Hoteliers and their marketing departments face a number of challenges when it comes to attracting guests to their premises. The biggest of these is dealing with the online travel agents (OTAs) where many guests make their bookings. While being included on the listings for these websites offers good visibility, it also comes at a hefty price.
But hotels with the right approach and expertise can boost the chances of making direct bookings through their own website, dodging fees and hanging on to the margin. It boils down to treating every potential guest as an individual and offering them the assurance that every need they have can be met.
So why do the hotels have to take such a highly-targeted strategy? Well, for a start, many travellers have a very specific idea of what they are looking for in a hotel, meaning that taking a personal approach to each guest is absolutely crucial. Also, consumers want to be treated as individuals, not presented with a one-size-fits-all service – this is part of the reason that digital services that offer personalised recommendations such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon are so popular.
Once the hotel has established that personalisation is crucial, it is then a question of actually putting this principle into practice. While it’s important that a hotel’s website has strong SEO, uses high-quality images and works on any device – not just a desktop browser – it needs to offer more functionality than this. It also goes further than simply collecting data to create customer segments – it has to be able to react in real time to the clues it is being given.
Creating Different Experience Paths
Many hotels work on the assumption that websites are not worth investing in, as most guests will use OTAs. However, this approach is misguided. Often, even if a guest makes the booking through a third party, they will visit the hotel’s website to verify some details – what the rooms look like, where it is, what facilities it has, perhaps that it actually exists at all. And it is crucial that the hotel takes this opportunity to try and land the direct booking.
While hoteliers are prevented from undercutting OTAs by offering discounted prices on their own websites, there are ways around this. One way of doing so is to capture the visitor’s email address and send the incentive via email – an act of reciprocity that simultaneously rewards the guest and provides the hotel a direct point of contact to continue to build a relationship. The initial visit to the website is also the ideal time for the visitor to be presented with time-sensitive offers – for example, a 10% discount voucher that they can apply for via email and have 48 hours to redeem.
Finding Clues In Data
The process of booking can tell you a lot more about a guest. A single night stay for one person during the week may very well indicate a business trip, seven days for four people is more likely to be a family holiday. The date of the booking is also relevant – it may coincide with the school holidays or a major religious festival. These data points can be used in real-time to create a personalised path through the website for the visitor, perhaps offering a shuttlebus transfer to and from the airport for an executive’s business trip for example. A family making a booking could be offered a family discount voucher, or perhaps even a visit from Santa Claus if their stay is during the Christmas holidays.
When it comes to digital channels, hotels need to take an optimised – not standardised – approach. A static website won’t do – dynamic pathways that change according to what you know about the visitor are the key to upping conversion rates. By tailoring the experience to the customer journey, hotels can get a better understanding of what exactly a customer wants and deliver it to them in real-time to increase the likelihood of getting a direct booking.
Through personalisation and persuasion techniques, combined with the analysis of user data, website optimisation is possible. Hotels can then increase the number of direct bookings they make, reducing their reliance on OTAs. And the more guests they can delight with their personalised approach, the more repeat business they are likely to get.