Be Smart: 10 Easy Ways to Increase Direct Bookings
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are increasing in popularity and the use of these agencies as a tool for consumers to book their accommodation is becoming more common. A 2015 report by Mintel indicates that 33% of people book their stay via third party websites. However, while these agencies can help raise the profile of your accommodation, they do charge a significant commission fee on every booking! In this article, we show you 10 easy ways to increase direct bookings and maximise the profits of your business.
1. Use OTAs Effectively
We’ve already discussed the pros and cons of OTAs such as Booking.com & Trivago in our previous blog post, OTAs: Little Red Riding Hood or the big bad wolf? If you do sign up with an OTA, there are ways to maximise the benefits they bring to offset the costs. OTAs are an excellent way to gain customer data initially and they are a very effective way for you to promote yourself on a global platform, but you don’t have to rely on them to keep delivering return visitors.
While you are obligated not to publicly publish prices which are lower than the rates they offer, there are ways to offer great rates to individuals & reward repeat visits. Once you have gained the data from the initial booking, you can offer returning customers exclusive rates via email if they book directly with you for their next visit.
Developing an effective customer relationship strategy will ensure returning customers book direct and makes the best use of the OTA’s initial acquisition cost; ensuring that the customer continues their relationship with your business and not the OTA.
2. Provide Incentives to Add Value to Direct Bookings
Discounts and offers are not the only ways to help increase direct bookings; in fact, continually discounting can have serious consequences for your brand. The good news is that providing the cheapest rates may not always be necessary as customers seek out best value for money.
There are many incentives that can be used to add such value, for example, offering free upgrades such as free breakfast or exclusive access to facilities on-site. Other incentives such as late check-out times and free cancellation up to the day of the booking could also be cheap and easy ways to add value to the booking. The better you know your customers, the easier it will be to identify which “offers” they would value the most.
3. Offer Loyalty Programs & Schemes
There is a big difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer
– Shep Hyken
Attracting repeat visits by rewarding loyalty should be considered by any accommodation provider, and is something that can be easily set up by any business, not just large organisations. Using a simple database, returning customers can be rewarded by booking directly a certain number of times; you could even offer exclusive discounts or a free upgrade to a VIP room. A recent report from Mintel highlights that nearly 70% of customers would be willing to share personal data if loyalty points were offered. This presents a double opportunity for accommodation providers looking to understand their customers better by gathering essential consumer behaviour data as well as encouraging repeat bookings.
4. Make the most of Online Review Sites
Online review sites have been around for a long time, and more and more people are using these websites as an integral part of their planning. Mintel found that 42% of holidaymakers would use an online review site when researching their holiday, making them a major influencing factor when it comes to making a booking.
53% of people say that the opinions of others often have a significant effect on their choice of hotel. In a recent survey, Mintel found that 25% of people say their holiday decision was most heavily influenced by recommendations from friends and family. A further 20% were most influenced by the reviews that are posted by other users on review websites such as TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor is one of the most used online review websites in the world and millions of travellers write their reviews for the public to see. Businesses must engage with the reviews on these sites, especially ones that are negative. A short but sincere apology could go a long way in terms of showing the public that the business cares about its customers. After all everyone acknowledges that you can’t be perfect all the time, for everybody!
Taking time to thank customers that give you nice comments also helps start building relationships that lead to repeat visits.
5. Design an Attractive & Easy-to-Use Website
Your website is your shop window; present it so that it attracts people and makes them feel like you have given serious thought to the site (… and will do the same for their stay if they book with you).
Most importantly, the site has to be easy to navigate and complete a transaction. Nothing is more frustrating to your guests than not being able to confirm the booking because of poor website design.
The aim of your website is to encourage people who have shown an interest to book a stay with you. Reducing the number of clicks required to make a booking, could help improve the ease of use of the website.
Integrating a TripAdvisor review to feed into your website showing previous guests’ feedback will encourage them to stay on your website for longer and complete their transaction with you.
6. Make Use of Social Media
Social media is undoubtedly one of the most popular online platforms in the world, with the number of active users reaching 38 million in the UK alone. It has become a common platform for the public to interact with businesses and a hugely valuable resource for businesses to engage with their market.
Encouraging customers to ‘check-in’ and even ‘like & share’ or ‘follow & retweet’ for a chance to win prizes will raise your profile among your target market. This offers you a range of opportunities not least of which is free peer-to-peer endorsement which is increasingly influencing consumer purchase decisions.
Guests and potential guests have plenty of different ways to engage with your business via social media, and these can be either positive endorsements (or criticisms) of some aspect of the service they receive. Either way, it is vital for the business to respond. The ones that do this well could be rewarded with positive PR and levels of customer engagement that just can’t be bought!
You’ve heard of #williamtheworm right? No? Take a look at this to see how the right social media response generated great customer engagement for Tesco!
7. Digital Advertising
With social media platforms constantly adapting their algorithms to refine the type of content consumers receive in their news feeds, some businesses are opting to include paid for digital campaigns within their marketing plans, to guarantee their offerings reach the right target market.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer paid advertising services, placing adverts in users’ feeds. The platforms distribute your advert based on pages that people have liked or followed, and also offer opportunities to target more specifically by interests and email addresses.
Google Adwords is a slightly more expensive way to advertise, but it ensures your website is shown in the top section of Google search results. Adwords targets people in certain locations and particular search queries. Your website will then be placed higher up in the search results. If you decide to carry out an Adwords campaign it’s important to carefully identify the keywords that are relevant to your business before going any further; after all, the success of your campaign depends on it!
8. Content marketing & SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Content marketing needs to be at the heart of your SEO efforts. It has always been that way, but is even more so now because Google is so much more effective at understanding context of content and how it is shared
Chris Bennett, Founder/CEO, 97th Floor
SEO is a marketing tool focused on increasing visibility of your website in non-paid search engine results. We have already mentioned Google Adwords, but this is a way in which you can push your website as high as possible in the search engine results without having to pay for it!
SEO can be quite complex but there are a few simple things you can do. In essence, your website’s content has to keep developing. Creating a beautiful website and leaving it unattended for a year is not going to achieve anything.
Creating regular high quality content that’s relevant for your website will improve your Google search ranking.
Content is ANYTHING that creates compelling experience. But it’s so much more, because you quickly realize that you can’t really know which content types to create until you understand which content types people want.
Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
This can be done by adding new pages, maybe even adding photos, videos and blogging. Blog posts could cover a variety of topics and may even feature your own business. It could include details of walks or local beauty spots, the best hidden places to visit or promote local attractions, helping you to build relationships with other local businesses. They may even return the favour and help to promote your business.
Whatever content you do create, make sure it is relevant and compelling for your target market. Use the data you have on your customers, from your own databases, social media analytics and your own website analytics to determine what content is relevant to them.
9. Adapt for Mobile Devices
The processing power of mobile devices has developed enormously in the past decade and according to Deloitte, a staggering 76% of the UK’s population now owns a smartphone and 60% own a tablet computer.
The latest study by Mintel shows that approximately 40% of Millennials (16-35s) are more than happy to make holiday bookings through their mobile devices; meaning that not only will you need an attractive and easy to use website; you must ensure that it is optimised for mobile use. Your website developer will be able to help you improve your website, making it friendly for those opting to interact with you on the go.
With the continual development of social media platforms seamlessly operating across multiple mobile devices, it is crucial your business keeps up-to-date with the latest technological developments. Remember to periodically update your PESTLE analysis, to make sure you are aware of what is happening in the world outside your business. You can use our free whiteboard tool to gather the data together and use it to inform your marketing planning.
10. Integrate Basic Technology (Live Chat)
In terms of customer service, the more ‘traditional’ route of a telephone call is still very much one of the most popular methods. However, more and more companies have integrated basic technology into their customer service by offering live chat. This is a service where customer service advisors answer any queries that the website visitor may have via the website.
This has proved to be effective as consumers get an instant reply, it also offers the chance to start a dialogue with your potential customer. It’s also pretty efficient as one advisor can deal with multiple enquires at the same time.
Facebook messenger for business is currently one of the newest chat tools. It will allow customers to message you directly and is a perfect tool for small businesses that may not have to budget to integrate the live chat function. However, it does require you to be ‘available’ and take time in your busy schedule to reply individually. Want to know more? Take a look at this blog post from social media examiner. In a new development, Instagram is also integrating a new contact option that will help business users to communicate directly with their market.
So there you have it, 10 easy but effective ways to help you increase the number of direct bookings. Remember that each of these interlink and help support one another, so isolating one or two may not be enough to be effective; drawing each into your marketing will offer you the greatest chance of success.
It is vital for all your activities to be focused on your customers, and understanding what motivates and influences purchasing decisions will help you make the right offers to them. Make sure that they enjoy every part of the process, everything from the initial visit to your website through to the entire duration of the stay. Remember
Your website isn’t the center of your universe. Your Facebook page isn’t the center of your universe. Your mobile app isn’t the center of your universe. The customer is the center of your universe
– Bruce Ernst
See anything that you want to know more about? Feel free to drop us a comment and you might even see a whole blog post dedicated to it in the future!