Online marketing is forever evolving. Four years ago we would frequently give advice to accommodation providers on how to increase their bookings by optimising listings on online travel agents (OTAs) like Booking.com. These days our conversations revolve around how to increase direct bookings to their own websites, partly to avoid paying the OTAs commission.
Ultimately, the best way to do this is not by changing anything on your OTA listings, but by taking a look at everything else you are doing online. Here are five ways to help achieve this.
Take a good look at your website
Open up your website and imagine you are a first-time visitor who has never seen your business before. Ask yourself, can you immediately understand from your homepage what you are selling and why you are better than your competitors? Is your imagery and wording captive, making you want to click on another page to learn more? Do you promote a “best price guarantee” on your site?
If you answered no to any of these questions, this is what needs to be resolved first.
It is particularly important that your website looks and performs equally as well whether viewing on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. If your website isn’t responsive, you need to address this and quickly. More and more people are researching their travel plans whilst on the go and if your website is too difficult to use on phone, they will book elsewhere.
Employ direct marketing
Studies have shown that email marketing remains a highly effective way of acquiring customers and increasing bookings online, and it is relatively inexpensive (http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/why_marketers_should_keep_sending_you_emails). It is easy to understand why – you are communicating with people who have said they want to hear from you and learn more about your product or service. However, around half of small travel businesses don’t send regular newsletters.
To encourage repeat bookings, ensure you have permission to use guests’ email addresses to communicate future promotions or loyalty discounts for their next visit. If you are a “once in a lifetime” destination, encourage them to “share the experience” to unlock discounts for friends and family. Your success is much determined by how creative, fun and engaging you can be with your database.
Professional-looking newsletter systems like MailChimp are free (up to 2,000 contacts) and provide easy measurement to show how effectively your email campaigns perform.
Review and respond to customer comments
Review websites like TripAdvisor shouldn’t be ignored and provide the opportunity to draw potential customers to your own website. By responding to reviews it demonstrates you care about your customers’ experience, which in turn can encourage people to learn more by visiting your website.
In your TripAdvisor management console you can set up alerts to be notified when a review is posted. Be sure to appropriately respond to every negative review by acknowledging their comments and stating any actions you might take to address any issues. It is also good to thank as many positive reviews as you can, although not as important to reply to every single one.
Promote a “value add” package on your website
Offer your website visitors an exclusive “value add” package that encourages them to book directly, but still allows you to stay within your OTA rate parity agreement.
Such a package could be a two night stay including free WiFi, breakfast or a bottle of wine on arrival, or a ticket for a local attraction or event.
Target your Facebook followers
Social media channels like Facebook should be treated as an important advertising channel to drive traffic back to your website and encourage direct bookings. The rate parity you have with OTAs specifically applies to the rate you offer to an open or public audience. Therefore you are able to promote a loyalty promotion or discount to your Facebook page followers, which aren’t seen as an open audience.
E.g. “We want to say thank you to our loyal Facebook Fans with 10% off our studio room for October. Use the promo code FACEBOOK when booking on our website!”
OTAs may have a huge monopoly of the online accommodation market, but you don’t need to give up on direct bookings. Interested in knowing more? Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help your business online.