Roll back ten or so years ago and it was a match made in heaven; accommodation businesses had fallen head over heels for online travel agents (OTAs) such as bookings.com, lastminute.com etc. Both sides were equals, occupancy and commission rates were good and the relationship was flourishing.
Cut to more recent years and cracks have set in. OTAs are the ones wearing the trousers and accommodation businesses are in a love/hate quandary. On one hand OTAs deliver customers but with commission rates typically reaching 20%, profits are being squeezed – they might have a full house but little in the way of revenue to show for it. OTAs have amassed marketing power and a dominance over online accommodation searches to the extent that for independent hotels and small B&Bs, it’s like David fighting Goliath when it comes to competing for AdWords keywords. Accommodation businesses are dependent on OTAs, they just have to suck it up and be grateful for the business they’re sending their way.
Or do they?
The tide is starting to turn. Accommodation businesses are uniting in their desire to break the viscous circle – or at least, temper its power. And their weapon? The book direct message.
While there’s likely to always be a place for OTAs in accommodation businesses marketing strategies (and budgets), the middleman is increasingly being bypassed and the relationship rebalanced. Such is the volume of the book direct message coming from the tourism industry, travellers are starting to listen. Price remains one of the key drivers for bookings but savvy travellers are clocking on to the fact that the price offered by OTAs doesn’t always mean the best deal.
“Book direct for the best room, the best experience and the best price is the message that we have been shouting across our marketing for a number of years,” says Malcom Bell, Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall which along with partners in Cumbria and the New Forest, was one of the first destination marketing organisations to spearhead the book direct movement. “It has taken a while to gain momentum but finally, we’re not only being heard, we’re making an impact.”
And as accommodation businesses know, it’s not just marketing fluff, there’s truth behind the message. Malcolm explains: “Many hotels reserve their best rooms for guests that book direct and add-on attractive extras such a complimentary drink on arrival or room upgrade. But not only that, many deals promoted by booking engines are on a room-only basis. Once you add on breakfast, or whatever else, the so called ‘lowest price’ creeps above the book direct price which includes the ‘extra’ as standard.”
The book direct movement has also gained apace thanks to the growing trend for authentic holiday experiences – something that starts with the booking, if not before, when you book direct and deal with those living and breathing the destination.
So, what can accommodation businesses do to encourage direct bookings and wean themselves off their dependency on OTAs? Well, we’ve come prepared…
Top tips for accommodation businesses to harness the book direct movement
Fine tune your UX
Make buying from you easy. OTAs have got their UX nailed; searches are simple, results are clear and bookings are quick, streamline and instant. A fast and intuitive UX is essential. Put it before anything else.
Loyalty drives direct bookings. In many cases OTAs have the marketing weight to attract new bookings but the power swings in your favour when the customer is actually standing in your hotel or B&B and having a great time. Build a relationship with them. Grab the opportunity to sell the benefits of booking direct the next time they visit – promote it on in-room leaflets, tell them as they check-out, follow up in post-visit comms.
Make it clear
OTAs use every tactic in the book to spur bookings (e.g. only 1 room remaining, 12 other people are looking at this hotel right now). Don’t hide your selling points, spell out the benefits of booking direct with you. De Vere unashamedly gives valuable homepage space to reasons to book direct.
Follow in the footsteps of The Greenbank Hotel and embed the book direct message in your consumer comms in a style true to you. They’ve striked the perfect balance between encouraging customers to book direct without coming across too salesy. Front and centre on their homepage stands the offer “Here’s £10 to spend with us when you book direct”. Tasteful yet to the point – we like!
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