Software Advice, a source for hospitality system reviews, recently published a report that caught our attention. It gives hoteliers a realistic playbook on how best to incentivize travelers to book direct, and thus eschew onerous online travel agency (OTA) fees. In surveying over 2,500 consumers, they discovered a free room upgrade is the most preferred benefit. The research also offers insights into the desirability of offerings such as free food and drinks.
Hotels can do more to ensure they get direct bookings…and keep them.
Steve Jobs built an empire on the notion that the customer experience had to be fully-owned from beginning to end. Apple built the software and the hardware, and avoided using third-party distribution to sell its wares. Jobs knew that Apple had to own the entire experience to gain avid loyalty.
Web Experience is Guest Experience
The guest experience today more than ever begins at the website. The hotel website booking engine has to be at least as convenient, transparent and easy to use as the OTA. Splash screens are thankfully an item of the past, as should be bandwidth gobbling photo assets and murky navigation. Mobile optimization is also a must, since studies reveal customers often make several visits before completing a reservation.
Think Like the Guest
Once the sale is made, the hotel has a strategic advantage to communicate effectively and directly to their new customer. They now have crucial information about the purchaser, including the length of stay, where they are from, and the email address.
Succinct information about the closest subway stop or directions to the hotel will be appreciated. A direct phone line to the concierge is a safety net guests will thank the hotel for, even if they don’t use it. A confirmation email delivered 24 hours prior to arrival asking if anything is needed adds personalization to what is typically an anonymous process. Move the communication platform away from the OTA to develop a relationship with the customer.
The hotel staff is aware of the booking channel that brought each guest to its premises. During check-in and check-out, staff should remind guests of the incentives of booking directly with the hotel. Messaging is key, and opportunities exist in all areas of guest contact, including the guest satisfaction survey.
One-off incentives are great and they do work, but they really don’t change long-term behaviors or perception. To do that, businesses must connect with customers and consistently encourage and reward “good” behavior.