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The complete guide to increase direct bookings for your hotel

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 9/04/2024

What is a hotel direct booking?

Hotel direct booking is a reservation made by a guest directly with your hotel, rather than through a third-party booking site or travel agent. Direct bookings can be done through your hotel’s own website, over the phone, or in person at the hotel’s front desk.

Direct booking is often preferred by hoteliers because it allows you to have a direct relationship with the guest, without intermediaries. Hotel direct bookings can lead to better communication, more personalised service, and often higher profitability, as you don’t have to pay commission fees to third-party booking sites.

This blog will help you discover some ways you can win more direct bookings and know what works when guests are making up their mind.

Table of contents

Why are direct bookings important for guests?

For guests, direct booking can also have advantages. It often allows for more flexibility in terms of booking changes or cancellations, and hotels may offer incentives for direct booking such as lower rates, room upgrades, free amenities, or loyalty points. Furthermore, any queries or issues can be handled directly with the hotel, which can lead to better customer service.

In short, direct bookings help hotels keep more revenue for your business while simultaneously creating a more personalised experience for guests. It’s a win-win, and a core part of any hotel growth strategy.

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What is the value of a direct booking at your hotel?

Understanding the value of a direct booking at your hotel is crucial for maximising profitability and enhancing guest relationships. While there are numerous advantages to securing a higher proportion of direct bookings, one of the most significant benefits is undoubtedly the improved profit margin.

Direct bookings not only allow small hotels to establish a direct relationship with guests but also enable them to avoid high commission fees associated with third-party booking platforms.

However, focusing purely on the financial gains would be short-sighted. Here are six compelling reasons why direct bookings are invaluable to a hotel:

1. Personal relationships

With the hotel industry being people-based, the best way to nurture a good relationship with customers is by interacting with them directly, not via a third-party booking agent.

A direct booking means your hotel has all guest details and profiles from the beginning and you can own this relationship through their entire booking journey.

2. Trip anticipation

Travellers often get more enjoyment in the weeks prior to a trip than the trip itself. A direct relationship allows you to perfect pre-stay messaging and get your guests even more excited about coming to your hotel. This will start your relationship off on the right foot.

3. Guest loyalty

As you know, keeping a current customer is much cheaper than finding a new one.

During a direct booking, you can gather the guest details you need to send some post-stay messages, reminding the guest how great it was to have them stay at your hotel and to welcome them back anytime.

It also enables you to run promotions only to guests who have stayed before.

4. Guest feedback

Someone who books with your hotel directly is making a far more active choice than an online travel agent (OTA) booker, and is more likely to be from your target market and connect with the values of your property. This will lead to more consistent and positive review scores for your business.

5. Customer data

The more data your hotel has on a guest, the more personalised you can make their experience each time they come to your hotel. This data is best collected via direct relationship that starts with a guest researching your property’s offering.

6. Less OTA commission

The most common factor hotels reference is that direct bookings don’t require a commission fee to be paid to an OTA. This will let you keep 15-25% more revenue on each booking.

increase direct bookings
Direct bookings improve revenue and guest experience | Watch demo

Increase hotel direct bookings with unique offerings

In a world dominated by big brands and businesses, where standardisation is the path to efficiency, customers consistently look for something out of the norm. This is clearly the case in the travel industry; it’s one of the major reasons Airbnb has been so successful.

Travellers can get bogged down by same-same marketing, and middle-of-the-road hotel experiences. They want something unique, authentic, and personalised.

To get more direct bookings, your offering has to reflect these desires. So how do you make your property stand out from the competition and convince guests to avoid booking via OTAs?

1. Understand the audience you want to target

The first step to being able to offer a unique selling point to travellers is to know who you want to target and who will be visiting your website.

For example, Marriott expects the majority of guests to be millennials, so the company’s direct bookings marketing campaign emphasises the experiential joys of staying at a Marriott.

Doing the research into your most common demographic will be worth it, as you can start shaping your offerings to perfectly suit your guests.

2. Provide interesting incentives for travellers to book direct

While using the word ‘bribe’ might be too strong, there are certain offers you can make that travellers will find hard to refuse.

For instance, about half would be most likely to book direct if a hotel offered a room upgrade as an incentive. Second in line is free room service, at almost a quarter.

Often an add-on like this won’t break the bank at your business but can be a powerful motivator for travellers to book direct and save’. In fact, if you do upgrade a guest, you can then resell the original standard room – effectively selling this room twice.

3. Use authenticity to your hotel’s advantage

Independent hotels frequently have a much closer affinity to the local area than big brands, so use this to attract guests via your website. Maybe your hotel is lucky enough to be near a theme park, popular nature reserve, or maybe your building itself is heritage listed.

Focus on what makes your hotel special and make this clear when travellers visit your web pages. You could even create special promotions around these unique features to further entice people to book direct.

4. Use exciting content to engage travellers

When travellers are browsing your hotel site they want as much information about your hotel as possible, and they want to be wowed. If they get both of these things, it’s very likely they’ll be happy to book directly with your hotel.

Think about using video content to showcase your hotel. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood quality, simply a short and sweet production showing off the best aspects of your property and its staff.

Or you could go even further and use virtual reality to give potential guests a ‘try before you buy’ experience with a 3D virtual tour of your hotel. VR is becoming very popular and also more cost-effective, so it’s worth a thought.

The importance of visual storytelling is vital, as is knowing what visuals to use. Images create emotions within individuals and opens up their imagination.

Guest rooms are the most-viewed images on hotel websites. This means you should be leading with images of your rooms on your website to get travellers interested and excited.

5. Give guests more original promotion to consider

While percentage-off stay deals or common room package promotions are fine, they don’t differentiate your hotel from its competitors.

Instead, think about what guests might really want.

For example, people are excited about their trip and just want to enjoy the experience. If they have to plan out all their days and work out a number of details, this excitement can fade away to a certain extent; to be replaced by frustration or impatience.

Make it easier for guests by offering an itinerary package – a ready-made bundle of activities around the area. You could have a few immersive experiences for specific guest types.

This might include a family bundle package that offers tickets to local attractions with vouchers for a meal at your restaurant. On another day, it might provide tickets to a children’s play centre while the parents enjoy relaxing massages.

Get more direct bookings through extras

Extras are an inextricable element of your hotel’s direct booking strategy. It’s a win-win situation: they enhance your guests’ experience while increasing your profit.

In recent years, Tnooz released fascinating statistics around extras that will help you improve your up-sell and cross-sell strategies across the board.

  • Overall, 15% of guests will purchase extras at the time of booking.
  • Guests who book 1-7 days in advance of their trip are 3x more likely to purchase extras when they book.
  • Guests who book 7-21 days in advance are actually 5x more likely to purchase extras when they book.
  • Travel parties of 1-2 people are most likely to purchase extras that are available at your hotel, such as a bottle of wine or in-room breakfast.
  • Travel parties of more than 3 people are most likely to purchase outside extras, such as tours, activities and dining reservations. Partner with local businesses in order to earn commission for these bookings!

These facts and figures make it clear that extras are not just a passing trend — they’re a set of complementary products that you should always try to tweak and improve at your hotel.

Here’s our top three ideas to consider when it comes to selling extras at the time of booking:

1. Shuttle services

Many travellers like to use public transportation or simply walk from place to place once they have arrived at their destination.

This means that they will not be renting a car, and may prefer the convenience of a shuttle from the airport directly to your hotel property.

By offering shuttle services as an extra at your hotel, you can allow them to conveniently book everything they need at once.

2. Products and gifts

Products and gifts are a popular extra amongst guests, specifically those who are celebrating a special occasion on their trip.

Champagne bottles, fresh, local fruit and local wine are marketable extras that you can up-sell to your guests at the time of booking.

3. Tours and activities

More and more, travellers are looking for one-stop shopping when it comes to planning their holidays. By offering room packages that include local tours or activities, you will appeal to these time-savvy travellers.

In addition to earning the extra revenue on the booking package, you’ll probably be able to earn a commission from the tour company that you partner with in your area. This is a wonderful way to boost the local travel industry while generating additional business for yourself.

And of course, your guest wins with the perfect hotel stay and tour or activity experience.

Use an online booking engine that allows your guests to purchase these products and services at the time of their reservation.

increase direct bookings with smooth online process
Offer add-ons using your own online booking engine | Watch demo

Drive direct bookings using better hotel photos

If a traveller has any suspicion about the quality or authenticity of your hotel, it’s very unlikely they’ll book with you. A lack of published reviews and a lack of photos are two of the biggest red flags for guests when browsing hotels.

To someone viewing a hotel on the Internet, the absence of reviews or images may indicate to them that the hotel is hiding something – perhaps evidence of poor quality service, dirty interiors, or misleading location information.

TripAdvisor published findings stating that when compared to hotels without photos, hotels with at least one photo saw a 138% increase in travel engagement.

On top of that, hotels with at least one photo are 225% more likely to receive a booking enquiry. If just one photo can make this much difference, think of the statistics if your hotel develops a strategic plan for your property photography.

During the browsing stage people generally fixate on the hotel name, images, price, and location. This means you have a chance to wow them with photos before they read any reviews.

Here are the best ways to approach your hotel imagery:

1. Capture a pleasing vista

The majority of images that extracted positive emotions from consumers were bedrooms with window views, a pleasant vista, and natural light. The photos helped create an instant reaction between the consumer and the hotel.

Positive feelings were also exhibited when customers saw something interesting outside the hotel like a beach, city, or landmark.

2. Display unique and attractive features

If your hotel has any unique features, put them front and centre in your photography to delight the eyes of online shoppers. This way the potential guest will be immediately drawn to your hotel.

3. Don’t meddle with perspective, balance, and distortion

By far the most popular images were those that also looked authentic. Photos that looked skewed or altered drew suspicion from shoppers because they create unrealistic representations of the property.

Hotels should instead keep it simple and try not to show too much in a single shot.

4. Keep images clean and crisp

Neatness and precision were the qualities that garnered the best responses to hotel room images, along with light and space. Negative opinions focused on messiness and clutter, clashing colours, odd angles, or missing features such as bathroom or wardrobe.

With eye-catching imagery and unrelenting dedication to quality, it’s clear you can use imagery as a powerful boost to your bookings.

Top 10 strategies to generate direct bookings for hotels

Direct bookings are always at the top of a hotelier’s mind. The higher the percentage of bookings that come direct through a hotel website the better.

Investigating the barriers that stop customers booking directly and creating strategies that remove them is a never-ending but necessary battle.

Common problem areas include:

  • The cost of technology support
  • Reliance on online travel agents
  • Cost of acquisition (e.g web design and user experience)
  • Lack of hotel resources

All of these are reasons why hotels are either not pursuing, or not being allowed to pursue direct booking campaigns and foster return business.

However, there are methods hotels can use to improve their chances of direct bookings.

direct bookings
Strategies to increase direct bookings | Learn more about how direct booking engines work

Here are 10 reasons direct bookings are important and some strategies for hotels to make the most of them.

1. Anticipate the booking and communicate pre-stay

If a customer does in fact make a direct booking it’s important to reinforce that decision. The first step is by raising the anticipation of the guest for their trip. People like to be excited by the prospect of a holiday; often the period before departure is the most enjoyable feeling of the whole process. 

A common way of achieving this is to create a consistent and enthusiastic stream of pre-stay communication with your guest, usually via email.

This may be as simple as telling them you can’t wait to see them in two weeks, or you might provide them with information about cool things to do while they’re staying at your property.

2. The traveller’s active choice

It’s been found that there is a direct correlation between guest satisfaction and direct bookings. Direct bookers are often happier because they’ve made an active choice to stay at your property.

This may not always be the case for OTA bookers. This can result in a lack of personal connection and relationships, resulting in poorer reviews.

When you get a direct booking you know they’re definitely from your target market and coming in with positive attitudes about your hotel.

3. Reroute your commission savings into the guest experience

Commission paid to OTAs are probably the biggest reason hotels look for more direct bookings because they eat into the potential profits of the business. Money saved on direct bookings can be better spent on guest experience and hotel upgrades.

Commissions can be reduced by maintaining price parity to save on conversions and keep pricing transparent to debunk the belief OTAs always offer a better deal.

Use some innovation in how you approach your direct booking strategy to entice as many travellers as possible to your website.

4. Build relationships with travellers

Building relationships with travellers is a big bullet hotels can fire in the direct booking battle.

Using research and creating customer profiles to find common ground and appeal to your target’s interests is vital if you want to encourage direct bookings and build guest loyalty.

Be imaginative in the way you engage travellers and always be positive.

5. Think about direct bookings and future innovation

New technology is sure to be a boon for any purpose you want. Decide what is best for you in progressing your relationship with customers. 

Services such as live chat or messenger apps might be serious considerations. Anything that enhances your social media or simplifies your booking process is a must.

6. Receive ancillary revenue from your bookings

Offering additional services or products to give the customer a ‘shopping cart’ experience is a good tactic, even if the guest isn’t interested in purchasing any extras.

It gives the sense of professionalism and credibility, and puts your hotel on a competitive level with OTAs who often offer some kind of package deal. 

Making sure you think of your hotel as more than rooms and beds is always a positive step towards enriching the experience of your guests.

7. Boost your hotel’s brand loyalty

The best way to ensure an increase of direct bookings is to boost brand loyalty and create new return customers out of every new traveller who enters your hotel.

Increasing hotel brand loyalty is an obvious and natural way to boost direct bookings and has numerous added benefits such as:

  • The ability to know the guest preference
  • This enables your hotel to deliver a better experience by offering more appropriate products and services to meet the guest’s needs.
  • A diversified portfolio of hotel booking sources
  • This makes for a more stable and healthy business mix overall so that a hotel does not become dependent on only one or two primary markets.
  • Loyalty members are a comfort blanket
  • A larger member base means your hotel will better resist low seasons and harsh economic periods.

8. Take a focused approach to marketing copy

It’s impossible to please everyone and it’s unlikely every segment will be attracted to your hotel anyway. So it’s better to research your most relevant target group and create content that will appeal to them.

9. Perfect your hotel email marketing campaigns

Email marketing can still be a great way to drive direct bookings. Get people to sign up by offering something in exchange, creating an opt-in for other offers, and set up autoresponders. Always take a warm and personal approach to emailing your guests and potential customers.

10. Drive a high volume of traffic on your hotel website

Getting people to actually land on your website is a big step. The best way to do this is to create a blog and post regularly, across relevant and interesting topics travellers are likely to read.

Understanding the typical direct booking conversion cycle

In the modern age of online hotel bookings, the battle for hotels to maximise the benefit from direct bookings is never ending. It’s a fight that requires acrobatic balance, because hotels don’t want to burn bridges with their ‘frenemies’; the online travel agents of the world such as or Expedia.

OTAs are extremely valuable in delivering a steady revenue stream to properties that connect and optimise a profile with them. However, some of the high commissions for bookings have long been a thorn in the side for hoteliers.

Finding the perfect balance between the two is a delicate task, but it certainly doesn’t hurt for hotels to be always striving for as many direct bookings as possible.

There are many methods to achieve this and many ways to execute them, sometimes making it difficult for hoteliers to develop a working strategy.

Dean Elphick spoke to Scott Petoff, founder of BookingCounts. Scott leverages his travel software development and trip planning expertise to deliver booking optimisation strategies to independent hoteliers.

With the help of BookingCounts, properties can increase their look-to-book ratios and convert more bookings now and later. 

The changing dynamic of direct bookings and first steps for hoteliers

In the hotel industry, the rate of progress has been almost exponential in recent years. This rapid evolution has seen the sector increasingly embracing technology and developing new approaches to direct bookings. A significant trend is the growing number of hotels offering real-time availability and integrated booking engines on their websites. However, this development is paralleled by the expanding dominance of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) in the hotel booking marketplace.

This trend is expected to continue, with OTAs likely to innovate further and build stronger customer loyalty. Meanwhile, astute hoteliers are predicted to drive more direct bookings. To capitalise on both channels, it’s suggested that hotels should optimise for direct and OTA bookings, in the same way they optimise for Google SEO and TripAdvisor reviews.

When it comes to developing direct booking strategies, strengthening marketing efforts and expanding the pool of potential guests is a recommended starting point. This helps to prevent potential guests from slipping away. The importance of capturing leads via targeted email marketing is emphasised, with the aim of engaging website visitors who aren’t ready to book immediately and encouraging them to return later.

Understanding key data metrics to form strategies

One suggested strategy is to implement an email capture form on ‘Exit Pages’. These are identified by Google Analytics as the most popular final web pages that visitors view before moving on to another website. With an embedded form or pop-up, a hotel can send out an instant email containing a hotel fact sheet with a link to return to book direct when they are ready.

Understanding and responding to the preferences of travellers is increasingly crucial for capturing and retaining their business. It’s important to understand how travellers search for hotels, which travel sites they prefer, and the typical booking conversion cycle. This information can be gathered from booking and website analytics data, industry research reports, and surveys of past guests.

Content can be a powerful tool for capitalising on traveller data and ensuring they stay interested in a hotel. Travel blogs, in particular, have come a long way and can be a good fit for any hotel brand. Hoteliers are advised to search for travel blogs that cover their hotel’s destination or target demographic, and follow them via email and social media. Starting a blog can prove beneficial as it positions the hotelier as a destination expert, answering popular questions from trip planners and driving more qualified traffic through social media engagement.

Direct Booking vs OTA Booking

Why is Expedia cheaper than booking direct? The answer to this is that it may not be. Historically, travellers may have booked flights and hotels via sites like Expedia because the prices seemed much cheaper.

These days, travellers can often get the same deal or a better one by booking directly with your hotel. Value-added offerings and an increased level of customer service are big incentives for guests to book directly with the hotel.

Booking direct opens up opportunities to be upgraded and receive additional extras that might not be offered anywhere else.

If something goes wrong with the reservation, it’s also likely your hotel will be much more responsive than a third-party agent and customers like to have easy access to support.

It needs to be made clear to guests that making a direct booking is mutually beneficial, and doesn’t just help your property’s bottom line.

How much does a direct booking cost your hotel?

On face value, the cost of acquisition for a direct booking is lower than that of an OTA booking, thanks to the absence of hefty commission fees. 

However, if you’re not careful, a direct booking could still end up costing your hotel too much.

You have to think about the cost of acquiring traffic via channels such as:

  • SEM
  • Metasearch
  • Social Media
  • Display ads
  • Website development

Then you need to consider any profit you’re sacrificing with the promotions, packages, or incentives you run to get travellers to convert to guests. Of course, there are a number of ways to ensure your cost of acquisition is as low as possible.

This includes building a smart strategy that revolves around targeting the right guest personas, creating offers that further appeal to your target market, and displaying value for money to potential customers. All of this will drive up your conversion rate.

Another way to ensure your conversion rate is high, is to make it extremely simple for guests to find and book your hotel directly. 

Direct bookings made easier

Using a hotel booking engine enables you to easily take direct bookings and payments on your own website, social media channels, and from metasearch channels.

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How to drive direct bookings from your hotel website

Regardless of what kind of information the visitor is searching for, if they can get it from your hotel’s website, they are much more likely to book one of your rooms. Why is that, you might ask?

On a basic level, having lots of good information on your website helps ‘place you in the community’ keeping you front of mind for the visitor, which in turn makes your hotel look like it is in tune with what is going on in the area.

Being an informative and helpful resource to a traveller is a good look for your hotel brand.

But on a more scientific level, there’s some web-browsing psychology at work here. Having a lot of quality content on your website means visitors are likely to spend longer on your website, which means they’re also likely to want to do business with you and book a room.

One of the key metrics for any website is how long someone spends on it – also known as visit length.

This is good for search engine optimisation – meaning the longer people spend on your website, the higher it will appear on the rankings of search engines such as Google, when people actively search for terms like “hotels in Sydney”.

So, without getting knee-deep into technical processes, in order to boost the number of people staying in your hotel who found you on Google, you need to convince them to spend as long as possible on your website.

Visit length relies on having a lot of very good content that’s of genuine interest. Three of the top five techniques to increase visit length can be achieved by simply writing interesting and good quality blog posts, web pages, and guides on things to do in the local area:

1. Quality Content

This does not just mean that each page on your hotel’s website is free of typos and grammar errors (although that is important). It also means that the content topic is of deep relevance to the service you’re offering. For example: guides on things to do and local attractions as provided by a hotel business is great quality content, but an article on the best movies from the 1940s would be pointless (unless there’s a local cinema with a vintage film festival on of course…)

2. Multiple Page Articles

Rather than write one long page that lists everything you can do in the local area, break it down into sections. For example:

  • Food to Eat
  • Ways to Unwind in the City
  • Places to Explore

By taking this approach you’ll have your visitors clicking from page to page a lot more, reading a higher volume, and keeping them on your site for longer.

3. Additional Resources

Having a section on your hotel’s website (a bit like the classifieds) where local businesses can provide menus, photos, opening hours would turn your hotel’s website into a helpful hub of information, which has people clicking through to it more frequently, and spending longer on researching the information they’re looking for.

By increasing the length of time that people spend on your website, you are delivering a key part of your website’s strategy, making visitors more favourable towards your hotel, and helping boost your Google ranking in order to attract, reach, and convert visitors from all over the world.

How digital technology helps increase hotel direct bookings

Digital technology is now the dominant force in driving more direct bookings and improving guest experience at your hotel. The prominence of consumers using digital technology and businesses implementing digital strategies has skyrocketed in the past few years.

UK travellers are booking online 76% of the time – and this behaviour is no longer restricted to the young either. A retail study by Deloitte shows 78% of non-millennials are now using digital devices either two or three times throughout their shopping journey.

The technology at play including social networks, mobile and cloud computing, and analytics tools, is a perfect fit for hotel businesses to utilise in their endeavour for more direct business and a smoother booking process.

Despite the uptake of digital technology, people still want the personal touch. They want to feel like you know them and receive friendly customer service, even on top of the speed and convenience technology gives them.

Building real relationships with guests is one path to a vital competitive advantage.

While personal service can get lost in the digital age, digital technology can also help you build stronger relationships than ever with your customers.

The good news is that with every new piece of digital technology comes a new opportunity to analyse your guests and their behaviour.

Tracking as much of an individual’s digital footprint as possible will put you in a good position to understand their preferences and even predict their intentions.

This highlights the need to deliver relevant information in a timely manner. By analysing customer behaviour, you’ll be in a much better position to offer a personalised service and target direct bookings.

The importance of hotel technology in winning direct bookings

Once you’ve done the work to find the right guests and attract them to your website, your technology and service has to remain at a high standard. The most important aspects are:

  • All your touchpoints must be user-friendly: Ideally, you’ll have a quality online booking engine that can process bookings in a quick and easy two-step process.
  • Guests need to access your website on a mobile: The mobile optimisation of your website should be at the top of your list if you want to convert anywhere near the amount of bookings you should be.
  • Your booking engine and website need to be integrated: Allowing your website and booking engine to engage with each will ensure a seamless and hassle-free experience for the booker and also make your life much easier by saving you time.
  • You should manage your booking engine with a channel manager: Using a channel manager means you can manage and update your direct bookings the same way as the bookings you receive via OTAs. It means your inventory is automatically updated when a direct booking comes through, and you’ll have access to key performance reports to see how your direct channel is contributing to your overall revenue goals.
By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

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