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By Jean Francois Mourier

Promoting your property online is crucial to the success of any hotels' business today. Properly promoting your hotel through the online channel (including OTAs, the direct channel, social media, etc.) can help a property drastically increase its brand recognition with potential guests and will help to sustain your competitive edge as great online visibility ultimately leads to increased sales. 

Though OTAs have radically changed the way that hotels do business, they have made hotel prices more competitive than ever for guests and come at a cost for hotels, which are not only faced with pressure to secure bookings in a highly competitive market, but are also required to pay commission on bookings made through this channel. By securing direct bookings however, that is bookings secured directly via a hotel,s own website or reservation desk, hotels can not only begin saving on commission costs, but also gain greater control over their potential guests' booking experiences. Here are four ways that hotels can increase their direct bookings starting today. 

Google Carousel

For most properties, third-party OTAs are often much more visible than a property's own (direct) site. Of course, because of the high commissions charged by OTAs, this is a less-than-ideal situation for hotels. But there is a cost-effective way for your property to increase your visibility in Google search engines: Google Carousel.

Google Carousel is a row of images across the top of the Google SERP (search engine results page) against a dark background. For now, the carousel contains up to 20 results and appears primarily in results for travel, hospitality, and restaurant queries.[1] Carousel results appear when a user searches for something with local intent (i.e. hotels in San Francisco, CA).

Google Carousel can impact your property's direct booking rates because your property's visual image (which is always more impactful than text results) will be shown to users before the OTA listings are. In fact, according to recent data, Carousel currently impacts 33% of keywords across the travel and hospitality industry[2] and 70% of people are more likely to click on Carousel images than Google Maps and AdWords. 

When clicking on the image in Google Carousel, users will be routed to search results for the property's name, which offers direct contact info (including a link to the property's website), as well as a EBook button, which shows the property's room rate. Once someone decides to book with your property (direct), if you have a non-commission based booking system, you will be able to earn 100% of the booking rate (rather than 65-85%, like on most OTAs). 

Social Media Bookings 

Social media platforms - such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Vine and Instagram - can be used to increase your property's direct bookings. Guide your customers to book through the direct channel across all of your social media accounts by frequently updating and sharing with them information about your property, including links to your website's booking engine. If prospective customers have only ever seen a booking option via OTAs, that's where they are going to end up booking their reservation; by promoting the link through social media and making it easy for guests to find your site from your profiles/posts, you will greatly increase the number of direct bookings that your property secures. 

Promotions and Incentives

In order to direct more bookings through the direct channel, consider creating a loyalty program for direct bookers, which offers special rewards/discounts/etc., anything that incentivizes potential guests to book directly instead of through the OTAs. Consider offering promotions like complimentary upgrades or services (i.e. free airport transportation, breakfast or discounted on-site spa services) for guests that book through the direct channel as well. If you decide to offer a discounted room rate, consider offering a discount through a promo code (the rate is discounted from the standard room rate during checkout), as promo codes will ensure that your property's rates stays in parity. Showcase your company's direct booking incentive programs prominently on every page of your website (including your booking engine) with a call-to-action, as well as through your social media channels to increase the amount of first-time direct bookers. 

Technology

Having the right technology can also help to increase direct bookings to your property. Sophisticated revenue management technology can manage your rates automatically, and in real-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across all online channels (including the direct channel). By keeping your rates on the direct channel consistent with the OTA rates (as they change due to market fluctuations), you ensure that it is equally attractive to potential guests to book direct. 

While you've seen the huge benefits to increasing your direct bookings, that doesn¹t mean that you should stop using the OTAs as well. The two channels provide hotels with significant benefits when used together strategically. Because OTAs greatly increase a property's online visibility, having your rooms listed on the OTAs can lead to an increase in direct bookings (called the billboard effect). In 2013, Cornell Professor Dr. Chris Anderson found that hotel direct bookings increased from 7.5% to 26% when listed on Expedia, a direct increase in revenues due to the visibility created by being listed on the OTA.[3] 

This demonstrates that the best strategy for all properties is to combine a strong presence across multiple international and regional OTA channels, as well as an effective program to direct bookings through your own website.  

References:

[1] http://blog.mediative.com/en/2013/11/04/understanding-google-carousel-results/

[2] http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2299454/4-Google-Carousel-Optimization-Tips

[3] http://thehospitalityblog.ecornell.com/the-billboard-effect/

About Jean Francois Mourier

Jean Francois Mourier is CEO and Founder of REVPAR GURU, a company that provides hotels around the world with an alternative revenue management software system designed to deliver maximum bookings and profits. You can reach Jean Francois through www.revparguru.com or by calling 1.786.478.3500.

Contact: Jean Francois Mourier

+1.786.478.3500.

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