Written by: Sayali Bedeker Patil, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Let’s face it! OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) such as hotels.com, booking.com, Make My Trip, and others are a necessary evil. They are an absolute boon for small, boutique hotels with little or no brand clout and paltry marketing budgets. With their mighty traffic and booking stats, and their huge marketing budgets, OTAs bring in a ton of bookings for most hotels and resorts out there.
But OTAs aren’t cheap. For small and independent hotels with no bargaining power, OTA booking commissions can be as high as 30 percent! For the Holiday Inns and the Radissons, for example, despite their brand clout, these commissions can still be between 15 to 25 percent. And that’s per booking! And we won’t even start on the ‘blocked rooms’ system for now.
So, do you see the problem here? It is a catch 22; can’t do with, can’t do without kind of relationship between hotels and these online travel platforms.
But what if I told you that your independent hotel could do certain things consistently and patiently and gain an advantage over even the mightiest of OTAs. What if I told you that you could indeed steal back a chunk of bookings from these OTAs and save on commissions by making direct bookings while building up your brand, improving your visibility, and more? Would you believe me? Well, you should. The internet is littered with these successful case studies.
But let’s talk action, rather than theory, shall we? Would you like to know of some fail-safe strategies that set your hotel up for ‘direct booking’ success without having to pay an expert? Here are 5 sure-fire digital marketing tips that will set your hotel up for increased direct bookings and lower OTA dependencies.
1. Get Yourself a Website
It is not just any website, but one that is geared to take bookings and is asking explicitly for them. In other words, a high-converting, non-static website. If you have an existing website, tweak it to be conversion-oriented by offering users a visual treat and a value-packed offer that compels conversion. Your website is your first weapon for this David vs. Goliath battle, so make sure it is sharp.
Master the art of storytelling. Your web property is yours to own, one where you can tell your story and draw people in. It is also your own keyword pool, one you power. So mix your static site elements with an agile and dynamic blog and leverage it for its SEO juice.
Your blog will allow you to play around with keywords. And not just any keywords, but keywords that have not yet been targeted by your OTA travel partners. Your blog is where you have the power to create and publish content around data-backed, researched keywords that will boost your entire site’s SEO. Engaging blogs also invite organic backlinks when promoted properly.
2. Identify Your True Products
No, your rooms are not your product. Neither is your spa, nor is it your heated pool. Get over the business mindset where it is all about you and your product. Start thinking about the travel shopper, your ideal customer. Tweak your product to cater to your potential guest, and you’ll see the magic happen in the booking numbers.
Was that too vague? Here’s the real deal. The travel space has evolved beyond the basics now. Travel shoppers are no longer looking for a good place to spend the night while enjoying their planned adventures during the day. Things like Insta-worthy photos, magical experiences, gastronomy, and ‘that couple’s surprise’ matter now more than ever before.
So, your product is no longer your room, your pool, and your spa. It is the package, the experiential package. The more value you add to your package, the more attractively it will be perceived. Working on your offered package is much easier than it sounds to be for hotels.
Try bundling your services or offering an experience for starters. Give free airport transfers, or free breakfasts, or a free star-gazing session, or just about anything that makes your offer stand higher and taller than others in perceived value. If nothing else, offer discounts to nearby attractions and activities or even free itineraries. In short, refine your product with tangible or intangible value to elevate your appeal.
3. Show Yourself Consistently on Social Media
There is no being away from social media if you are keen to market your hotel. Set up your business accounts, optimize your buttons, and be available. Post frequently and consistently, and don’t just market your wares. If you offer genuine value by sharing graphics, articles, tips, and even laughs, that’s your opportunity to convert followers into fans.
Most importantly, set up your buttons and your calls to action. Optimize your buttons to grow your mailing lists or Whatsapp inquiries or whatever works for you. But give your audience something easier than typing your name in an OTA platform’s search bar. Incentivize them to get directly in touch with you.
4. Let Go of Your Google Fetish
Well, not exactly let go. But loosen up rather. There is gold beyond Google, for Google is NOT the only search engine, and your obsession may be preventing you from looking at far easier and cheaper alternatives.
Google is difficult to rank organically. And that’s a fact. But have you looked at Pinterest or Youtube? Both are search engines that value visuals, and you, of all the people, already know that the travel and hospitality niche works first on visual enticement.
You can rank faster, higher, and for much cheaper on Pinterest and Youtube. Just look up the stats if you don’t believe me. Personally, I am a big Pinterest ambassador. If you must dance to the tunes of a search engine’s algorithm, make it Pinterest, and that’s my straight-up personal recommendation for 2021. With basic SEO and a visually appealing pin, your hotel can gain an exponential reach growth even in a short time frame. And ranking on Pinterest will also help you rank higher on Google too, go figure.
5. Don’t Be Stingy with Paid Promotions
It is understandable that with so many monetary outflows on things that are not really your core products, you are hesitant to add to your marketing budgets for paid promotions. But when you look at the return on investment numbers, putting in the money for influencer marketing and paid promotions seems like a better bet than spending on Google ads.
As marketing becomes more and more innovative and challenging, the more basics come into play. Marketing basics, like ‘word of mouth works,’ still hold true. Influencer marketing is just that, and it allows you to reach larger audiences through your chosen influencer.
Paid promotions on social media work great for posts that hold viral value, such as content, offers, and freebies. Then there’s PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising. When based on a dynamic and continuously evolving strategy, PPC advertising is a tried and tested method of competing with OTAs. After all, these players are already bidding on keywords too.
So there is no getting around these. But looking at these strategies and making data-backed decisions ensure that you go further for every coin you spend.
2020 may have been that spoke in your wheel, with all the travel bans and jittery travelers. But 2021 is now an opportunity unlike another. Travelers are raring to go, and how? They want to make up for their lost year. Are you geared up to rope in that increased footfall? Now that’s the real question.
Sayali Bedekar Patil, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Sayali Bedekar Patil is a digital strategist who loves to build and convey brand stories over social media. Sayali quit her 9-to-5, smuggled her favourite tea mug out of the premises, consolidated her decade-long experience in the online content marketing space and took the leap of faith during this pandemic with her own digital marketing startup YOTRIPP. YOTRIPP offers digital marketing (and a host of other a la carte services) to hotels, resorts, tours and other travel players. Sayali and her team help travel-related businesses put together a powerful brand message through persuasive storytelling. She then devises the strategy for slow-dripping that right message in the right form and at the right time, on the right digital platforms and social media, to get the best visibility, engagement and conversion results for the investment made. If you thought old-school, pen-and-paper thinking does not work today, Sayali is ready to prove you wrong. Your brand need not be bland and Sayali shows you exactly how to infuse it with some spice.