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Why online and direct are central to winning new guest segments

By Karla Brooklyn, Global VP, Enterprise at SiteMinder

  Posted in Opinions



SiteMinder’s annual list of the Top 12 hotel booking revenue makers has, over the years, become the undisputed source of information on which distribution channels consumers are gravitating toward and, subsequently, which generate the greatest revenue for hotels around the world.

This year, across more than 20 tourism markets globally, the most visible trend was not the consolidation we’ve come to experience in previous years, nor was it a story of single dominant players.

This year, what the data told us was that direct bookings were no longer the unattainable unicorn that they once were not too long ago. On the contrary, hotel websites maintained their top five ranking in all destinations over the full 2020 year and ranked as high as #3 in both the United States and Canada. The ranking of hotel websites rose further in more than a third of destinations since April, when hotel bookings dropped to below 10 percent of 2019 levels.

For hoteliers selling their rooms online, the value derived from their direct channels has clearly only grown over the past year and through the pandemic, as the battle for clicks and trust has been fought to attract weary domestic travelers. It is those travelers who will remain fundamental to the success of every hotel as we journey through the five stages of the hotel booking reset and await the day we settle into a different normal.

The shift away from known and predictable guests

Savvy travelers are today increasingly doing that little bit more online, digging before they book their local stays. Indeed, the leisure segment currently most active can often find itself deep in a hotel’s website or Instagram account, squeezing out all of the information it can about the safety measures in place, and the packages on offer, to ensure it feels 100 percent comfortable with its impending decision.

More and more, the leisure segment has been booking its room then and there in this process.

To be sure, while the slowdown in corporate travel will continue to place a cap on bookings made via the likes of GDSs, corporate travel is already making its return in certain pockets. With time, so, too, will group bookings. However, what is unknown is when – and if those segments will return at the same level that we have come to know and predict. In the meantime, every hotel must be thinking about how to broaden its exposure to access today’s leisure and largely-domestic traveler. That broadening, as SiteMinder’s Top 12 list highlights, begins through a combination of both direct and third-party channels online, where today’s traveler is and where hotels therefore need to be.

Pivoting for the here and now

The accelerated shift in booking behavior towards online channels in the last nine months presents a unique opportunity in both the short and long-term. It also enforces four new realities for operators:

  1. The need to be flexible, open and less selective when it comes to targeted guest segments. As leisure and bleisure travel become mainstays, pivoting quickly to capitalize on new opportunities is vital.
  2. The growing importance of a seamless website experience for consumers who are now more accustomed to shopping online. Impatience with digital platforms is at an all time high, so if your hotel website feels even slightly unreliable, clunky at checkout or is difficult to navigate in any way, then you will certainly lose potential guests at the finish line.
  3. The importance of all channels that support direct. Operators who are strong on social media or who have invested in Google, for example, will be increasingly able to capture more business as online traffic shifts. For many leisure travelers, it’s common to navigate to a hotel’s social media pages prior to booking, and if hotels can showcase a loyal, engaged fanbase, as well as dynamic content, it will go a long way to securing more direct stays.
  4. Connected to point 2, the need to work with technology partners that can deliver an experience to your guests that not only makes distributing online possible, at any time of day, but enjoyable and easy too.

At a time of reduced traveler pools, the battle for consumer clicks and trust online remains constant. Travelers today are both curious and cautious, but data tells us that they do want to travel.

As more regular travel flows recommence, we will be provided with a clearer indication of how changed consumer behavior has actually become. However, until that time, the success of individual hotels in securing more guests depends on distribution channels that may feel unfamiliar to operators but are entirely familiar to the unpredictable traveler of today.

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