Online Travel Agencies or OTAs such as Expedia, Priceline, and Hotels.com may seem to be doing hotels a favor at first sight. Guests book a room online through the OTA's website and the hotel now has a customer it did not have before. Good right? Not exactly. OTAs take an average of 20-25% commission on each room sold while also taking away the relationship between your hotel and the guest. In fact, hotels could actually spend a lot less than the 20-25% commission taken from each room an OTA books and put it into marketing efforts. These efforts will drive the customer to book directly with the hotel and bring the relationship back between the hotel and guest. Here are 4 ways hotels can recapture share from the OTAs:
It is crucial that hotels are competitive when it comes to their website. Websites should be easy to navigate, contain engaging content, and paint a true picture of the hotel. All photographs should be professional and accurately portray what the guest can expect when arriving at the hotel. For example, using a photo of the one Executive Suite at your hotel on the ‘Rooms' page of the website, when standard rooms are not as large or maybe not as up-to-date, will give guests the wrong impression and immediately create a negative experience for them when they arrive at the hotel. Hotels must put their best foot forward without creating expectations they cannot live up to.
Having a great website does not just apply to desktops and tablets, but also to mobile. Today, more people are beginning to use mobile phones for purchases, and this includes booking hotel rooms. If your hotel's mobile site is not easy to navigate or you do not have a mobile site at all, you should correct this right away. Don't lose a customer simply because it is easier for them to book on an OTAs site.
2. Online Marketing Strategy
When relying on OTAs, you are essentially relying on them to market your hotel. In order to recapture bookings, it will be necessary to develop an effective online marketing strategy. This should include Social Search Optimization (SSO), which incorporates social media in order to give your hotel a greater presence on the web. Many hotels have a presence on social media sites such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Foursquare.
It is absolutely necessary for hotels to have a presence on social media since there is talk about your hotel on these platforms whether you are participating or not. When creating your online marketing strategy, decide which social media sites will provide value and drive traffic to your site. Regardless of the social media sites your hotel decides to participate in, Google+ must part of the list.
Google + is becoming increasingly important to hotels. Aside from the social media aspect and engaging with users, hotels must have an active account if they wish to have a presence on the Google Carousel. The Google Carousel is located at the top of the search engine results page when a user is searching for lodging. It contains a list of hotels, photos, and a star rating all on top of a black background. The Carousel was just launched in June 2013 and is already having an effect on which search results users click on due to its prime placement. In order to have a presence on the Carousel, hotels must have an active Google+ page.
So how can hotels become active on Google+? First, be sure to claim your hotel's listing and fill out all the necessary information such as the address, contact information, and a short description describing your property. Engage with users by posting content that will provide value for guests and by sharing other users' posts. Finally, be sure to respond to negative and a select number of positive reviews.
4. Competitive Rates
A problem some hotels face is the fact that rooms are listed at a higher price on their own websites compared to OTA sites. Why would a guest want to book the exact same room for a higher price? Don't allow OTAs to book the guest because the price of a room is better on their site. Hotels must regularly monitor OTA's sites to make sure rates remain competitive.
Though it is not always possible to offer a lower rate than the OTA due to contracts, hotels can be sure to offer an equal rate. To add an incentive for booking directly, hotels can offer special deals such as free breakfast or free Wi-Fi. This will add value for guests and encourage them to book through your website as opposed to an OTA.
Remember, when a customer books your hotel through an OTA, they are still choosing your hotel. Cut out the middle man and bring the relationship back between your hotel and the guest.
About the author
Arielle Sanchez is the Content Marketing Coordinator at E-Marketing Associates, where she writes personalized copy for hotel websites, assists independent hotels with social media, and blogs regularly for the E-Marketing Associates Blog. E-Marketing Associates works exclusively with independent hotels and builds innovative online marketing products that increase direct bookings and drive top-line revenue.