Over time, the relationship between hotels and resorts and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) has become virtually symbiotic. There are no signs to indicate this will change any time in the foreseeable future.
Accommodations are the lifeblood of the OTA, and hotels and resorts benefit from the OTA’s brand presence and marketing superiority.
But while symbiotic, the relationship may not always be amicable. It isn’t uncommon for the OTA to cut into the property’s revenue potential with aggressive fees or protect valuable guest data from the hotel itself. Direct bookings are the hotel’s ideal reservation type, and now is the best time to renew efforts to encourage them.
There are no two ways about it – the hospitality industry took a massive hit due to COVID-19. Hotels, resorts and OTAs alike experienced uncanny hardships with massive cancellations and an utter halt to new reservations.
Extra expenses were required to maintain regularly shifting safety protocols. And although isolation-weary people from across the globe were desperate for travel, the unpredictable nature of a global pandemic rendered travel planning nearly impossible.
With the availability of vaccinations and travel restrictions either lifted or more clearly defined, the hospitality sector returns to life. Whereas the traveler of the past may have been more inclined to leverage the speed and efficiency of an artificial intelligence-powered booking engine, the post-COVID traveler has much more to consider before booking travel and accommodations.
Are area restaurants open? How does the pandemic impact hotel amenities? What safety protocols is a hotel taking to protect guests? The savvy traveler of 2021 needs to consider how COVID has impacted their destination and travel requirements – considerations best managed through direct “boots on the ground” resources versus an algorithm-powered AI.
Enhance the Direct Booking Web Experience
Modern travelers will always begin their travel research via the web, so invest resources to ensure your potential guest has a positive and productive direct booking web experience.
A professional website is paramount to this goal, and no amount of marketing will save a poorly designed website or prevent a negative end-user experience.
First and foremost, invest in a professionally designed web presence with an online booking engine that allows users to complete a reservation within three steps or less. Assuming your website is polished and optimized, there are some additional strategies to consider:
- Market your COVID awareness and guest safety precautions.
- Create a concierge experience.
- Feature guest reviews and testimonials.
- Advertise your rates.
Market your COVID awareness and guest safety precautions
Traveling during a pandemic requires increased preparations and precautions, and no one likes surprises. Hotels across the globe have embraced new safety precautions and requirements for guests and staff alike. Share these efforts and let potential guests know that their safety is paramount.
Also, communicating any guest requirements before check-in will mitigate any front desk frustrations and ensure a smooth guest experience.
Create a Concierge Experience
Educating guests about the availability of on-site and area amenities/attractions will create a positive guest experience. Leverage the hotel’s unique access to real-time updates when setting guest expectations. Setting proper expectations throughout the guest experience will build trust between the hotel and guest at a level unafforded to the OTA.
Feature guest reviews and testimonials
The modern traveler is sophisticated and values guest reviews. Reputation Management is a science unto itself, and the top OTAs rely on guest experiences to build trust with their users. Ensure your website offers a wide range of guest reviews that will not only serve to promote the hotel but, more importantly, help build trust with the potential guest.
Advertise your Rates
Overall, direct bookings offer better rates than an OTA, so make sure potential guests know it. Advertise your rates clearly, and the modern traveler will take note.
OTAs are continuously under fire for punishing cancellation policies. Traveling during COVID is a game with an ever-changing set of rules. Although the hotel can prepare future guests through proper education and expectation management, travel restrictions beyond anyone’s control can appear at any time.
To that end, encourage direct bookings by providing flexible and compassionate cancellation policies where possible, then promoting these policies. Letting travelers know that their need for flexibility is understood will go a long way towards building their trust and repeat business.
Collect your own data and then use it for future direct bookings
Many OTAs choose not to share guest data with hotels. Guest data allows a hotel to understand its guests better and build an experience that meets their needs. Where possible, make sure all efforts are made to collect guest data, potential and actual, at all available touchpoints.
Even if the guest’s e-mail is the only available data point, pre-and post-stay surveys are a great way to understand the guest’s needs better and gain their loyalty. Surveys have become highly affordable and easily implemented into most business models.
Leveraging surveys and information collected through the reservation process ensure a healthy set of guest data. Use that data to promote local stays to those not ready for long-distance travel, create guest loyalty through personalized service, and encourage repeat visitors who see the value in booking direct.
A New Start with Direct Bookings
COVID has leveled the playing field of hospitality for all. Travelers returning from self-imposed COVID isolation have new demands and new needs that hotels are in a unique position to provide. Use this opportunity wisely to build a new and trusted relationship with the emerging traveler.
For further information on how to make your website more accessible for direct bookings, check out the marketing and website design listings in our Supplier Directory.