If you’ve been following travel industry blogs for awhile, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the so-called ‘billboard effect.’ In case you haven’t, the idea is that OTAs such as Expedia can be used as a kind of marketing billboard for hotels –that rather than having a negative impact on direct bookings, these sites can in fact act as a discovery tool for guests who then go on to book on the hotel’s website, commission-free.
It’s a pretty attractive idea, right? Numerous industry studies have shown a link between an amplified presence on OTAs and an uplift in direct bookings, sometimes by as much as 25%. But while there’s no doubt that signing up to these websites helps your property get seen by many more travellers, if the user experience on your website fails to hit the mark, you can’t expect these people to book direct.
Here are 3 steps you can take to change that.
1. Streamline the booking process
If you want to encourage the billboard effect, it’s essential that the booking process on your website matches or better yet, surpasses the ease of booking with the OTAs.
The most powerful way to drive holiday bookings is by evoking emotion in your guests. You want your guests to imagine themselves on holiday at your property, get them excited and get them itching to book. How do you do this? Through high quality, high definition photography and persuasive copywriting that brings your best features to life.
Simplify the payment process
Once a guest has made it to the payment page you’ve secured a booking, right? Wrong! A lot of people will abandon the site at this point if faced with a frustrating and overly complicated payment system. Avoid abandoned carts by making sure the payment process on your site is secure, simple and flexible in terms of currency – 33% of American and British travellers say they will abandon the purchase if currencies in USD and GBP are not displayed.
Confirm they’ve Made a Great Decision
Right after someone makes a booking, your hotel should send out an automated email confirming their purchase. This important message serves 3 purposes – it thanks guests and shows them that you value their custom; it alleviates any sense of buyer’s remorse felt after booking; and finally, it reassures the guest that their credit card transaction went through successively.
2. Offer Better Rates for A Limited Group of Guests
Although you’re not allowed to publicly advertise rates lower than those that appear on the OTAs, you can do so for a limited audience. This means to encourage bookings made directly through your website you can create exclusive deals for:
- Facebook and Twitter fans and followers
- Contacts on your email database
- People that contact you via phone
Don’t forget to encourage people to join these audiences by placing compelling calls to action on your website.
3. Create Irresistible Room Packages
You can make it more attractive for guests to book direct by enhancing your room packages with valuable “extras” such as free WiFi, complimentary parking, or even restaurant vouchers or tickets to a local attraction or event.
Expedia and the other online travel agencies may be able to offer the room at a better price, but guests that book direct benefit from extras that are just as valuable as the discount offered by the OTAs.
Has your hotel experienced the “billboard effect”? How do you strike the right balance when partnering with OTAs? Let us know in the comments below!