Why booking engines, client capture, re-engagement and reputation marketing increase direct reservations.
by JOHN KEARNEY
The likes of Booking.com are continually investing in improving their user experience across all devices. This is especially critical considering 47 percent of all last-minute hotel bookings are made from a smartphone, which apps like Hotel Tonight and Booking Now (from Booking.com) with their slogan that you can ‘reserve within four clicks,’ are focusing on.he announcement last year that Booking.com was integrating with TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking filled up our industry news feeds for weeks. This news was another wake-up call for hotels to start taking the user experience on their website and online booking process seriously.
For far too long, independent hotels have not invested in improving the user experience on their websites. More users are booking online than ever before across all devices, and as this recent study suggests, more business travelers are booking their hotel and flights by themselves, which also is backed up by Booking.com and Airbnb´s focus in this area.
So with online travel agencies (OTAs) investing heavily in user experiences across multi-platforms, along with their huge budgets in online advertising spend, how can an independent hotel compete? Here’s some helpful pointers to get you going in the right direction.
Consider your booking engine
This is where the OTAs have invested heavily in the user experience, and many hotels just have not improved in this area. There is a reason that the OTAs do not offer extras or value-adds like roses or champagne during the booking process; users want the final price in the fewest clicks.
You will have plenty time once you receive the reservation to promote these automatically, and the client will be much more receptive, too. It is also critically important that your booking engine is visually appealing and easy to use. Sounds obvious, I know, but there are many engines out in the market that have been designed for revenue managers, not users.
View your hotel in Booking.com from a client’s perspective, and see how they sell to you and make it easy to complete a reservation, then look for a supplier that best replicates this. Also, you need to make sure your booking engine backend can provide you with good analytical data, including how many visitors, from which regions, what dates are they’re searching for, how many days in advance are they looking to book, and from which websites they’re coming from. With this, you will be able to determine the right promotions at the right time to optimize your online conversions.
Do you implement a re-engagement strategy?
With cart abandonment, a re-engagement strategy can be what makes the difference. An email campaign shouldn’t bombard or annoy customers; it should be treated as an extension of your customer service. It is perfectly legitimate when users have left your booking engine to send them an email (even without completing a reservation) with a personalized follow-up message. This demonstrates an appreciation of their interest, shows users you value your customers, and that yours is a hotel worth booking.
Some hotels offer promo codes or incentives to stimulate impulse buying, however, this is not always necessary, as the email itself demonstrates you value their business. It can also serve as a helpful reminder and quick route back to a room they had seen earlier and liked.
Capturing clients on your website
We all know that users tend to visit around 20 websites before making a hotel reservation, so by being the first website is not necessarily the best. What is important, though, is creating a bigger marketing database in which to target and to convert into potential future business booking directly. Invest to get them to visit your website, gain their contact information and then target them afterwards.
An average mid-size hotel has around 15,000 website visits per month. How great would it be that even a mere 10 percent of those visitors left their details with you? That’s 1,500 more people per month who you are connecting with, which annually is 18,000 more people than you are gaining today. By asking potential clients to provide you with their email address, will allow you to reconnect with them automatically, making the investment you are doing in online advertising offer better value for your hotel and increase your online conversions.
As Google is evolving to become the new OTA, not only is it important to understand what you need to do to maximize your visibility, you also have to capture the clients once they get to your website.
Reputation marketing and best practices
In 2016, just monitoring your reviews on TripAdvisor and other review sites is not enough with management products largely becoming redundant. Users seek out independent reviews before making a reservation, with 95 percent claiming to read reviews before booking.
OTAs understand this, so they make customer ratings and feedback a prominent part of the hotel research process, offering millions of reviews directly on the site, so it is incredibly important that you are actively asking for feedback from your guests while promoting the reviews your website as well as other key sites that will aid your visibility on sites such as Google, Facebook and, of course, TripAdvisor. Here are some good practices:
- Highlight good reviews from a variety of places, illustrating that you care about your reputation. This will help increase your direct bookings and shows users you value feedback.
- Stop giving TripAdvisor a free lunch, and remove their widget from your website. Yes, promote your reviews, just don´t make it easy for you guest to click off to TripAdvisor.
- Proactively seek guest feedback. Ask your guests for feedback, and ultimately understand what you do well and what you can do better.
None of the above are going to break your budget and will help set you on the path to increasing one of your most profitable reservations channels. OTAs are constantly improving their user experience; it is about time independent hotels focus on this too. ■
Connect with guests and personalize your marketing
Keep in mind that a good percentage of your guests will still come from OTAs, no matter how good your digital marketing strategy. Here are additional cost-effective ideas.
Allow your guests to connect to your free Wi-Fi when using their social media channels. This is a great way for you to connect with everyone coming through your door (conference delegates, wedding guests, non-residents at the bar), not just one guest per room. This can also increase your social media fan base as well as your marketing database.
This is a great way not only increase your revenue but also learn what kind of experience your guests want from your hotel, which will help you personalize even further. Having PMS (property management system) or CRM (customer relationship management) software that records the buying habits will allow you to also customize your marketing messaging.
Make it easy for your guest to interact with you. Apart from promoting your services, apps can offer loyalty programs that provide your guests value and provide you with a great new marketing technique: push notifications and GPS marketing.
John Kearney is director of Hotelient and a hotel sales and consultancy specialist with over 15 years of experience in managing some of the most iconic 4- and 5-star hotels in both the UK and Spain. By harnessing the power of technology, he delivered increases in RevPar & TrevPar performance, as well as optimizing market segmentation and guest experience. To learn more, visit www.hotelient.net.