Despite the love/hate relationship that often exists between hotels and Online Travel Agents (OTAs), hoteliers must embrace their online booking partnerships to be competitive. A balance is still required, however, because if hoteliers rely too heavily on OTAs, then they risk neglecting another vitally important guest engagement tool: the hotel’s booking engine. Today, the OTA and hotel direct-booking tool must co-exist.
Maintaining a steady flow of direct bookings is considered the Holy Grail for independent hotels, but a great online booking engine will always compete directly with OTAs. Competing against the very services with which you’re attempting to build profitable relationships might seem counterintuitive, but there are several reasons you should invest in a great booking engine of your own.
You’ll build direct relationships
Between May 2016 and May 2017, the market share of all online bookings for U.S. hotels decreased just less than 31%, suggesting not enough hoteliers are working to build direct relationships with their guests. Like any hospitality business, your hotel thrives on developing relationships with its customers, and a great direct-booking engine is the best tool to accomplish this goal.
Slot a travel agent between that relationship, and it’s somewhat diluted. That doesn’t mean OTAs can’t be the introducers of new guests, but to build a relationship that results in repeat visits, you must offer a great method to book on your Website.
Linking your PMS with third-party systems can also help build guest relationships. For instance, Triptease drives direct bookings by nudging guests with targeted messages during the booking process and providing a chat platform through which hoteliers can communicate with bookers.
The hotel’s brand will gain traction
When viewed as a listing on an OTA, you’re essentially just “another option,” and while you can be more noticeable with better photos, more competitive rates and great guest reviews, nothing quite beats the unique experience you can offer through your own booking engine. Pick the right booking engine, and you’ll be able to create an online booking experience that maintains your brand’s image and values.
Loyalty will increase (thanks to better data)
OTAs do a great job of introducing new guests, but it’s a costly process and far cheaper to encourage repeat visits. To build loyalty, you must know your guests intimately. In addition to their contact details, your PMS should be a treasure trove of their preferences, past stay habits and favorite packages. Similarly, if you know a guest’s birthday, then you can wish him or her well once a year and demonstrate that you care with a birthday rate offer he or she simply won’t find at any other hotel.
Most Online Travel Agents will only send minimal guest details, whereas your booking engine can usually be customized to collect the exact data you need to create a truly personalized guest experience.
You can use pre-stay messages to build anticipation
To deliver a great guest experience, you must turn the anticipation dial to a higher setting before his or her check-in date. With your own booking engine, you can do this with pre-stay messaging that is automatically sent at timed intervals to prepare the guest gently for an awesome stay.
You can provide insight into the extras that are bookable at check in, give him or her a glimpse at the new restaurant’s menu or suggest some local attractions. You can do this once he or she departs, too, with a “thank you” and whisper of a special offer if he or she returns. There’s no better way to build a direct relationship with a guest than with pre- and post-stay messaging.
Potential guests will be looking for it
Research by Expedia suggests that guests visit as many as 38 Websites before confirming a booking. That colossal figure will come as little surprise to anyone who has researched hotels online, but it is also proof that you must have an exceptional online booking experience on your hotel’s Website if you’re to prevent guests from suffering from research fatigue. Even if a guest finds you on an OTA, then it’s likely he or she will visit your Website, and if the direct-booking option is non-existent or sub-par, he or she will quickly move to the next option.