Four Ways to Move Last-Minute Inventory

06th Jan 2012

NB: This is an article written By : Chris Patridge is co-founder for BackBid

Every hotel owner or revenue manager has been there more times than we’d like to admit, it’s Wednesday and your hotel bookings for the upcoming weekend are looking sparse; the pressure is on to increase occupancy immediately.

But what many hoteliers forget is that an increase in occupancy is great, but if an increase in occupancy is paired with a decrease in RevPAR or ADR, then you’re just taking money out of your own pocket.

Even when trying to sell last-minute inventory, it is important to focus on increasing occupancy, while either maintaining or increasing your RevPAR and ADR. Easier said than done, right? We’ve heard it all before: discounting rates doesn’t work. So what can you do?

OTAs Gone Mobile

As you probably expected, I am going to recommend that you use the OTAs to sell this last-minute inventory and with good reason. Stats show that the online booking window is diminishing drastically as more consumers book their trips at thelast-minute, sometimes even from the sidewalks outside a property.

But as well as adding inventory to sites with a presence online, it is important to consider mobile booking channels, such as OTAs with mobile websites or smartphone apps. Bill Keen, Director of Product Development at International Hotels Group (IHG), said: “Our statistics show that roughly 70 percent of mobile web bookings are same day compared to 11 percent via the web.”[i] As consumers continue to embrace the smartphone – and it’s built-in GPS, which makes it easy for travelers to find hotels based on proximity, last-minute mobile bookings will only become more commonplace.

Obviously, mobile bookings present a great opportunity to move your last-minute inventory, even on the same day if necessary, because you are giving consumers the ability to book how and when it is convenient for them. And of course, don’t forget to price your rooms competitively to get the best possible results from the mobile channel.

Leverage your Social Networks

Over the past few years, hotels have invested a great deal of time and resources into growing their follower base on social media sites, making social media an ideal way to move last-minute inventory. Because social media messages need to beshort and sweet, and because you have the opportunity to reach such a high number of people at once, social media can be very effective.

Keep in mind though: with last-minute travel, you may not be able to attract peoplefrom further than a few hours away from your destination so always keep thedemographic of your followers in mind when planning which profiles to use and what to offer.

Social media is best used with at least a few days lead-time, giving you the opportunity to post multiple times to ensure the greatest exposure and highest number of bookings possible. Your message can offer a coupon code with a discount off of their stay for the specific days that you’re looking to sell or if you aren’t able to offer a discount, then consider offering a package deal with value-adds – like free spa packages or champagne – or even tickets to local attractions. And don’t forget your neighbors. Staycations have become very popular so make sure that you appeal to local followers who may be interested in a last-minute vacation in their own city.

In need of some inspiration on how social media can be used to move inventory? Check out Joie de Vivre’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. The California-based boutique hotel chain has been verysuccessful in using social media to offer exclusive deals to their followers; since launching, they have already booked more than 1,000 rooms through their profiles – ones that otherwise would have stayed empty.

Consider Opaque OTA Sites which Offer Greater Flexibility

You’ve heard me extol the virtues of the opaque OTAs before but again, I’m going to point out the advantages of opaque vs. traditional OTAs. When trying to move last-minute inventory, the opaque channels offer a distinct advantage because you can add and delete inventory as you wish and price flexibly without worrying about parity agreements with your other online partners.

Sites like BackBid allows you to target guests outside of your traditional comp-set as well. For example, if you are a four-star property in South Beach, traditional OTAs will only show your listing to potential guests who have specifically stated that they want a four-star property. Because BackBid enables hotels to target travelers’ business, it is possible for the same four-star property to offer bids to customers who would accept a three- or five-star property, increasing the property’s billboard effect and thereby, increasing the number of bookings that can be secured.

Call the Competition

And finally, an oldie but a goodie – call the competition. While this tactic may sound very low-tech compared to some of my other suggestions, it can be a very effective way to move last-minute inventory. Especially when a large group cancels at the last-minute, you should always call your competition to let them know that you have extra space.

This tactic ensures that if the competition is overbooked, they will know that you have space available and can send you their overflow business.   This method has the added benefit of keeping a positive relationship with your key competitors, so when you are overbooked and looking for a favorable “relocation” rate, they will be more likely to answer your call.

It may not be a tactic that works every time but a five-minute phone call can yield big results, especially when there are special events taking place in your area or during the busy tourism season.

As a hotel, you really don’t want to be selling distressed inventory at the last-minute because it means you made a mistake on your forecast, but because the hospitality industry is based on exceptions, even the best revenue managers find themselves in this position from time to time. So next time you find yourself with lots of rooms to sell in a very short period of time, try using these four tips to increase your occupancy, without negatively impacting your RevPAR and ADR.

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