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5 Steps for Hotels to Drive Direct Bookings - Part 1/2

When Hospitality Technology asked hotels to prioritize tech investments intended to enhance guests’ digital experience for its 2019 Lodging Technology Study, driving direct bookings was the top choice. Three out of five (60%) hotels said they plan to focus on driving more direct reservations in 2019. However, in addition to competing with traditional OTAs, hotels must now choose to compete or partner with the likes of Google, which recently debuted Google Travel. Google Travel offers customers the ultimate convenience: a customizable menu of options for searching for the perfect hotel, plus flight products, discounts and a "Book on Google" feature so that guests never have to leave the site. So what's a hotel to do?

In this roadmap, HT outlines some key steps brands can take to help capture more direct bookings and preserve customer loyalty.

Choice Hotels partnered with Google so that prospective guests can now book directly with the hotel through the "Book on Google" platform.

Step 1: Market Your Brand Effectively

One of the first steps to increasing direct bookings is as old as time: Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! When hotel brands market their brand effectively, they're more likely to be top of mind for consumers, says Robert McDowell, CCO, Choice Hotels International.

Choice Hotels does this in a variety of ways, including Google Hotel Price Ads, travel metasearch engines, as well as traditional advertising and marketing. But most recently, Choice partnered with Google to debut "Book on Google" in November 2018.

In a few clicks, Choice Hotels' customers can now complete a reservation online on Google using their saved Google credentials. Unlike booking a hotel room through other third-party sites, the Book on Google reservation is handled by Choice Hotels. This includes receiving a confirmation from Choice Hotels that allows guests to manage reservations directly with the hotel.

"Book on Google gave us the ability to showcase our hotels on Google and drive a lot more of that direct booking," McDowell noted.

Similarly, G6 Hospitality LLC, parent company to Motel 6 and Studio 6, cares deeply about marketing its brand to consumers.

"We have to make sure we own, optimize and control the brand voice so that anyone who is searching for a Motel 6 or Studio 6 sees our properties first," says Jeff Thomas, director of distribution and eCommerce at G6 Hospitality.

G6 Hospitality has also found partnering with Google to be imperative for marketing and driving direct bookings. It too has partnered with Google to launch Book on Google. According to Thomas, Book on Google is a "next-gen OTA."

"Google is the number one channel in the world, and it's paramount to ensure that we are featured on it," he adds. "At the core of it, you have to manage the search experience. Google controls the user experience, so you have to be on that shelf."

While Google is a very large industry player, and becoming larger, it's not the only metasearch site out there. Others include TripAdvisor, HotelsCombined, Trivago and Kayak. As these are still popular among consumers, it's important to maintain a presence on these sites as well.

G6 Hospitality finds that most customers will take days to make a booking and will often interact with a brand via multiple channels.

"Make sure you're participating fully in metasearch," Thomas advises. "Metasearch is becoming the new search for hotels, and this is because Google has changed the landscape for search over the last two years. Making sure the brand maintains a presence within the top selected sites for metasearch is absolutely critical."

Step 2: Get to know your customer

Marketing one's hotel brand, however, does not simply mean throwing money at a variety of channels and hoping something will stick. It requires some sophisticated data and analytics to first understand who your customers are.

"As a small independent hotel with a limited marketing budget, it is incredibly important for us to use data and analytics to maximize the reach of those dollars," says Nick Pearson, general manager at The Jupiter Hotel. "The Jupiter Hotel’s website is our number one sales funnel, so we need to make sure our ad spends are getting our messaging in front of the right customers at the right time."

One way Pearson has been able to do this is by partnering with Vertical Booking USA, which offers hotels a suite of integrated, online distribution and reservation solutions, including advanced website booking engine and upselling tools, GDS distribution, channel manager, a metasearch management tool, an OTA rate comparison tool and a competitor rate checking tool.

"Guest data is hugely beneficial in driving bookings from third-party sites to the direct channel; when you know who your customer is, you can be sure that you are communicating the information that your guests need to make a booking decision while making sure that your direct booking channels are front-and-center online and in the metasearch channels," he adds.

Another way hotels can better learn about their guests is by partnering with companies such as IgnitionOne, Thomas says. G6 Hospitality uses IgnitionOne to understand not only who their customers are, but also what their behavior is like, including what marketing channels they book through. According to Thomas, most customers will take days to make a booking and will often interact with a brand via multiple channels. They might start on Expedia, then switch to Google. A few days later they might be on eBates and see a Motel 6 banner ad and click on it. Regardless of how long it takes the consumer to book, the advice to hotel brands is the same.

MEININGER Hotels says it uses the information it gathers to get a better understanding of user profiles, hotel services performance, and the performance of its direct book channels.

"You need a presence everywhere," Thomas says. "And it has to be optimized to ensure your proprietary channel is optimized in the best way possible."

Hotels can also gather data on guests using a customizable booking engine.  Hotels could make it mandatory for guests to share their emails, zip codes, phone numbers and birthdays during the booking process, Pearson says. However, he recommends that hotels use the front desk to capture guest data. 

"The front desk still plays the biggest role in capturing guest information, so it is important for hoteliers to empower front desk staff to do this," Pearson states.

Using data and analytics appropriately provides other valuable insights as well. Malin Widmarc-Nilsson, head of commerce at MEININGER Hotels says it uses the information it gathers to get a better understanding of user profiles, hotel services performance, and the performance of its direct book channels.

"This information allows us to directly impact the overall digital marketing strategy of our hotels, optimize our services, and conduct digital user acquisition initiatives more efficiently," Widmarc-Nilsson notes. "Data-driven insights help us to understand our customers’ needs, adapt to these needs and market to them more effectively. Data analytics is at the core of our strategy to drive more direct bookings."

Ultimately, using data and analytics effectively translates into personalization. Choice Hotels recently replatformed its central reservation system to ChoiceEdge. Now it can better understand the type of data it has stored and it has faster access to the data. Access and speed means Choice will be able to do high quality personalization on a large-scale format, McDowell says.

"Guests are looking for us to know who they are via our loyalty program," he adds. "So having that strong analytical platform as well as access to data is going to be really critical for Choice Hotels in 2019 and beyond."

To read part 2, click here!

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