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Webinar Series Wrap Up: Accelerate Direct: Powerful strategies to drive and convert more bookings.

  Posted in Hotel Trends & Advice

Travellers have spoken: Booking direct is their preferred channel, so it’s time to capitalise on this momentum

November 2021.

“Research has become the art of the travel experience. Studies show it is around 45 days of research before you start and make a booking. Context matters.” Russell Daiber , from Laasie

SiteMinder and industry-leading partners discussed the key strategies you need to switch on to accelerate direct bookings. Delivered across several markets, each bore remarkable similarities. No matter where you are based, the mindset of the traveller is the same. They want to travel now, and they want to travel with confidence, can you give it to them?

Catch-up with the key takeaways from the webinar and deep-dive into the replays to discover more ways you can enhance your direct bookings.

Direct Booking Blockers

For many hoteliers, they will be out of forced hibernation. That means now is the time to check your current details are correct (since many hit snooze on web refreshes back in mid-2020). Your website is the source of truth, and where OTA’s pull information on, the key areas to review are:

  • Are the contact details correct? Do you have someone currently managing that inbox or phone line?
  • Is your cancellation policy up-to-date to showcase a focus on flexibility?
  • Are your price strategies current?
  • Is your health and safety procedures front and centre?
  • Do you have the proper payment gateways that travellers prefer to use, such as Google Pay, Apple Pay and AfterPay?

Poor online experience
It can be overwhelming when you look at what large OTA’s are spending on advertising and how you can even compete at any scale.

You can never compete with the TheBooking.Com chequebook, but you can compete with the tactics you use to drive users to your direct booking channel,” Josh Beckwith, from Sojern.

Focus on being uniquely you, not Expedia”, Edward St. Onge, from Flip.to.

Start by improving your website and experience it as a potential guest. Is it seamless? Does it make sense?

“Remember everyone coming to your website is a human, not a KPI. Our direct channels can lack the hospitality we offer, from start to finish engage them and don’t forget to sell the why,” Edward St. Onge

Ensure at every point the user is nurtured. Your booking journey should feel connected, however, when many teams are involved it can result in a very piece-by-piece build.

“Disjointed digital experiences [is a blocker], different departments own different levels, and the problems arise when each measure different metrics. This means at every stage of the funnel; it can look different to the potential guest depending on where they are in their booking journey.” Russell Daiber, from Laasie.

Not knowing your numbers
By diving into the behind-the-scenes of your bookings and website activity, you can better understand what’s working, what’s not, and most importantly, where you are losing potential guests.

Understand the current situation with your analytics. Where is your traffic coming from, and compare your performance to the market? Instead of looking at the overall conversion rate, look at the different stages of the funnel. Use this to identify where issues lie [in your website purchase journey.  Fiona Gillen from The Hotels Network.

Using Facebook as a Direct Channel

With over 2.5 billion active users, Facebook presents are a marketing tool that hoteliers can tap into, usually for free.

For one of our clients, over 80% of bookings come via Facebook; it’s a power channel”, Charlie Young, from Book Me Bob.

Post at least 3-10 times to your feed to keep your followers engaged in making the most of Facebook. Facebook is the platform where you can showcase the experiences that make your hotel genuinely unique.

This is where you would share events happening around you, tours available and the surrounding amenities. Use this channel to provide a holistic experience and entertain your social community.

Understand they are doing something different on Facebook; they are using their time on Facebook for passive entertainment purposes. Cater to that. What you do in active search (such as Google) won’t work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Think through this journey and ask yourself, am I entertaining, inspiring or helping them dream? Then consider how you bridge the gap between someone being entertained on your Facebook to engaging with your website. Consider creating tailored landing pages for this audience to meet them where they are,” Edward St. Onge, from Flip.to.

Facebook can be switched on as a direct booking channel; there are ways to integrate your bookings directly into your Facebook Business page to allow you to communicate and confirm bookings with users right within the platform.

“Travellers spend five times more time on Facebook than any other travel channel”, Josh Beckwith, from Sojern.

The data tells us travellers are highly engaged with the platform and are open to booking directly, but many hoteliers are not taking advantage of it.

Run an audit of your current Facebook page of where you can switch on tactics to attract future guests, ask yourself:

  • Do I post regularly?
  • Are my pictures and video up-to-date
  • Do I share what is happening in my area?
  • Have I plugged in a booking engine?
  • Does it allow users to pay using platforms like Google Pay, Apple Pay and AfterPay?
  • Do I respond to all chat messages, or have I set up automated responses?
  • What hoteliers can thrive from right now
  • Do you reward your social audience with special discounts or specials?

Review these areas first to amplify what you can achieve for free; once you find what posts are working and what your social audience wants, you can consider running paid campaigns like dynamic ads for travel.

The Upward Trend of Direct Bookings

Across all regions, one trend stood out — booking direct is preferred by all travellers over using OTA’s. Travellers now value relationships and transparency. By booking direct, travellers can get to know your hotel more, understand your policies better and be more than just a booking confirmation email you receive.

If the price is right
A recent SiteMinder study found that travellers are prioritising price.

“A common issue we see is price; if a guest can find a cheaper rate with you elsewhere, they will not go direct,” Fiona Gillen, from The Hotels Network.

Travellers prefer to book direct because they want to see what they are getting for the price. This includes the opportunities for experiences, events nearby and more. Your owned booking channel (your website) must provide the best deal from a holistic view.

Seeking confidence
“The pandemic has made people want confidence with the cancellation policies and flexibilities; they don’t want to rely on third parties,” Josh Beckwith, from Sojern.

We all have a travel sting story to tell from bookings in 2020-2021, whether it’s losing the total cost because you had to cancel due to lockdowns or flights not offering you full refunds when they couldn’t fly internationally. Everyone has a story that has scarred them from booking any travel in advance, but those that are ready want to go to the source. Travellers want to establish a relationship early with the hotel to build trust and essentially ask, ‘you’re not going to screw me over, are you?’.

The revenge travellers
Be prepared for pent-up demand to unleash. The ‘revenge traveller’ is ready to get out there and start experiencing life. These travellers seek exceptional opportunities to undo the past year or so of isolation and monotony.

Improving Your Guests Booking Experience

Make it flexi-friendly and value plus
Prioritising flexibility and friendliness is the better strategy, according to Russell Daiber, Laasie. Flexibility and refund policies will continue to be vital to attracting direct bookings and providing confidence.

You can further enhance the attraction to future guests by creating unique direct offers and promotions. With more and more direct bookings resulting from a referral from friends and family, you should consider making loyalty programs, cash rewards and incentives for those who book direct and share the love.

Show them why
Guests don’t just show up on your website once and book. It is part of an overall research assignment, and they will interact with you at different points of the purchase mindset.

“Think of the travellers as multi-session visitors and cut down the annoyances. You need to do your job to sell the destination, sell the why, because your biggest competitor is another destination, not the hotel across the road. Most hotels only focus on the ‘why stay with me’ part and leave out ‘why stay at this destination, why come at this specific time and why come to this specific neighbourhood’. By skipping this, it is hurting the guest booking experience and your conversions,” Edward St. Onge, Flip.to.

Design it digitally
It makes sense, but usually, the apparent improvement is the first forgotten. Design your direct booking channel for mobile. Test it yourself and fix any speedbumps. As Fiona suggested, you can also refer to your analytics and see if you are losing potential guests along the booking journey on mobile. Along with updating your website to be mobile-friendly, audit your content to check it is up-to-date and insightful; it should be helping your guests imagine themselves there and showcase your unique elements.

Meeting New Guest Expectations

Show them value
Travellers are now expecting more when it comes to accommodation standards. They want to see breakfasts included, spa experiences, local tours and a bespoke experience.

“Travellers are savvy e-commerce buyers; they expect kickbacks for a transaction of this size. Their expectations are high because we have trained them to be high. If you want them to book direct, show them why. Include rewards, loyalty and other kinds of value“, Russell Daiber, from  Laasie.

“Make it worth their while, personalisation is the opportunity here to make someone feel appreciated, and you can do that by making them feel like you know them personally”, Edward St. Onge from  Flip.to.

Give them what they want better and faster
The need for automation is a necessity now. Not only do travellers expect their experience to be personalised to them, but they now demand a seamless, frictionless direct booking experience.

“The pandemic has forced hoteliers to improve their tech stack to enhance the experience with less“, Charlie Young, from Book Me Bob.

From implementing automation to AI technology, users are open to it and share their data if it creates a better, faster experience.

“87% of users would interact with a travel chatbot if it would save them time and money”, Charlie Young, Book Me Bob.

Show them why
Now is the moment to capitalise on direct traffic and broadcast your why.

The only way you can convey the uniqueness of your property is on your website. On a booking property page [OTA], you are just a list. The brand experience, service and hospitality starts at your website. Use your website to create a unique online experience”, Fiona Gillen, The Hotels Network.

Don’t lose the human touch
As we implement the highest health and safety standards, it’s essential not to remove what makes the hotel experience special, the hospitality.

We all have experienced the new way of life, and at times, it can feel cold. As the world opens up, some will miss face-to-face interactions, so don’t switch everything to contactless and digital engagements.

“Offer guests both options to provide balance. Not everyone will want a touchless experience; we still want a human experience.
Hotels now have to become a digital e-commerce business. You need to build a fantastic website, populate it with engaging content, engage with the right booking engine to drive conversions, plug in the right rates and then get people to your website. There is a lot for a hotel to do. You need to be smart with what you can do with tactics to remain competitive” Josh

Watch the online webinars on-demand now!

Accelerate Direct: Powerful strategies to drive and convert more bookings.

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