Have you ever wondered what it is that OTA’s do that kicks their conversion rates through the roof? What is it that they do to make their presence so well felt and received? Why are they so successful in obtaining bookings and why can you never seem to achieve the same with your own direct bookings platform?
OTA investment in E-commerce research is eye wateringly big. Expedia last year spent a total of $750 million dollars on research and development. They also ran 1,750 A/B tests as well as actually using two-way mirrors to study the eyeballs of users while they were using the site.
Now I am not telling you to spend a fortune on testing and install two way mirrors in a room to watch your guests eyeballs. Other than the fact that it would most likely get you arrested, it is not necessary because the good news for you and for all hoteliers is that their secrets, really are no big secret.
Below are 7 examples of best practice of OTA’s and large hotel chains to increase your direct booking conversions and increase traffic to your booking platform.
1. Mobile friendly, fully functioning and, the platinum rule, usability
These days people view your page on a whole host of different devices, including devices that run on different systems and need different programming languages to be able to display the information on your page in the correct way; iPhone’s, Android phones, Tablets, even watches! Of course, the big OTA’s spend millions on developing mobile specific apps to make the user experience as good as it can be. However, there are ways around it. The best thing you can do is make your site responsive. This means that you ask your website developers to make sure that your site is adaptable, viewable and usable on as many platforms as possible. The browsers used the most and the ones you need to worry about are; Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer & Edge, Firefox and finally Opera.
Usability is the key to success for any website not just a booking platform. But what is usability and why is it so important? Why should you spend time and money on something that quite frankly, sounds like such a simple thing to consider and get right?
“On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here? There’s no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty. The first law of ecommerce is that if users cannot find the product, they cannot buy it either.” Nielson Norman Group
2.Take advantage of what OTAs can offer
Now of course we all know that OTA’s can offer us bookings. They have a good client base and people all over the world use them to book hotels and stays on a daily basis. So they can offer you bookings and help you keep your occupancy levels at a maximum, but is it really worth it? Are there any alternatives?
The likes of the big players in the OTA market, booking, Expedia, Trivago etc, are all well established and are well known. However there is a constant emergence of new OTA’s on the market. These new OTA’s are doing what they can to break down the Duopoly of the OTA market and make things a little easier for the hoteliers.
A good example of this is bidroom.com. Bidroom is, “an OTC (online travel community) not just an OTA”. What is the difference I hear you say. Well we’re trying to do things a little differently – a subscription based, private or closed OTA. This means we make money from subscribers and not from the hotels. We offer 0% commission on bookings to hotels and on top of that offer you a free direct link to your own booking site as we do not need our subscribers to book through our platform, it is their choice. This is a great way to drive traffic to your booking page and increase your own conversions. This kind of thing is available on other OTAs such as Expedia, but it costs a lot of money (according to sources the current annual cost of a direct link is £2,500).
3. Visual, simple; less is always more
If you look at any good, successful, over achieving website or OTA, everything is simple, visually appealing and ‘clean’. This is just as important as usability in itself. Why? Because if your booking platform is all geared up for a great user experience but visually makes you want to throw up a little bit due to the over use of vivid colours and/or too much information being given, then guess what, they leave.
So what should you do to make sure that doesn’t happen? The most successful brands, websites, even adverts and songs in history have all had one thing in common. They are simple in design and theme. It is imperative that you get this part right and really think about how and why you want to include something in the design and information you are giving to your visitors. When someone comes to your landing page, they want answers and quickly. They need to know where to click to make a booking and they just want to be able to check if you have availability easily and quickly. They don’t need masses of information about you and the hotel and the entire history of how you got there or whether or not your cat will be eating with them. Take Bing.com as an example. Choosing a specific blue over some other hues amounted to an additional $80 million in annual revenue for Bing.com (Fried, 2010). Now of course I am not saying that if you use the right colour on your website then it will increase your revenue by that much, but it highlights the importance of visualisation for us all. As we all know and have heard many times for many different reasons, “Less is more”. – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
4. Test, test, test and test again
Testing is something that needs to be an ongoing process. It is no good designing something and then getting a handful of people that are friends of yours to look at it and boost your ego and tell you how amazing it is and how wonderful you are for producing it, great for the ego sure, not so great for your revenue sheet.
The giants spend millions on testing, spreading the testing over a wide range of age groups, sex, even things like income and education (remember Expedia and the two-way mirrors?) There is a way however, for you to do similar tests on a small scale. You could ask guests that have come to stay to test your site for you while they stay and give you feedback. You could organise a test day, invite some people off the street to come to your hotel, provide them with a free lunch and a drink and you will be amazed at what people are willing to do for you.
The testing is simple. Ask your developer to make a test page for you, where it looks and feels exactly like the real thing and the ‘testers’ can sit down and go through the process as if it was for the first time, all the way through to actually booking the room. Then you get them to fill out a form with some set questions for them to rate it on. Things such as, how easy was the process, did they like the way it looked, what could be improved, would they visit the site again, what things did they not like about how it looked or how it functioned, did they like the colours used, was there enough/too much information.
By getting feedback on all of these things you can relay this information back to your developers and get them to implement the suggestions that are most common for instance or the ones that you really like. It is important however to remember that you need to do the same again perhaps 6 months later or 3 months later, but definitely annually to keep things fresh and up to date.
5. Points and rewards
This is an excellent opportunity for you to increase your conversions. When people visit sites they want some sort of incentive to return again. These days there is a huge rise in the use of loyalty cards. This is something that can be done through your booking page or via an email after the booking is confirmed or as a call to action email if they look but don’t book. What does this mean? It means that someone comes to your page, they look through the rooms available and look at the restaurant menu for example.
Using readily available to tools, you can set up an automatic email so when the guest has looked at the restaurant menu but not booked, it will send them an email to offer them discount at the restaurant. You can also apply the same to the booking page. If, for instance, they look at the rooms but do not book, they receive an email giving them the option to book with a small discount. Or they actually book a room via your platform, they can then receive an email offering them the chance to take advantage of a loyalty card which will give them discount somehow or even a free nights stay after so many bookings have been made. This is an excellent way to automate the process of sending offers to people and increasing your conversions.
Of course it is a great idea to display any seasonal discounts on rooms, or group discounts, or discount in the restaurant when booking directly on the booking page itself. Of course don’t forget to have a pop-up or some CTA (call to action) box clearly displayed asking the visitor to sign up to your blog (see point 7!) or to your newsletters about upcoming offers etc. This is also a good opportunity to collect information on visitors, keep in touch with them and retain them as returning customers. Don’t forget to read the new GDPR rules around this.
6. Social proof is king of the hill
Social proof is an increasing phenomenon and is becoming more and more important in marketing and sales as a whole, cross industry. So what is ‘social proof’? Well the best example of this phenomenon is ‘the shed @ Dulwich’. This was a young guy, journalist Oobah Butler for Vice magazine, who took the shed he loved in at the bottom of someone else’s garden in Dulwich and managed to make it the No.1 restaurant on Tripadvisor even though the restaurant did not exist and was not really a restaurant.
So how did he do this? Social proof. He posted pictures of ‘the shed’ on tripadvisor and got friends and colleagues to write fake reviews on the restaurant in order to generate interest in ‘the shed’ This was then worked over a period of months, with facebook posts and other reviews until it eventually become the most wanted place to eat on tripadvisor. Now he did this as an experiment for him to report on, however these same principles can be applied to your hotel.
So you take some good photos of your people eating in your restaurant, or in the gym on your premises, or some people at an event in your hotel or near to your hotel. You then post pictures across all social media outlets and get friends and family and guests to make comments on the pictures and share them far and wide. All of this generates interest in your hotel and drives traffic to your page, providing of course you include a link in the picture or in the comments section, encouraging people to take advantage of the good weather or if they want a fantastic night out, they need to book with you.
All of these things generate traffic to your page and then providing you have implemented the other hints and tips here, you will convert people to becoming loyal, returning customers.
7. Blog it and then blog it some more
Blogs have now become an essential way to market your hotel and also the ‘kind’ of place your hotel is. If you have never read a blog or written one. Fear not. A blog is essentially a collection of personal thoughts and feelings. You can blog on anything. Blog about your food in your restaurant. Or how about about local events (before and after)? With this option you can also look at including links to official pages for the events and or other venues. Perhaps review some local restaurants or clubs and activities. This way you can increase your revenue by striking a deal with them to give you a promo code so when you bring custom their way, they pay you a commission on the business your bring them, or allow you to offer a discount to your customers who decide to go there. Perhaps a free drink or free entry to local clubs etc.
In today’s day and age you really need to start thinking outside the old traditional hotelier model and start thinking like a marketeer. A blog is an excellent way to really get creative and give yourself the chance to include back links etc in your blog posts which will increase your google rating and drive more and more traffic to your site. If you publish your posts on your own site and also on somewhere like ‘Medium’ for instance then you increase the views and therefore increase traffic.
Be your own marketeer, be your own solution.
If you take advantage of all the things suggested in this article, it will generate more traffic to your site and it will increase your direct bookings and therefore your conversions.
Remember things are different these days. People have shorter attention spans and need things to be completed quickly, efficiently, and with ease. If you can make the customers visit as pleasant as possible then you will soon see those visits increase and conversions go higher and higher. Be your own marketeer, be your own solution.