When you weigh the effects of direct bookings’ revenue against the cost and hassle of third party bookings, it’s easy to get frustrated. Paying between 15-30% of our room revenues to someone other than our owners seems crazy when, with a few easy steps you can wean some of your guests off the OTA bottle and teach them to book directly with your GSRs or on your website.
Putting A Go Direct Campaign In Place
Step One – Who Are These Direct Booking Companies?
In order to increase direct bookings, your staff must know WHO the companies are and understand their services. Associates should be familiar with Online Travel Agents (OTAs) like Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. Ask associates how often they see advertising for these companies versus how often they see advertising for your hotel. Ask them if they have ever used their services and what their experience has been. Most everyone has seen the Travelocity gnome and hear the “Expedia dot com” jingle.
It is also important to communicate that these OTAs are VALUABLE travel partners. OTAs have very large SEO, ad, and promotions budgets – far more than individual hotels can ever hope to have. Hotels/destinations should piggy-back on their efforts. Their ad campaigns also help get the word out for hotels that do not have adequate budgets for marketing and/or are brand-affiliated. We actually do need them!
Step Two – What Does The Phrase “Direct Bookings” Mean?
Next, explain WHAT direct bookings are and why people use these types of applications to search out hotels, airlines, vacations destinations, etc. Use an example like this: Someone is traveling to a destination that is unfamiliar. They need to find out what hotels and prices are in the area. Explain that it is more convenient for the consumer to pop onto the Expedia website and search “Boise, Idaho”. It’s far easier to use an OTA in the search process than for consumers to go on to each brand’s individual app and search the same thing. On the OTA website, everything is right there side-by-side.
Search on the OTAs. Buy on the individual hotel website.
OTAs are also very important vehicles for independent hotels who are not part of a group and don’t have central reservations services. Independent hotels can also institute Go Direct campaigns for repeat bookings. Once a customer finds you, convert them to a direct booker and save the commission on future stays.
Step Three – Why Do We Want Them To Increase Direct Bookings?
The third step is to educate our staff WHY booking direct is so important! Start by explaining the costs involved with third party bookings and show them, based on your hotel’s negotiated commission structure, how much of the room rate is paid to the hotel. For example, if your hotel’s nightly rate is $100 and your commission fee to the OTA is 18%, then $18 stays with the OTA, and $82 is paid to the hotel.
Put these numbers into perspective for your associates. Use examples of what that $18 could have paid for:
- Two hours of salary for a $9 employee (maybe them!)
- Breakfast for 2 guests at our complimentary breakfast buffet
- Two Starbucks coffees
Just telling an associate that we NEED to have our guests book directly instead of telling them WHY does not encourage them to buy into the program. If we show them that direct bookings put more money towards profitability, then they begin to understand that better hotel revenues usually means better employee services, better employee benefits, and perhaps, better pay increases for THEM down the road.
Step Four – How Do We Encourage Guests To Make Direct Bookings?
So we now have the WHO, WHAT and WHY covered. HOW do we put the program into place?
- Train your staff to look at the booking source on the reservation when the guest arrives to check in. “Thank you, Mr. Jones, for booking your reservation through our valued travel partner booking.com. We sincerely appreciate that you selected us over the many choices for hotels in our area.” (This phrase replaces our welcome and thank you for participating in our loyalty programs for this segment!)
- Take the phrase one step further and follow up by saying: “Did you know that when you book directly with us or on our brand website, that in addition to always getting the lowest rate available, you can earn brand loyalty points good towards future stays, airline miles, or shopping credits?“
- These 2 sentences took less than 30 seconds to say to the customer! (Time yourself – I did…. 26.7 seconds.) Do you think 30 seconds is worth an additional $18 profit for your hotel? Now multiply this by the approximate 30% of our customers who rely on OTAs to book rooms at your hotels, times the number of rooms per night, times the number of rooms per year! I think you will find out that it is a big number.
- Reinforce the value of direct bookings in the customer’s eyes by handing them a reminder. It can be a packet of forget-me-not seeds, candy bar, bottle local soft drink/water/tea, trinket, rubber duck, etc. Print stickers and affix them to the back of the hotel generic business card and tie it to one of the items mentioned above. Hand it to the customer and say, “I’ve taken the liberty of providing the reasons why you should call us direct for future reservations.” Then let it go! The ball is now in the customer’s hand.
Top Reasons To Book Direct!
No middle man – you book directly with our staff at our front desk by dialing (555) 555-5555 OR you can book online at abcdefg.com/HIJKL. You’ll get the same room, same price, plus added benefits.
Earn valuable rewards/loyalty points on qualifying rates – just by booking direct. Tonight you would have earned “500” points. Points can be redeemed for future stays, airline miles, or shopping credits at select purveyors.
Make changes, add additional nights, or make cancellations direct with the hotel instead of having to chase that hard-to-reach person at the online travel agency in any other city.
Ensure that all 100% hotel satisfaction guarantees are valid by booking direct.
Reservations can be made faster, easier, and will always show the best rates at your fingertips!
And, you get to talk directly to one of our hotel’s friendly associates! I can answer all your hotel and local questions.
Why don’t you have a Go Direct booking strategy at your hotel? Start one day. You’re going to love seeing more money on your bottom line. More importantly, your customers are going to benefit.
Happy Direct Booking!