Every hotel needs direct bookings. While OTAs increase exposure, they charge commission fees and don’t necessarily pass along guest contact information. Direct bookings are better for your bottom line (no commission fees) and give you the opportunity to form more direct relationships with your guests to build loyalty.
To obtain direct bookings, you need an effective hotel website. Most guests don’t want to call the front desk anymore—it isn’t 1993. Booking online is faster and more convenient. Here are six practical ways to increase direct bookings through your hotel website.
Add a Website Booking Engine
An online booking engine is the first step toward generating bookings through your property’s website. Without one, your customers cannot make a booking unless they call or email (thank you, Captain Obvious!), but they’re more likely to book through an OTA or with another hotel instead.
Your website booking engine has to integrate with your property management system (PMS), or information won’t transfer between them automatically. Without an integrated solution, you’ll have to type reservations in by hand and update availability manually, which can cause overbookings, lost bookings…and angry guests.
Make sure guests can use your booking engine easily across multiple devices. Twenty-one percent of travelers book via mobile, so choose a mobile-friendly engine with a simple, responsive design. Keep the booking process straightforward and don’t ask too many questions right away. You’ll have a chance to find out more about your guests and offer upsells in your pre-arrival communications.
Give guests a little something extra for booking direct, like a parking voucher, late check-out, or free breakfast. You may not be able to offer cheaper pricing than OTAs (parity agreements), but you can present a better deal. Just add value.
You can make certain packages exclusive to your website. That two-night spa staycation with the cedar wood sauna? Only available if your guest reserves directly with you. However, these exclusives don’t help if they’re buried three-quarters down your booking engine search results. Advertise them via pop-ups and on your most visited pages. All the better if you set a deadline. There’s a reason “limited time offer” works better than “offer” (it creates a sense of urgency and fear of missing out).
Another idea we love is partnering with a local non-profit to make a donation when guests book direct. Not only does this show your dedication to social responsibility, it makes your community a better place to live in.
Make sure your website and booking engine communicate the perks of booking direct, as well as a best rate guarantee, to reassure guests that booking direct is best.
And parity agreements do have a loophole. Though you can’t provide cheaper pricing to everyone, you can provide it to select groups such as loyalty members, email subscribers, or social media followers. These are also the customers likely to give you the most business, so it makes sense to sweeten the pot for them.
Add an FAQ Page
An FAQ page helps to establish credibility and allay any guest concerns about booking with you. OTAs have a credibility advantage because of their brand recognition (everyone knows what Expedia is), but you can claw back that gap. It’s all in how you present yourself.
Using your website to answer questions guests usually pose at the front desk saves everyone time. However, it’s not only about what they ask; you also have to consider the things they don’t. Do you have a special attribute or amenity they wouldn’t suspect? Mention it phrased as a question, e.g., can guests pet the unicorns?
You should think through red flags as well. Life isn’t all unicorns. What dragons might guests have to contend with? For example, if you’re in Vancouver, they may worry about parking. This would be a good time to mention your underground garage or your rideshare service. Show them that you’re their knight in shining armor.
As a bonus, a well-written FAQ page improves your SEO and increases the chances of your site being seen in the first place. They can’t book with you if they can’t find you.
Use a Chatbot
A chatbot serves a similar function to an FAQ page by boosting guest confidence to book with you. It’s a 24/7 way for guests to clarify details without calling the front desk. All those details are right there—in multiple languages.
Chatbots personalize guest experience by answering specific questions without the guest having to read through a page of information. In addition, they collect guest data that can be used to personalize future communications with that guest as well as guide marketing initiatives and operational improvements (if everyone asks if you have a pool, it’s time to get one).
Chatbots aren’t only for your website. You can use them on social media and messaging apps too.
However, you need to check them periodically to make sure they are still working with current information (and they’re not plotting an uprising). Also, a chatbot can’t do everything. Sometimes a guest needs to speak with someone who has actual emotions, and the best solution really is…calling the front desk.
Reviews belong on your website because they’re social proof of your quality. Ninety-nine point nine percent of US customers state they look at reviews at least some of the time when they shop online. Guests will search for your reviews no matter what. Why not make it easy for them, so they don’t have to exit your site? If they stay on your site, you have a better chance to snag a direct booking.
High-Quality, Responsive Design
For guests to reach your booking engine, your website needs to be easy to navigate and use. An accessibility widget is a must. Vivaldi font is a no-no. Watch out for slow loading speeds, confusing navigation, and low-quality photos (selfies are not your friend here). Test your site across multiple devices. Is the design responsive?
Your site should look—and act—as professionally as your concierge. Otherwise, guests will abandon it before they ever click the “Book Now” button (which should be available on every page).
With a simple, intuitive booking engine, well-publicized incentives, and a website that encourages visitors to linger, you’re well on your way to securing more direct reservations. If direct bookings for your property are lagging, it might be time for website redesign. We can help! Check out our recent work for inspiration or contact us for a free, no-obligation quote.