination so you need to figure on all possible search results on all important OTAs as much as possible and as highly ranked as possible. Not just that, research suggests that a good OTA presence not only increases business through OTAs, it also add to your direct revenues from 7-26% which is called the Billboard Effect in common hotel revenue management parlance (source)
The convenience OTAs offer to customers has made them a centre of massive online traffic and therefore holds the potential to drive hotel room sales. Despite a heavy commission they charge they can be profitable if, and we can’t stress that enough, and only if they are able to process a good number of bookings. Large number of room sales could help in boosting the occupancy rates even in the off- season.
All OTAs are not angels. They can cut down your pricing without prior intimation, not pay easily for late cancellations or no shows and various other such problems. So it is equally important to track what kind of revenues each OTA is providing you and whether the business being sent your way is coming due to the OTAs own organic traffic or is the OTA simply rerouting traffic intended for your property anyway and is taking a cut in the middle and sometimes killing your display rates, and also your direct sales rates, in the process. A channel manager could help you do just that and allow you to determine which OTAs are giving profitable returns and organically generated revenues and drop the ones that aren’t fruitful.
You can find a list of top online travel booking sites, based on geographic regions, for the year 2014 here and check whether your hotel is missing out on some action.
2. Merely Listing Is Not Enough
So…You listed yourself on all major OTAs and are just waiting for lady luck to smile on you?Trust us, lady luck has very little to do with your low room inventory turnover.
Research is an everyday part of our work here at Flushrooms and our observations regarding OTA listings has revealed that most hotels in India are merely listing a very small inventory of around 2 rooms. Imagine a family looking for three single rooms but since you chose to neglect updating your entire room inventory and sufficed with merely listing a few, they never converted. A hotel never actually gets a sense for what it has been losing unless it starts witnessing the positive effects once it starts managing its OTA presence better.
According to Expedia, providing a full room and property description as opposed to just partial ones can boost your hotel’s take-up rate by 5% which shows the direct impact of proper management of listing on room sales.
All OTAs rank hotels by popularity, which is determined by sales being generated by a hotel. So if you do not provide the sufficient volume of room nights, fail to update your inventories, have shabby visuals showcasing your property and put out incomplete description of services, generating sales and therefore ranking higher in OTAs is going to be a tough nut to crack.
So why suffice at merely listing. One should expose more inventories, present yourself in a manner consistent with your brand identity, take a rational look at quoting rates and manage review score to really get to the top on OTAs.
To sum it up, a hotelier needs to fulfil the following 4C’s in order to make it to the top of an OTA:
- Constant Availability of rooms
- Competitive Rates
- Customer Reviews
- Content Management
The same advice goes for your MetaSearch Engine listings. They provide an even larger canvas to paint the picture for your hotel. You can read our earlier blog post “Turning Around Your Tripadvisor Page” for more information on that.
3. Getting and Managing Reviews from Customers
Managing review is as important as managing the hotel operations. This issue was taken up by the ITB and university of Worms, which revealed that half of the hotel directors in the study dealt with the reviews of their hotel personally and about a third used review management tools to keep a tab and statistically analyze their online reviews.
According to a study by PhocusWright for Trip Advisor, 53 percent of those asked said they wouldn’t book a hotel that had no reviews on the site, and a whopping 87 percent said that reviews helped them feel more confident that they were making the right decisions. Another study suggested that travellers are willing to pay upto 25% higher prices for only a 5% difference in review scores.
Here are some simple tactics to invite reviews from customers:
1. Business card – A simple line at the back of your card inviting customers to review your hotel can serve as an effective call-to-action. Simple words such as “Your Opinion is of Value to us – Do review our hotel” could serve as a subtle way of reminding guests to leave a review.
2. Invite to Review on Check Out – A simple way to invite reviews would be to have a simplified review form available on the counter. On check-out, the customers can be humbly asked to share their experience through that form. Alternatively since you want a review online, a kiosk near the front desk can be set-up where a guest can be asked to post a review online while his check-out is getting processed.
3. Personalized E-mail – Once a customer checks out, a personalized e-mail thanking them for their visit and requesting them to share their experience on the review site can serve as a call-to-action.
Apart from the above tactics, hotels have come to leverage benefits of technology to manage customer reviews. For example, Four Seasons Hotel at Beverly Hills and a Hilton hotel in Philadelphia have in-room iPads, through which the visitors can share their opinions while Hyatt, uses a system of text recognition and analysis that groups comments from its surveys. It also rates how positive or negative the comments are by which words and punctuations are used. Along with this, it also scans and analyzes comments from Hyatt’s social platforms.
4. Flexible Pricing
Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas’ regional director of sales and marketing David Garner commented at a conference in Dubai in 2013 – “One factor that helps drive our business is price. Other hotels have different strategies, but we operate with 12 different prices throughout the year. So our room rates can fluctuate enormously from a 2 to 8 week period. What this means is that in the summer we can appeal to a different type of client who might be normally be able to afford us in the busy months,”
This was an insight into the strategy of flexible pricing strategy adopted by the group to ensure not just maximum occupancy throughout the year but also maximize revenue generation. In the simplest of terms, “Letting demand determine the rate” is what forms the crux of flexible pricing strategy. This primarily involves developing multiple price points for different target segments. Here, hoteliers need to constantly make demand forecasts, based upon which they decide whether to increase the rates or lower it.
However, for many hotels, especially the small and independent properties, tracking and managing pricing strategies across multiple time frames and length of stays can be a daunting task. To worsen the situation, hotels rarely use a revenue-management-friendly PMS (Property Management Software) which is capable of predicting future traffic based on historical data and competitor tracking. A lot of the hotels aren’t even using an integrated reservation system which would allow them to manage their rate strategies across multiple channels through a single interface.
The hospitality sector is a competitive one and hotels need to be quick on their feet to beat the competition. As is clear from the example above, a flexible pricing strategy can greatly help boost room sales. With the price of technology coming down, obtaining a yield manager or a channel manager integrated with a centralised reservation system is easily within the reach of small hotels. Pushing a few bucks into a system should not be considered an expense but rather an investment.
Even if such a tool is not available for your geography, you can manually track rates from competition, seasonal booking trends and trends in airline ticket pricing to develop an effective pricing strategy and execute them across all channels to gain that edge.
5. Tracking Online Customer Behavior
An often unnoticed way of increasing sales is to track customer behaviour on your website or on all OTA platforms where you are visible.
You can track your own website and booking engine by getting familiar with Google Analytics. The analytics provides a wide range of data which can help in monitoring what features of the hotel’s website interest the customers and what drives them away.
It is a common phenomenon to see people abandoning the site after viewing room rates. After studying such lost business, hoteliers can run price experiments to determine what prices work best with different segments. Often the reason for abandonment may not be the price but some other factors such bad user experience on your website.
Considering that almost all hotel reservations in India are being made online, it is pertinent that you track behaviour of visitors to your website, the most important online asset for the hotel.
Using Google Analytics would also reveal the source of traffic to the site, thereby revealing the results of your online marketing strategy. This will further help you discover and focus on channels that bring the highest relevant traffic.
Also, use all OTAs and Meta Search Engines and try to understand their internal ranking algorithm. Keep track of competition and try to identify reasons why they are performing better than you on these platforms. More often than not the answer is in the smaller details like better rating on that platform, better pictures, lower rates than your property and hence an overall better perception of value.
The more time and energy (and if you invest in a competitor analytics tool – data) you have to analyze the more insights you will gain into the mind of your ideal customers.
So, gaining some quick visibility for small and independent hotels is not all that difficult…it just needs you to work a little harder to start putting some basic habits and systems in place and the returns will soon start justifying the time spent.