How to increase direct hotel bookings

By Jessica L on 22 October 2021

An unexpected trend to have emerged from the pandemic is direct hotel bookings. A recent report shows that while volumes were at an all-time low at the beginning of 2021, the number of reservations coming through owned channels increased significantly to 32% in Europe, and 41% in Asia – overtaking OTAs in the latter region. We explore some of the reasons behind this uplift, as well as ways to encourage loyalty.

Why are direct bookings on the rise?

With international travel falling off a cliff in 2020, the industry for the last 12 months has been largely buoyed by domestic tourism. Booking direct is more straightforward for local travellers. There are no language barriers, few other trip elements to tie together, their rights as consumers are clear and it should be easy to contact the hotel outside of a stay if any queries arise. The various influences behind their choice of hotel, like familiarity and dining, will also differ from that of an overseas guest, and perhaps loyalty incentives feel more relevant. 

At times this market has been reduced further to only those who travelled frequently before Covid-19 put paid to that. This group are more likely to know exactly where they want to stay, go straight to source and be active in their use of loyalty programs. For almost all prospective travellers, whether local or international, the hotel website has been an important source of information regarding any new guest measures or local restrictions.

Create a seamless booking experience

Arguably the most important step a hotel brand can take to improve their marketing efforts is creating frictionless and visually pleasing touchpoints. Websites should be fast-loading, easily navigable and beautifully designed. No matter what your market positioning, travel is a luxury – it’s emotional – so when guests arrive, digitally, they should be given the first taste of what it is they are seeking from their travel aspirations. 

Today’s traveller wants a soulful hotel experience but they also want efficiency. A clunky, poorly optimised website is one of the main causes of booking abandonment and doesn’t say much about the level of service guests can expect offline. Mobile should also be a priority – a Google/Phocuswright Travel Study finds that researching hotels on a mobile device is as common as shopping for clothing. 

Enhance and incentivise the stay

The vast majority of bookers will go wherever the best deal is and for many that is represented by the lowest rate. If this is achievable, a guarantee should be clearly displayed on the website homepage and in emails. But it’s not all about beating the OTAs on price. How can you appeal to someone who is actively searching and currently dreaming of travel, in a way that a third-party listing can’t? 

Create a promotion that feels on-brand and steeped in thoughtful hospitality, such as a signature cocktail on arrival, a complimentary minibar stocked with local treats, or breakfast room service and a late check-out. Indicate to your customer that their entire experience, from booking to post-stay, will be more personalised, enjoyable and better value when they book direct. Flexibility remains an essential requirement for consumers, too, so the cancellation policy should be clear and unrestrictive. 

Encourage brand loyalty 

Although 61% of hotel loyalty program members say value for money drives their booking decision, retention is dependent on trust and brand experience. Direct bookings are a chance to build a more personal relationship with customers (partly because of the data you’ll glean) and actually this motivation also exists in the reverse. The next generation of travellers are savvier, but also more thoughtful in their spending choices, opting to support brands that reflect their own values and have an identity they’re keen to align with. Reward loyalty members with exclusive stay packages, previews and content that builds affinity and creates greater distinction in your market.

One reason why cancellation rates are so much higher on OTA bookings is because the transaction is impersonal. Treat every touchpoint as an opportunity to demonstrate the highest standard of hospitality, and guests will follow.

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