The pandemic happened. It’s been really, really awful.
Now, we’re in recovery mode. But, things aren’t like they were before…
In fact, the shift in the hospitality industry and customer behaviour presents a unique opportunity for hotels. Listen up, hoteliers.
In this blog, we’re going to show you how to make the most of this new world of hospitality and win back your direct bookings from the Online Travel Agency (OTA) overlords like booking.com and Airbnb.
We’re going to give you results-driven tactics and examples of other hotels using them effectively.
And there’s going to be some Grand Budapest Hotel.
- How the pandemic affected the The Direct Booking vs. OTA Rivalry
- 7 Ways To Drive Direct Bookings
Let’s get started.
COVID-19 Affected The Direct Booking vs. OTA Rivalry In A Big Way
Back in 2019, before the pandemic, OTA’s were dominating the hospitality industry and taking the lion’s share of hotel bookings – $523.7 billion of them, in fact.
Then COVID-19 arrived.
Let’s be clear, the pandemic has been terrible. But, it’s important that hoteliers take notice of the way it has turned the hospitality industry on its head – and the advantages it holds for locally-owned hotels.
Check this out.
Global gross bookings via Booking Holdings (Booking.com’s parent company) have dropped by 65%.
At first, that seems understandable given the impact of COVID-19.
But, when we take a closer look at guest behaviour, we see a dramatic shift in the way people are searching for hotels.
Compared to all the major OTA’s and popular channels (Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, etc.) direct search has seen the smallest reduction in bookings.
By the end of last year, more than 58% of total bookings were made directly on hotel websites. Booking sites only managed 41%.
What Does This Mean For Local Hoteliers?
Basically, it means the playing field has been levelled, providing more opportunities for hotels to be competitive with their marketing and paid advertising.
As OTA’s have lowered their advertising budgets, hotels can win back their search rankings and actually get some ROI on their paid advertising – which, previously, would have been futile.
It also means that guests are seeking a more personal connection with hotels and contacting them directly, instead of booking via an OTA.
This was initially due to the mess of the pandemic. People panicked and had to chase hotels directly to get refunds and cancellations – because, let’s face it, global companies are rubbish to deal with when you need your money back.
But, in the process of contacting hotels directly, it seems that guests remembered the value of local customer service – and the good old days of traditional hospitality.
Then we have this new ‘support local’ culture that has arisen from the pandemic. People want to spend their money with local businesses, and they care more about what their money is going towards.
This combination of a levelled playing field and shifting guest behaviour gives hotels the ultimate opportunity to increase their direct bookings.
Hoteliers must embrace this opportunity by getting savvy with digital marketing, investing in their online presence, and understanding their target audience.
We’re going to show you how.
The Hotel Marketing Guide – 7 Ways To Drive Direct Bookings
1. Accelerate Page Load Speed
If you want to increase direct bookings to your hotel, you need to take a good hard look at your website.
That starts from the very first click – how long does it take to load?
Before you start thinking about how your website looks and what it says, you’ve got to assess its responsiveness.
Because, in today’s competitive online market, hotels websites must be ultra-fast.
Now you might be wondering – what is a good page load speed for a hotel, anyway?
Interestingly, compared to most industries, travel businesses get a bit more leeway when it comes to how fast their website loads.
This makes complete sense when you consider the decision-making process of booking a hotel. And when people are using their smartphones, they care even more about speed.
Customers search for hotels in their dream destination, then they start clicking on each name to see what’s advertised on their website.
More often than not, they’ve got dozens of potential hotels to weed through before they find the suite of their dreams.
This makes visitors picky. If your site takes too long to load, or only loads bits and pieces so the whole thing looks a mess, visitors will click away before you can say ‘Trivago’.
Too many hotels are blowing their chances of getting direct bookings by disregarding page load speed.
Don’t assume visitors will take as much time to pour over your website as they do reading the magazines in your lobby.
So, how do you increase your page load speed?
- Optimize images and video
- Choose a high-performance domain to host your website
- Cache your web pages
- Use a content delivery network (CDN)
- Eliminate unnecessary plugins (if using WordPress)
Unless you moonlight as a web developer when you’re not running a hotel, those tactics might not make a lot of sense.
The best strategy for hotels to improve their page load speed is to find a web design agency that prioritizes website performance.
2. Leverage Your Social Media Channels
Hotels are quickly catching on to the power of social media marketing.
And it’s no wonder – just check out these stats from Siteminder:
- 97% of millennials share photos to social media while travelling
- 40% of customers under 30 prioritize how instagrammable the destination is
- 20% of users prefer real text but 80% will watch a video of the same content
Think about it. What’s the first thing most young people do when they check-in to a beautiful hotel on their holiday?
Usually, it’s something like this:
- Grab the free slippers and dressing gown
- Pour a nice, cold beverage (preferably the bubbly kind)
- Take a selfie
- Tag the hotel and caption the photo with something original like “much-needed getaway” or “let the holiday begin”
- Post it to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else is in nowadays
You can cringe at this behaviour all you like. But, there’s no denying that influencer culture and social media can be your hotel’s secret weapon for direct bookings.
By investing in your social media presence, you create a unique brand for your hotel that future guests want to become part of.
And when your hotel’s brand is in hot demand, visitors will want to book directly with you – not with an OTA.
With an active Instagram and Facebook account, visitors can ‘check-in’ and ‘tag’ your hotel in their social media posts. This instantly amplifies your presence to all their followers, who might like the look of your hotel and click on your profile.
And, lo and behold, there’s the website link and direct booking button – social media marketing in a nutshell.
Let’s dive into some more specific social media strategies to drive engagement and direct bookings:
|Share high-quality photography showcasing your facilities||
|Offer incentives via social media||
In this Instagram post, Shangri-La Paris cleverly showcases its delightful menu, luxury service, and proximity to the Eiffel Tower:
3. Use Keywords and Long-Tail Keywords In Your Website Copy
Now for something a little more technical. SEO.
If you’re a hotel marketer and don’t need a patronising summary of SEO, keywords, and copywriting – skip to the photo of Gustave.
And for the rest of you, here’s SEO and keywords in a nutshell.
To maximize direct bookings, you need to maximize traffic to your hotel’s website. To do that, your hotel needs to appear as close to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) as possible.
Because 75% of travelers look to search engines first when looking for a place to stay.
Now, there are a number of ways to aim for top positions on the SERPs – some of them are free (or organic) and some of them you have to pay for.
Sadly, none of them guarantee you the top spot. But, if you use all of the strategies wisely and consistently, you have a great chance of appearing on the first page.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to leverage your hotel’s position on Google is by using relevant keywords in your website copy.
Keywords are the words people use to find your hotel on Google.
For example, if you manage a hotel in Vienna, “hotels in Vienna” and “hotels in vienna austria” will be the strongest keywords to use in your website copy. That means you should aim to rank for those keywords.
By weaving these keywords into your website copy – in the headers, body copy, and CTA’s, – Google will crawl through your website and see it as relevant to people searching for “hotels in Vienna”.
That’s perhaps the most basic way to improve your website’s SEO.
Bonus tip: just because you’re trying to rank for certain keywords doesn’t mean you should use them as much as you possibly can in your website copy.
This is called ‘keyword stuffing’. It spoils your visitor’s reading experience – they’ll think it was written by a robot. Totally counter-intuitive.
The very best website copy is still beautifully written, with keywords interwoven throughout.
Ah, there you are.
Here’s a pro strategy for your hotel website’s SEO – use long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords are 4+ words long. They indicate more specific searches, from people who know exactly what kind of hotel they’re looking for.
Take a look at these:
Remember the main keyword “Hotels in vienna austria”? That one had a huge search volume (590) but was really difficult to rank for (42 KD on Semrush).
Now, look at these five keywords. They have a lower search volume (30-70), but they’re WAY easier to rank for at just 15-27,
Long-tail keywords aren’t just easier to target, though. They’re also a more powerful way of attracting qualified leads.
People searching for specific types of hotels have a much higher chance of actually converting and booking once they find something suitable.
Take the time to conduct in-depth keyword research for your hotel. Find the long-tail keywords that are most relevant to what you offer, then create useful content that targets these keywords.
That includes blogs, website pages, landing pages, and social media posts.
4. Showcase Reviews From Happy Guests
Reviews are one of the most powerful forms of marketing. You’re in the hotel business, you know that more than anyone.
81% of guests will read a review before booking at a hotel.
So, if you’re not leveraging your rave reviews on every single channel, you’re probably missing out on direct bookings.
Here are some terribly easy ways to build a goldmine of reviews for your hotel:
|Offer incentives for reviews||Place tasteful signs throughout the hotel. Something like “Enjoying your stay? Take some time to review us on Google, Instagram on Facebook and receive a complimentary breakfast”|
|Share your reviews on social media||Create a highlight reel for reviews on Instagram. Screenshot and decorate reviews and add them to the reel. This is very helpful to potential guests who want an accessible list of reviews for your hotel.|
|Design a review carousel on your hotel website||There are a number of ways to do this, depending on your website hosting service and the web design team you use.|
One extra piece of advice – respond to all reviews. Positive, negative, and even rude.
People don’t just want to see that your hotel gets good reviews, they want an insight into how your staff behave. Demonstrating professionalism, fairness, and even some humour (where appropriate) in your responses to reviews will give potential guests a glimpse of the level of hospitality they will receive.
The below example might be taking it a bit too far… See what you think!
5. Get Competitive With Paid Ads
We’ve discussed organic marketing methods, now let’s take a look at some paid strategies.
Google Ads are very expensive and drain your marketing budget, while inbound marketing gets a better ROI over time.
But, if you’re clever and strategic with your paid ad strategy, and diversify your paid and organic efforts, you can get amazing results.
Up until now, most locally-owned hotels have struggled to compete with the advertising spend of giant, global OTA companies. Heck, OTA’s will even pay to rank for the branded keyword of your hotel – isn’t that just infuriating?
However, the playing field for ad spend has levelled recently.
Turns out, now is a great time to consider amping up your paid ad spend.
Why? Check this out:
“At Expedia, we spend $5 billion a year on advertising. We won’t spend $1 billion this year.”
– Barry Diller, Expedia Group Chairman
With big OTA’s lowering their advertising outputs, this could be your chance to rev up your marketing and actually get results.
6. Remarket To Guests With Cold Feet
People are seriously picky and fickle when it comes to choosing a place to stay.
Yep. Three out of four people click through to your hotel booking page, then just:
Now, there are a lot of reasons for this and it’s pretty understandable.
Very few people will book at the first hotel they see online. It’s more likely that they’ll open tabs for each hotel they see on Google, click through to each website to suss out what they get for their money, then make a decision – a few days later.
There’s not much you can do about that.
You can use this clever tactic to maximize the chance of people coming back to complete the booking process.
It’s called remarketing. It’s used very successfully in the eCommerce industry, where customers often add items to their cart then run away.
The thing is – over half of cart abandoners will actually make the purchase when companies get in touch to ask them.
One way of remarketing for hotels is to retrieve the contact details of people who went to book, fill out their personal information, then changed their minds.
- Mentions that you noticed they didn’t go ahead and book
- Emphasises your hotel’s unique offering, facilities, etc.
- Offers an incentive to book (such as a discount or complimentary service)
- Points them to the booking page
This is a highly effective way to retarget guests with cold feet.
But, what if you don’t have access to their contact information?
This is where a marketing agency can help you out by designing a remarketing strategy for your hotel.
It might look something like this:
|Traditional||Similar Search||Remarketing List For Search Ads (RLSA)|
|Shows past website visitors relevant ads for your hotel on other sites such as blogs, social media, and YouTube.||Create a guest persona based on your customer database. Target ads to people with similar interests and characteristics.||Creates specific search ad campaigns for people who visited your website. This lets you feature ads to relevant people using search terms that would usually be impossible to rank for.|
Smart, right? Marketing doesn’t have to be a one-person mission or an internal effort. Calling in the experts to help you with marketing your hotel can have outstanding results, you just have to find the right agency.
7. Collaborate With Local Businesses
The pandemic has shifted the way we buy and the way we see destinations.
More than ever, guests (82% of them) are interested in shopping local, supporting the local community and creating a meaningful connection with the places they visit.
- Establish a personal connection with guests
- Make strategic and meaningful partnerships with local businesses
- Drive direct bookings
This is a unique advantage that hoteliers have over the OTA overlords. Booking.com can’t go out into your town and make connections with other small businesses.
Your hotel has a distinct personality, access to your community, and local knowledge – use it!
Here are some great ways to collaborate with local businesses to drive direct bookings AND support your community:
- Offer vouchers and packages that include other local businesses – restaurants, spas, adventure tourism, ‘secret’ spots that only locals know about
- Share content on your website and social media profiles that showcase your community and surroundings – it’s not just about your hotel!
Conclusion: Stuck With Hotel Marketing? Call In The Experts!
We’ve covered a lot in this blog.
You might be feeling inspired by all the new strategies and ideas to market your hotel and maximize direct bookings.
Or, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed.
We get it. Hotel marketing is tricky. It takes creativity, consistency, and a lot of experimentation to find out what works,
That’s why outsourcing to an expert team of hotel marketers is your best bet. It takes the guesswork out of advertising your hotel, as a marketing agency brings best practices and deep knowledge to help you make the most of your budget.
Growth Gurus is a marketing agency with specialized knowledge of hotels. We understand your industry, we know what works, and we can tailor our expertise to develop a plan that gets results for you.
Ready to get those direct bookings? Give us a call.