As great as consolidators are at bringing in those extra hotel bookings, they’re usually for high commission levels that you’d prefer to avoid! In this guide, we’ll give you tried and tested tips and tricks on how to increase direct hotel bookings. Reduce your commissions to the likes of Booking.com and invest that extra money back into your business. It’s tough to compete with the huge marketing budgets and visibility of huge online booking sites, but with some of these tips, you won’t have to.
Regardless of whether you’re a newly open hotel, or already well established – we’re certain that some of these tips will help you increase direct hotel bookings.
Make sure your hotel website is user-friendly
There are so many websites out there these days that are extremely difficult to navigate around. If you put yourself in the shoes of the customer, they want to view websites that are clear, easy to use and provide them with all the key information they need instantly i.e. price and amenities.
How will this increase direct hotel bookings? If the customer has a pleasant user journey, browsing through your website with no hiccups, they’re likely to stay on for longer, look through more pages and engage with your content. This will hopefully lead to a direct booking. If your website loads slowly and they can’t find the information they need, they’re going to click straight off and head to a competitor.
Action: Consider how long it has been since you updated your website. Is it up-to-date for the year 2021? How does it compare to competitors? Can anything be improved?
Offer various promotions and offers
Let’s face it, we all love a good offer! As you’re competing against other hotels and consolidators, offering something extra special to customers for booking directly is sure to peak interest and encourage them to book with you over someone else. Examples of promotions and offers can be:
- An added discount for booking directly – Save 10% when you book direct
- Book 2 nights with us direct and get X free (this could be a bottle of wine, or breakfast)
Offers are a great way to attract new bookings, especially if they provide large discounts. In order to make it profitable for you, why not offer seasonal discounts (which are great for the quieter periods of the year) or structure the offer so that it’s non-refundable and payable in advance.
Action: Keeping any price parity contracts in mind, see at what offers and discounts your hotel can provide. The more unique and captivating the better!
Be present on social media and engage with your audience
We live in a world where everyone is constantly on their phones. This is great news for hotels, as customers love to see snaps of food that tickles their tastebuds, breath taking scenery of the surrounding areas and the second to none amenities that your hotel provides. Social media is a fantastic way to not only show off what your hotel offers, but it can also generate an increase in direct bookings. Posting on your social channels regularly keeps your hotel in the forefront of customers minds – they will see how incredible it is. Many of the world’s top hotels put a lot of effort into making their hotel ‘Instagram-friendly’, creating unique photo spots, and generating a buzz online for their unique place to stay. You can also make use of paid adverts and advertise current offerings, which can be slightly cheaper than advertising on the likes of Google, or in local magazines.
Action: Develop a social strategy that is unique, professional and engages with what your audience demographic likes. Build a social following and then market to them.
Contact returning customers through email marketing
When it comes to bookings, it’s great to attract new customers, but we mustn’t forget our loyal, returning customers. As there’s so much competition out there, it’s easy for them to stay at another hotel if they can provide them with something better. What better way to stay in touch with previous guests, than through email marketing?
Email marketing is a technical term for scheduled, bulk emails that are sent to customers that have subscribed to offers, newsletters and updates. Whilst you don’t want to bombard them with countless emails, you can send emails every few months, highlighting any special offers, which will entice them to make a direct booking with you.
The following techniques work very well in collecting customer emails and receiving repeat bookings.
- Collect customer emails by requiring them to sign in to your WiFi network
- Collect customer emails on your website via a sign-up form or pop-up
- Ask your reception team to collect customer emails on check-in or check-out, asking customers if they’d like to sign up for special offers
- Email customers on a monthly basis if possible. Let them know about offers, hotel news and updates, local attractions and things to do nearby, seasonal events and more.
Pro-tip: Keep GDPR in mind when emailing customers. You must receive permission from customers in order to email them.
Action: Start collecting customer email addresses as soon as you can. You can then start to build an audience to market to and start thinking of an email strategy. If you already have an audience you can contact, consider your communication, including frequency and quality of content.
Improve website SEO and target less competitive search results
Depending on your hotel’s location, you may find that there are many other hotels to compete against, which makes it more of a challenge for you to generate traffic to your website. Despite this, there are some great Search Engine Optimisation strategies to attract customers via less competition search terms. Through targeting less competitive keywords (that are still relevant for your hotel’s website) you’ll find it easier to rank higher in the search results.
For example, if you’re a hotel in London, you’ll find it very difficult to rank on Google for someone searching for ‘London hotels’. Changing your SEO keyword targeting to a more local area such as ‘Greenwich hotels’ will yield better results.
It’s also important to review your website’s overall strategy, identifying any negative SEO issues and ensuring all pages are optimised.
Action: Review your SEO yourself or with the help of an expert. Optimising your website for specific high-volume keywords is key to increasing your web traffic.
Optimise your Google My Business / Google Maps profile
Your Google My Business profile is what’s used to list your hotel on Google Maps. It’s quite likely that you already have a profile listed, but is it optimised to its full potential and visible to customers searching for hotels in the area?
Here are some fairly straightforward ways in which you can increase the visibility of your hotel on Google Maps. When someone searches for hotels in the area, you want yours to be one of the highest on the list!
- Claim your Google Maps profile so you have ownership, if you haven’t already.
- Ensure that all of the following data
- Contact telephone number
- List your key amenities, services and attributes
- A catchy name and description
- Pictures of your hotel
- Select relevant primary and secondary categories for your profile
- Encourage past customers and new customers to leave a Google review for your hotel. Having lots of reviews or references will help Google Maps rankings.
- Stay active – respond to customer reviews, prompt reviews often and add any new hotel photos you have.
- Get your website listed on local business directories such as Yell. This will increase the number of citations to your business profile.
- Use the ‘Updates’ section to post updated news about your hotel. This could include special offers, a new restaurant menu, new rooms and other interesting information.
Action: Review your Google My Business profile listings/s and check that all fields are filled in. Put together a plan to increase reviews and respond to existing reviews.
Provide added value customer service
Customers want to be treated like royalty; it doesn’t matter if you’re a two star, or a five-star hotel. Providing excellent customer service is extremely important and should be given to every single guest. Having a flawless communication approach and providing a more personal experience will encourage customers to book with you versus a less personal consolidator website or hotel competitor.
In addition to providing great service during a hotel stay, you can offer additional services on your website, which will be noticed by the customer before they book:
- Online live chat – This will give customers an opportunity to speak to your customer service team about their queries. It provides ease and a more instant real-time service, as opposed to emailing.
- Phone calls – Phone calls are invaluable for building a relationship with a customer. They’re a great way to get to know the guest better and you can build a good rapport with them, even before meeting. List a call-back service on your website so guests can have you reach them at convenient times for you both. You should also make sure your phone number is listed across your website (every page) and on your social channels.
Don’t be disheartened if customers don’t book straight away after exchanging a few messages, as guests love to shop around. If you provide outstanding customer service, they’ll remember you for future bookings! Aim to build a relationship and ask about their visit, explaining what added value you can provide.
Action: Examine all of your communication channels and ensure they’re highly visible. Look at adding new channels and investing in customer service training for staff.
Offer added value for booking direct through your website
There always needs to be valid reason for customers to book directly on your website. Customers want to get the best deal and be confident that no other booking site will offer them something better. When it comes to getting more customers to book directly with you, you’ll need to assess what you’re currently offering them. With hotel price parity, it can sometimes be difficult to offer lower prices than consolidators.
Here are a few examples of things which you could be implementing for added value, if you aren’t already:
- Introduce a rewards programme – If a guest book for X nights, consider offering an additional night for free. You could also offer hotel points or credit for returning customers.
- Create special packages for guests – Bed, breakfast and dinner packages for set prices are a big win when it comes to generating hotel bookings. Consolidators often don’t offer these deals and it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd. Ideas may include:
- Afternoon Tea / cream tea included with all direct bookings
- A free drink or bottle of wine
- Credit to use in your hotel restaurant
- Bed, Breakfast and Dinner for X nights for £X
- Spa and overnight stay
- Celebration packages – Offer direct booking packages for groups of guests celebrating events, offering multiple rooms for discounted prices.
Action: Put on your thinking hat to determine what unique offers, packages and rewards your hotel can provide for booking direct. Plan, test and repeat.
Partner with local activity organisers and attractions
A hotel getaway isn’t all about the hotel for many guests, it’s much more than that! Customers love to be pampered and have a variety of things to do in the nearby area. Contact and partner with local attractions and tours, arranging discounted activities for your guests. You can either arrange discounts for your guests or structure a commission deal in exchange for tour bookings – or even a combination of both!
Attractions organisers are almost always interested in any additional bookings your hotel can provide. You can get your hotel promoted by them too, possibly generating bookings from their referral.
Other partnership ideas that will help secure those extra bookings include:
- Massage therapists. Bring a masseuse onsite and offer guests a discounted rate.
- Area guides. These can be included on your website, which will provide ideas to guests before arriving what they can do in the nearby area. Area guides can also be printed out around communal areas in the hotel, and in guests’ rooms.
Action: Do your research on nearby attractions and activities that would be worth partnering with and then reach out to them.
Make sure your hotel photography is outstanding
Needless to say, having top quality images on display throughout your website is a no-brainer. Guests love to feel excited about your hotel before they arrive. If your pictures are clear, bright and excellent quality, they’ll be more attractive to customers. If your photos are dark, blurry, and low resolution, they won’t be able to see your hotel for its real, true beauty. Photography may come at a price, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s something you’ll only really need to do once!
Action: Review your hotel photography across your website, print-outs and social channels. Could it be better? Hire a photographer or book yourself onto a photography course.
Introduce reviews to your website
Travel sites such as TripAdvisor are a great way to find out what other guests think of hotels. We can learn a lot about the rooms, hotel itself, the food, the area and much more. Guests rely heavily upon reviews and you probably already put a lot of effort into improving your Tripadvisor profile.
Have you ever considered adding your own reviews section to your website? Listing great reviews on your website gives customers that social proof they need to push the ‘Book now’ button. They value what other guests think and it can often tip their booking decision in your favour. You can list existing Google or Tripadvisor reviews on your site or use a platform such as Feefo or Trustpilot.
Action: Review your hotel reviews and the channels you use. How can they be improved? Is there an opportunity to feature more reviews on your important webpages?
Show how much customers can save through booking direct, vs on consolidator websites
It’s always a good idea to highlight how customers could save when they book directly with you. Unless you specifically tell customers that they’re getting the best price available for their chosen dates at your hotel, they won’t know. They’ll continue researching other sites to find the best price available.
You can display direct booking savings through the following:
- Offering a price comparison guarantee, displaying proudly that your site offers the best possible price available. This is possible if you have a price parity contract in place with consolidators.
- Price comparison tables.
- Including statements throughout eg: ‘book with us direct and save X now’.
- Having savings alerts, or pop-ups on your website.
An ‘out of the box’ way to gain exposure and free promotion is to attract PR coverage and approach news and publishing sites. News publishers (both local and national) often have travel and tourism sections and love to feature local hotels. Invite a travel writer, vlogger or influencer to stay at your hotel in exchange for a promotion, or approach local news websites directly via email. Some of these sites will charge for a feature, others will give you promotion free of charge. It’s always worth asking!
Action: Review your pricing strategy versus competitors and put together a list of key promotional messages and material to help sell your hotel rates. Implement your new messaging everywhere!
Use a paid online marketing strategy with Google Ads
You may have tried using Google Ads in the past and found it to be expensive; or, you may not have considered it as a channel at all! Paid advertising through Google can be very effective for generating traffic and bookings, but it does come at a cost. Many consolidator sites spend a fortune generating traffic through this channel and it’s often hard to compete.
We recommend using Google Ads for small, low budget campaigns. Bid on your hotel brand name and long-tail search keywords that are less competitive and expensive. The trick with this channel is to be very targeted and to only attract viewers that are more likely to convert.
For more information on running an effective, low-cost Google Ads campaign, send us an email! We’d be happy to help.
Action: Review your current Google Ads strategy and look for new opportunities. If you’re not currently running any ads, investigate the feasibility of this channel. If you need the help of a dedicated agency, check out our Paid Ads services. **insert link**
Use online retargeting adverts
Have you ever visited a website, exited and then browsed other sites on the web, only to be followed by ads from that original website? Display retargeting advertising works very well at retaining customers that you would have otherwise lost. Using a platform such as Google Ads, you can target abandoning visitors to your website, showing them creative message that will ultimately prompt them to return to your website to book.
Hotel bookers traditionally do a little bit of research before booking. Retargeting Ads ensure that your hotel stays in their decision-making process.
To find out more about these ads, get in touch! We can help you set up your own campaign or manage a campaign for you.
Action: Do your research on what display retargeting ads are and approach an agency that can help you set them up. Browse our Paid Ads services here. **insert link**
Use an effective booking engine
If you have a website, you most likely have a third-party booking engine to receive your bookings, not only does it make it easier for the guests to book online, but it makes life much simpler for you! Not all booking engines are equal when it comes to securing bookings and some convert better than others. It would be a shame for a customer to spend ages browsing your site and get all the way to the booking stage, only to abandon at the last second because there’s an error or the user experience is bad.
Some booking engines are better than others, so it’s important to review your booking engine provider, branding and the settings you use, so the booking experience is the best it can be. If you’re looking for a new Booking Engine provider, here are some of our recommendations:
Action: Review your current hotel booking engine. Is it as easy to use and professional looking as competitors? If not, how can it be improved? Do you need to find a new booking engine supplier?
Provide great content
Ultimately, no one’s going to read every single sentence across all 20+ pages on your website, but it’s equally as important to provide top-quality content across your key pages (homepage, about us, rooms page, dining and local attractions). For guests that haven’t stayed at your hotel before, they need to know everything they possibly can, before they decide to make a booking. Having lots of content will also help your ranking on Google.
We recommend a content re-fresh every few months, adding new pages to tell customers about new offers, developing your nearby attractions information and improving any existing, low quality content.
Action: Page-by-page, starting with the most valuable, review the content across your website and point out any pages that need updated. Create fresh content or use the help of a copywriting agency.
Highlight your unique selling points
Most hotels provide top-quality bed linen, bottles of water in rooms and clean towels, but what really makes your accommodation stand out from the rest? Is there something about your hotel that makes it that bit special and unique? Does it have spa facilities, is there an onsite gym, or is there something extra special about the food?
Highlight these unique selling points wherever you can (on your website, leaflets, emails and on social media). Aim to have 3-5 unique selling points that really emphasise your hotel brand.
Action: Brainstorm your unique selling points and write them down. Next, work to integrate them across all of your hotel branding, website and other channels.
Send guests a follow-up survey for customer retention
Whilst you want to ensure guests have a memorable stay with you, it’s equally as important to receive constructive feedback where possible. Even though you want to get more new guests staying with you, you also want to see returning guests, too! You can send them a quick 2-minute survey upon checking out at reception, or via email a few days after check-out. Through addressing their feedback and concerns, you’ll hopefully be able to secure more direct bookings with them and will be seeing them again in the near future.
Returning customers often book direct on their second, third and fourth visit, even if they originally made their reservation through a consolidator.
Action: Review your current hotel feedback system. Can it be improved? Are you asking customers for reviews at the right time?
Use video and drone footage
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million!”
If you want to take your hotel photography to the next level, you can look at including video and drone footage on your website. Guests love to see what they’re getting before committing to a booking as much as possible, so what better way in offering that to them in video form. Video is becoming increasingly important in an age where customer attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. It’s also something that not a lot of competitors are doing.
Video ideas for your hotel can include:
- Virtual tour – A 2-minute video walkthrough of the main areas and room options.
- Promo video – A professional promo video designed to showcase the beauty of your hotel through cinematography.
- Behind the scenes Instagram story content with your friendly staff.
- Videos of the nearby attractions and nature. Sell the destination, not just your hotel.
- Frequent Instagram story videos and Facebook video uploads. It could include everything from a cool view of a dinner dish in your restaurant to a 10 second snapshot of a room view at sunset. Small, short video clips perform very well on social media.
- Drone footage – Nothing quite beats a birds eye view, especially if your hotel is in a beautiful nature location. Take advantage of modern, low cost drone shots.
Whilst using video won’t gain you bookings right away, it’s another way in which you can stand out from your competitors and sell the hotel and destination to customers that may be interested in booking. A well placed, exciting video may just tip them over the edge to book.
Action: Put together an action plan of how you can start using some of the video ideas we mentioned above. It could be as easy as creating some engaging content for Instagram on your phone, or as advanced as commissioning a videographer to create content for you.
Create a sense of urgency
You know how it is when customers research different hotels. They’ll have a large number of tabs open with their favourite options and then narrow their options down to one hotel. So, how can you make sure that they book with you?
By creating a sense of urgency, customers are more likely to make a quicker decision and not spend hours, or even days on end thinking about which hotel to book. It’s most effective when you provide them with a time-limited offer, but generic urgency messaging pop-ups will also work.
Here are some examples of what you can do:
- Offer a discount if they book by X date.
- Tell them that rooms are filling up fast and spaces are limited for their dates.
- Call out your key unique selling points (as suggested previously in this guide)
- Tell them that the current price shown won’t last for long – Prices may increase.
- Tell them how many people booked recently or some highly rated customer reviews. Customers love social proof and to read what other guests thought.
Action: Implement urgency messaging across your website, on key pages that lead to customer bookings. This may include your booking engine, rooms pages and promotions pages. Consider using urgency messaging tools such as pop-ups and slide-in banners.
So, there you have it, our complete guide on how to increase direct hotel bookings. Some of our recommendations take time, but through persistence, trial and error, your direct bookings will be skyrocketing in no time!
If you have any questions about any of our advice points or need help with your digital marketing and website, send us an email! We’d love to help. 😊
Thank you, all very interesting and pleased that even us “oldies” seem to be doing the right things in our small business.
Great to hear Marco! It’s nice to see so many hotel owners clued up on marketing these days. Experimenting and seeing what works for your own hotel is key 🙂
Thank you very much for the information.