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Direct Bookings for Hotels: Strategies to Boost Your Sales

Direct Bookings for Hotels: Strategies to Boost Your Sales
Tobias Roelen-Blasberg
Co-Founder & Head of Product
Find the perfect balance between OTAs and direct bookings for optimum success in the competitive hospitality industry. Elevate your hotel's performance and guest satisfaction with expert insights and actionable tips.
Direct Bookings for Hotels: Strategies to Boost Your Sales
TABLE OF CONTENTS

In the ever-evolving hospitality industry, mastering the art of securing direct bookings has become a crucial endeavor for hoteliers. In fact, 39% of travelers say they prefer direct bookings over online travel agencies. For this reason, business owners and hotel managers should ensure they have a seamless direct booking process that will not just increase revenue generation but will also foster better connections with guests.

What are direct bookings for hotels?

Direct bookings refer to the reservations that guests confirm directly with a hotel, bypassing the involvement of an online travel agency (OTA) or third-party intermediaries. These bookings are typically made via a hotel’s website or other direct channels like email, social media, sales team, or messaging tools like WhatsApp or Messenger.

Why do direct bookings matter for hotels?

The principal benefit of direct bookings is that they forge a direct connection between the hotel and potential customers, thereby enhancing the hotel's revenue by saving the commission usually paid to OTAs. With direct bookings in place, hotel operators have full ownership of their guest data and can choose the information they wish to collect during the booking process. This data can then be harnessed to personalize pre-stay communication, post-stay follow-ups, and future marketing initiatives.

screenshot hyatt manila booking page with amenities
Hyatt Manila showing their restaurant, events place, and other amenities on their booking page.

Direct bookings have emerged as a crucial part of the distribution mix for independent hotels. By boosting direct bookings, hotels can significantly reduce customer acquisition costs, increase occupancy rates, and enhance profitability. It does so by fostering brand loyalty and granting hotels direct access to their guests.

However, it's important to note that all types of bookings, including those processed via third-party platforms, have their own benefits. While OTAs do take a percentage of your nightly rates as commission, they also provide a source of revenue which might not be accessible otherwise.

As such, the conversation should not devolve into a binary choice between direct bookings and third-party reservations. Instead, the aim should be to strike a balance that brings in varying amounts of revenue and profit based on the specifics of each booking type.

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How have direct bookings evolved over time?

In recent years, the landscape of direct bookings has experienced significant transformations. The rapid evolution of technology, particularly in the realms of digital and mobile platforms, has compelled lodging businesses to adapt and cater to the changing preferences of customers.

Direct bookings in the past were predominantly managed through traditional methods such as direct calls to the hotel or walk-in reservations. While these methods are still in use today, the digital era has introduced a plethora of new channels for direct bookings including hotel websites, social media platforms, and other direct communication channels like email and messaging apps.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also played a pivotal role in the evolution of direct bookings. With a surge in localized travel and heightened focus on health and safety measures, more travelers are choosing to book directly with hotels to gain better control over their travel plans and ensure a safer stay. This change in consumer behavior has led to an upswing in direct bookings, as revealed by Katie Moro, VP of Data Partnerships at Amadeus.

screenshot booking landing page hyatt hotels
Seamless direct booking landing page from Hyatt hotels.

However, the evolution of direct bookings is not without its challenges. As customers become increasingly savvy and discerning, hotels need to constantly innovate and improve their direct booking channels to provide a smooth and efficient booking experience. This involves incorporating user-friendly design, intuitive navigation, and secure payment methods in their booking platforms.

Moreover, hotels have to compete with the extensive reach and convenience of OTAs, which continue to be a preferred booking channel for many travelers. To do this, hotels are leveraging digital marketing strategies, personalized customer engagement, and exclusive deals and discounts to encourage direct bookings.

The journey of how direct bookings have evolved over time is a testament to the dynamic nature of the hotel industry. With changing customer expectations and increasing competition, the road ahead is set to bring more innovations and developments in the realm of direct bookings

What are the current trends in direct bookings?

As we delve into the current landscape of direct bookings, we observe several flourishing trends that shape the perspective and decisions of both hotel businesses and their customers.

Emphasis on mobile optimization

With the surge in smartphone usage, there's a shift towards mobile-optimized booking systems. A report by Euromonitor says that 66% of all travel bookings in 2023 were done through mobile platforms. A user-friendly, mobile-optimized booking process not only enhances the customer experience but also significantly bolsters direct booking rates.

Personalized guest experience

Personalization is no longer a luxury but a necessity in the hospitality industry. Hotels are leveraging the data gathered from direct bookings to offer a tailor-made guest experience. This includes offering personalized recommendations, custom-made services, and special deals based on the guest's preferences and past behavior.

Integration of AI and chatbots

Another emerging trend is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots into the booking process. These tools aid in instant communication with potential guests, answering their queries, and guiding them through the booking process. This not only enhances customer service but also encourages more direct bookings.

Focus on visual content

High-quality visual content is playing a crucial role in direct bookings. Hotels are investing in professional photography and virtual tours to showcase their property and amenities online. This visual approach not only attracts potential guests but also enables them to visualize their stay, thereby encouraging direct bookings.

screenshot sample of a triadvisor search
Sample of a Tripadvisor search.

Utilization of Metasearch Engines

Hotels are increasingly using metasearch engines to boost their direct bookings. In fact, recent surveys suggest that around 12% of all US travelers booked their trips through Tripadvisor. Metasearch engines, like Tripadvisor, allow hotels to list their prices alongside OTA prices, driving traffic back to their websites to complete the booking. This increases booking chances and enhances hotels' visibility.

Rise of Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are becoming an effective strategy to encourage repeat bookings. Hotels are offering exclusive benefits, discounts, and services to their members, incentivizing guests to book directly with them and foster long-term relationships.

In conclusion, the current trends in direct bookings revolve around embracing digital technology, personalizing guest experiences, and building long-term customer relationships. By staying attuned to these trends, hotel businesses can optimize their direct booking strategies, enhance guest satisfaction, and ultimately, boost their bottom line.

What are the key channels for direct bookings?

Understanding the primary channels for hotel bookings can significantly impact your business strategy. These channels include Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), Metasearch Engines, and the Hotel's own website.

screenshot of a hotel search on booking
Booking, one of the top Online Travel Agencies.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)

OTAs such as Booking.com, Expedia, and Airbnb provide an intermediary platform between hotels and potential guests, offering a widespread online presence and access to a global customer base.

Pros of OTAs

  • Expansive brand recognition that attracts international travelers
  • Access to niche markets via region-specific OTAs
  • Increased visibility for properties that might otherwise remain undiscovered
  • Control over sales in the distribution mix with marketing incentives and inventory allotments

Cons of OTAs

  • High commission fees
  • Limited access to detailed guest information
  • Reduced control over the guest experience due to the intermediary nature of OTAs
  • The need for maintaining rate parity between OTAs and direct channels
screenshot of trivago homepage
Trivago homepage featuring top-rated hotels.

Metasearch Engines

Metasearch sites such as Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Trivago allow customers to compare prices across OTAs and a hotel's direct website, providing a platform for hotels to advertise and enhance their visibility directly.

Pros of Metasearch Engines

  • High-intent users who are actively planning trips
  • The cost-per-click (CPC) model, which directs users back to the hotel website
  • Capability to easily scale demand as required, thanks to the CPC model

Cons of Metasearch Engines

  • The open auction system often favors larger budgets
  • Fluctuating CPC bids based on market demand require constant monitoring
Alt text: screenshot hilton manila booking page
A well-optimized landing page with excellent photos, map, and a simple booking prompt.

Hotel Websites

A hotel's own website offers a direct booking channel, allowing hoteliers to establish direct relationships with guests that can result in more personalized experiences and higher profit margins.

Pros of Direct Booking through Hotel Website

  • Direct relationship with guests
  • Opportunities for upselling
  • No commissions paid to third-party OTAs
  • Ownership of guest data for personalized communication

Cons of Direct Booking through Hotel Website

  • Requires digital marketing expertise or hotel marketing services
  • The need for a user-friendly and attractive website that retains potential guests

How to increase direct bookings for hotels?

There are several ways to stimulate direct bookings for your hotel, leading to increased profit margins and a more personalized relationship with your guests. The following strategies are effective for boosting direct bookings:

1. Creating an appealing and user-friendly website

A hotel's website serves as the digital face of the brand, and hence, should be designed to make a positive, lasting impression. An appealing, user-friendly website that embodies the brand's essence can significantly boost direct bookings. High-quality images and videos that vividly showcase the property's offerings, as well as engaging and easy-to-read content, can entice visitors to stay on the site longer and eventually make a direct booking. Furthermore, ensuring that the website layout is simple, intuitive, and mobile-responsive can provide a seamless browsing experience, leading to higher conversion rates.

Embedding a review widget like Google Reviews could also help establish the credibility of your brand. This will ensure customers that you’re a legitimate business and that they can safely book their accommodation through your website.

2. Choosing a commission-free booking engine

The foundation of an effective direct booking strategy is a robust and efficient booking engine. Investing in a commission-free and mobile-optimized booking engine is a pivotal step towards increasing direct bookings. A powerful booking engine can streamline the reservation process, minimizing the number of steps involved, and enhancing the user experience. Furthermore, integrating a rate checker within the booking engine can help customers instantly compare rates from various channels and promote direct bookings. With the rise of mobile browsing, ensuring that your booking engine is mobile-friendly is crucial, as it allows you to cater to a larger audience and maintain competitiveness.

3. Utilizing digital marketing to boost direct sales

While having a user-friendly website and an efficient booking engine is crucial, driving traffic to these platforms requires a strategic digital marketing approach. Harnessing the power of SEO, paid search advertising, social media marketing, email marketing, and retargeting campaigns can significantly increase your online visibility and attract more prospective guests to your website. Remember, consistent testing, monitoring, and optimization of your marketing efforts are key to achieving a high return on investment.

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4. Creating a sense of urgency

One of the most effective strategies to drive direct bookings is creating a sense of urgency. By displaying limited-time offers or highlighting the scarcity of rooms available, customers are more likely to book immediately to avoid missing out. Incorporating countdown timers for special deals and displaying real-time availability can further heighten the sense of urgency. It's crucial to ensure that these strategies are genuine, as today's well-informed travelers can easily detect manipulative tactics. Also, offering an easy and straightforward booking process is essential to capitalize on this sense of urgency and convert the visitor into a guest.

5. Developing a robust reputation management process

Managing your hotel's reputation is a critical aspect of enhancing direct bookings. There are numerous online platforms where travelers can share their experiences about your property. Potential guests frequently read these reviews when deciding where to stay, making it crucial to maintain a healthy online reputation.

A systematic approach to gather, track and respond to reviews is essential. Proactively touching base with guests post-check-in ensures their expectations are being met, and any issues can be addressed promptly, preventing negative reviews. Post-stay, automated surveys can collect valuable insights and encourage guests to leave online reviews, enhancing your visibility and credibility.

screenshot of MARA dashboard generating a review reply
How MARA writes well-optimized replies to direct booking reviews.

Responding to reviews, however, can be time-consuming. That’s where MARA's AI Review Reply Assistant comes in, enabling you to craft personalized responses in seconds. Simply hit "generate reply", and MARA provides a super personalized response proposal. It's not only user-friendly but also seamlessly integrates into your existing review management process.

MARA offers a multitude of benefits, including time and cost savings by automating the process of crafting personalized review responses. It ensures that your responses maintain a consistent tone and messaging, enhancing your professional image. Plus, its multilingual capabilities make it perfect for hotels catering to an international clientele.

Why not test MARA for free and see how it can revolutionize your reputation management process? By using MARA, you can efficiently manage your hotel's online reputation, influence potential guests, and drive them towards booking directly with your hotel.

6. Opening channels for guest communication

Effective communication plays a vital role in facilitating direct bookings. Offering multiple communication channels such as live chat, messaging apps, or email enables potential guests to easily reach out with any queries or concerns. This not only helps to build trust but also streamlines the booking process. Integrating AI-powered chatbots on your website can further enhance efficiency, providing instant responses and guidance to visitors and freeing up your team's time for more complex tasks.

7. Activating a social media presence

In the age of digital media, maintaining an active social media presence is a must for hotels. From sharing beautiful images of the property to showcasing guest testimonials, hotels can leverage social media to create a compelling brand story. Alongside organic content, hotels can also run targeted ad campaigns to reach a wider audience and drive traffic to their booking website. Including direct booking links in social media profiles and posts can further streamline the booking process, encouraging direct bookings.

8. Offering a wide range of rate plans

To cater to the diverse needs of customers, hotels should offer a variety of rate plans. These may include Early-Bird Rates, Flexible Rates, Non-Refundable Rates, and more. Each rate plan caters to different types of travelers and their unique needs, making your hotel a more attractive choice for a broader range of prospective guests. Additionally, offering split inventory, where various room types are combined and sold as a single unit, enables customers to customize their stay to their preferences. This enhances the perceived value of your offerings and can drive up direct bookings.

9. Selling an experience, not just a room

In today's experience-driven economy, travelers seek more than just a place to stay. They desire unique experiences that enrich their travel journey. To tap into this trend, hotels can curate tailored packages encompassing local attractions, cultural activities, or exclusive events. For instance, a hotel located near a wine region might offer a package that includes a vineyard tour or wine tasting sessions. By emphasizing the unique experiences that guests can enjoy when booking directly, hotels can differentiate themselves from OTAs and encourage more direct bookings.

10. Building loyalty programs

Establishing loyalty programs can significantly boost direct bookings by incentivizing repeat stays. These programs can offer a range of exclusive benefits to members, such as room upgrades, late check-outs, or discounted rates. Besides encouraging direct bookings, loyalty programs also allow hotels to gather valuable guest data, leading to more personalized services and offerings. Even simple loyalty programs such as Booking’s Genius Program offering exclusive member rates can effectively drive customer loyalty and repeat direct bookings.

screenshot pricing comparison for booking genius loyalty program
Sample of how Booking.com’s Genius Loyalty Program compares to regular member pricing.

11. Upselling and add-ons during booking process

Incorporating options for upselling and add-ons during the booking process is a strategic move that not only enhances guest satisfaction but also drives additional revenue. Offering extras such as parking, spa passes, transportation, or tours during the booking process allows guests to personalize their stay, which adds to their overall satisfaction. These add-ons differentiate your hotel from OTAs and improve the perceived value of booking directly.

12. Personalizing guest experience

Personalization is the key to delivering memorable guest experiences, and consequently, driving repeat direct bookings. Leveraging the guest data gathered from direct bookings, hotels can offer personalized services and recommendations that cater to the individual preferences and needs of each guest. For instance, if a guest is visiting for a special occasion, the hotel might offer a personalized package or special in-room amenities to enhance their celebration. Such personalized attention can foster a strong emotional connection between the hotel and the guest, encouraging them to book directly for future stays.

13. Participation in events and trade shows

Participating in industry events and trade shows provides an excellent opportunity for hotels to network with industry professionals and potential customers. By showcasing their unique offerings and sharing insights about their brand, hotels can create a lasting impression in the minds of attendees, leading to increased direct bookings. It also provides an opportunity to stay abreast of the latest industry trends and insights, which can be useful in fine-tuning the hotel's direct booking strategies.

How to balance OTAs and direct bookings for optimum revenue generation?

In the digital era, the symbiotic relationship between OTAs and direct bookings has become increasingly evident, and effectively balancing the two can lead to optimum revenue generation. By understanding the distinct advantages of each, hotels can plan a strategic blend to maximize bookings and revenue.

OTAs, with their global reach and customer loyalty, can be a valuable tool for bringing in new customers. They offer visibility on a global scale and can tap into markets that may be beyond a hotel’s direct marketing efforts. However, the commission rates they charge can eat into the profit margins of each booking.

On the other hand, direct bookings allow hotels to build a one-to-one relationship with their guests. They offer an opportunity for upselling other services, collecting valuable guest data, and avoiding third-party commission costs.

The key to striking the right balance lies in an effective multichannel distribution strategy. As a starting point, hotels can use OTAs as a customer acquisition tool to attract new guests. Once the guest has experienced the hotel’s services, loyalty programs, personalized guest experience, and direct booking benefits can be used to retain the guests and encourage them to book directly in the future.

Additionally, digital marketing strategies, such as SEO, email marketing, and social media ads, can be used to drive traffic to the hotel's website and increase direct booking conversions.

The balance between OTA and direct bookings will vary for each hotel, based on their target market, location, size, and other factors. Therefore, it's crucial to continuously monitor and adjust the distribution strategy based on performance metrics, market trends, and changes in customer behavior.

Remember, the ultimate goal of any distribution strategy should be to maximize the overall revenue while enhancing the guest experience. Therefore, a balanced approach that leverages the strengths of both OTAs and direct bookings is crucial to achieving this goal.

This article is part of our hero content on "Optimize Your Hotel Listings to Increase Bookings - All You Need to Know".

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Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I get direct bookings?

To secure direct bookings, optimize your website for user-friendly navigation, provide enticing promotions, and implement a straightforward online booking system, ensuring a seamless and convenient experience for potential guests.

How does direct booking work?

Direct booking involves guests making reservations directly through your hotel's website or communication channels without intermediaries. This method provides greater control over pricing, policies, and guest interactions, enhancing the overall customer experience.

Why is direct booking better?

Direct booking is preferable as it eliminates third-party commission fees, allows you to retain more revenue, and fosters a direct relationship with guests, enabling personalized communication and the opportunity to build brand loyalty.

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