Hoteliers have the perfect opportunity to review and relaunch their guest acquisition and distribution strategy.
In a recent webinar, Eva-Maria Bleifuß, Head of Operations at Guestline DACH, talked to Michaela Papenhoff (Managing Director at h2c), Helen Skiba (Key Account Manager at Hotelchamp) and Alexander Birk (Head of Marketing at BWH Hotel Group) on the topic of direct bookings. Here we have summarized the main findings…
Profound changes in the industry
The hotel industry has changed profoundly in recent months, new trends are emerging, and rate strategies are being adapted accordingly. The pandemic has forced the travel industry to get creative in terms of their offering, personalisation, applying flexible rates, and driving direct bookings.
Direct bookings continue to be the "Holy Grail" of the hotel industry, and it is essential that your strategy promotes the benefits of direct booking to guests.
Focus on good content online
It’s not only first-time bookers that use OTAs to make a booking - hoteliers often have returning guests using them as well because the booking process is easy for them to use, which of course is frustrating, as you’re still paying the full OTA commission for these.
Here, Michaela Papenhoff recommends focusing primarily on good content. Especially during the pandemic period, guests were able to find more up-to-date and detailed information about the hygiene measures and restrictions on site on the hotel's own websites than, for example, on the OTA’s. On the hotel's own pages, the information about e.g. the limited breakfast buffet, new cancellation policies and closed facilities on-site can be presented in more detail, and can be adapted faster and more flexibly. By offering extras and additional services that are only available on their own site, guests will know to visit the hotel website in the future. The sale of hotel vouchers has also generated revenue via their own websites in recent months and is still recommended.
Generate added value for repeat guests
It was initially loyal guests who made the first reservations once hotels reopened – a trip to a well-known, well regarded hotel was the first step towards normality for many people. The BWH Hotel Group regularly sends information to their repeat bookers and communicates with them a lot. According to Alexander Birk, however, it is important that you offer your loyal guests real added value: "Everyone now gives guests the chance to collect points and then get an upgrade. Here you have to differentiate and think: how does the guest really benefit? We could offer better cancellation policies for a certain loyalty status or free parking, which can be a huge benefit if your hotel is located in the inner city. It is worth learning the needs of the guests, getting creative and offering them something relevant".
But not only large hotel groups with sophisticated systems can start a loyalty program. For smaller groups and individual hotels, Helen Skiba recommends actively sending out a newsletter. Here, hoteliers can stay in direct contact with their guests, inform them about regular offers, offer them added value, and encourage them to book direct with the hotel. Newsletter marketing works particularly well by combining it with a "freebie" for subscribing to the newsletter, such as a promo code or a room upgrade. This not only leads to a higher conversion rate for newsletter registration, but as Helen knows from experience also to more bookings via the newsletter.
Booking.com court ruling in Germany – what does this mean for direct bookings?
As well as the pandemic, the recent German Supreme Court ruling on Booking.com in terms of rate parity is driving change in the industry. German hotels can now offer cheaper prices on their own portals and will therefore have more opportunities to compete against OTAs.
However, neglecting the OTAs as a booking channel now is by no means possible. Michaela Papenhoff describes the collaboration between hotels and OTAs as a "cooperation competition". Due to the court ruling, it is possible for hotels to offer cheaper rates on their own channels, but they still need the high booking volume and the reach of the OTAs. And they are free to decide how to rank the respective hotel in the search or to determine the policies for the bookings, for example, demand better cancellation clauses than on the hotel’s own website. Thus, a good relationship with your sales partners and a sensitively coordinated distribution mix is still necessary.
Slick, automated booking process for guests
So there are many approaches with which you can strengthen your direct booking channels, especially in the current climate. However, the basis for actual added value through direct bookings continues to be reliable, simple and secure software solutions that automates booking processes and presents a professional impression on the guest. Guestline will be happy to advise you on this.
"Hoteliers have got creative in terms of their offering, personalisation and applying flexible rates"
"Regularly send information to repeat bookers and communicate with them a lot"
"Automate the booking process with a simple and secure platform"
- Kate Fuller, Marketing Manager, Guestline