In the late 90’s, OTAs, a new online travel resource, became popular with both consumers and hotels. For travelers, OTAs made it easy to see all your lodging options in one place, rather than jump from hotel website to website to check prices and amenities. For hoteliers, OTAs offered a great source of guests. Hotels loved the fact that they could pay a fee to the OTAs to have beds filled every night. For many, giving up a percentage of the booking was worth the price of guest discovery. Hoteliers figured that once the guest walked through the doors, they could wow them with service and they would book directly with the hotel next time.
But over time OTAs developed their own loyalty programs and got stingier about sharing guests’ contact information with hotels. It became common practice for OTAs to mask emails and other critical guest data so hotels couldn’t reach out to guests directly. Hotels that didn’t focus on capturing this information upon check-in were unable to reach their guests after 30 days of them checking out.
Once hotels were hooked, OTAs raised their fees, costing the hotels a bigger and bigger percentage of the bookings. In addition, OTAs were proving their marketing prowess and had the budget to dramatically outspend hotels on advertising to capture bookings. OTAs were soon bidding on hotels’ brand keywords and getting the booking, even if guests intended to book directly. Hoteliers were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They relied upon the channel for bookings, but guests came at a huge cost.
Over time and thanks to great technology and constant A/B testing and site optimization, OTAs have become the go-to channel for travelers to book hotel rooms. OTAs have perfected conversion, making it very easy to find a hotel that meets your needs and makes the booking.
According to pre-Covid-19 global consumer survey from GlobalData, OTAs were the primary choice of booking channel for 44% of respondents. Direct bookings came in second at 36%. Hotels and OTAs are both partners and fierce competitors.
But many experts are saying that now is the time for hotels to take back bookings from OTAs. Over the last few years, travelers have realized that cheaper rooms came at a price. With a focus on convenience and low costs, OTAs aren’t known for customer-friendliness. Many travelers have been burned with non-refundable bookings, causing service issues. Now, with consumers preparing for post-pandemic travel, hoteliers have a great opportunity to capture more market share. Here’s why hoteliers should focus on direct bookings post-pandemic.
Flexibility will be important
OTAs have never been known for their flexible policies. In fact, they have a reputation of being quite rigid. And, to make matters worse, their customer service agents can be challenging to reach and work with, especially if you purchased a nonrefundable room, which is so tempting given the discount.
Hotels can capitalize on this perception by being extra flexible and easy to work with during post-pandemic travel. By promoting risk-free bookings to your loyal guests in your hotel marketing, you will likely sway some travelers who are on the fence about traveling. Even though many adults have begun to get their vaccines and there are strong signals of normalcy returning, the C.D.C. still advises against travel, especially amid new surges and variants.
We encourage hoteliers to put yourself in your guests’ shoes and rethink your long-term cancellation policy. Offer ‘worry-free reservations’, allowing guests to cancel or change the dates without penalties. Be sure to highlight your cancellation policy on your website and in your email promotions, to encourage impulse bookings. Revinate Marketing makes it easy to design visually compelling promotional emails, personalized to the traveler, for effective conversion.
If hotels can establish themselves as the worry-free option for post-pandemic travel, they will set themselves apart from OTAs and be a reason for guests to book directly. The cost savings from selling direct will more than makeup from a few last-minute cancellations.
Staycations are the rage
As we shared in a recent blog post, staycations will be a big travel trend this summer. With many borders still closed and the vaccine not rolled out yet across the world, staying local will be common. Hotels are in a great position to compete with OTAs for staycation traffic if they have great guest data and know who their local guests are.
Hoteliers should capitalize on this trend now by segmenting your database to isolate past local guests. (Revinate Marketing customers can do this easily by using the Geo-Location filter.) Once you know who your local guests are, you can send your locals targeted promotions, sharing why they should staycation with you in Summer 21. Family-friendly? Covid-safe? Golf? Great food? See how detailed you can be in your segmentation and use your services and amenities to appeal to your past guests. Speak their language and your past guests will book with you directly, versus with an OTA.
Outdoor vacations will be popular this summer
A New York Times article published April 1st talked about the return to air travel and pointed out that smaller regional airports, especially in outdoor hotspots like Colorado and Utah are seeing increased travel while major cities, especially on the West coast, are seeing far less travel than normal. People are looking to leave their homes and travel but they want to stay safe. The media and health experts have repeatedly told citizens that they’re safest outdoors, so it makes sense that they’re looking for vacations in more rural areas versus crowded cities.
As a result, there’s no doubt that spending time outside will be a big draw this summer, especially after being inside for a year under shelter-in-place restrictions. How can hotels capitalize on this trend? Hotels with great outdoor amenities, or near hiking trails, outdoor restaurants or national parks, should play up their safety and proximity to great outdoor activities in email promotions. They should feature outdoor photography and share recommendations of outdoorsy things to do in the area. With Revinate Marketing, creating great-looking email promotions is easy, regardless of design acumen. Check out this example from Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa. The focus of the image is the image – – a solo skier who seems to have the mountain to himself.
If you want to learn more about how Revinate helps hoteliers drive direct bookings, book a meeting with us. We would love to tell you how our customers use Revinate Marketing to segment customers and send personalized email promotions that drive hotel direct bookings and reduce your reliance on OTAs. With travel bouncing back, your recovery is just a click away.