When it comes to Expedia, Priceline and other online travel agencies (OTAs), the saying “You can't live with them, you can't live without them,” couldn't be more true for hotel operators. These websites can definitely ensure your rooms stay filled, but they also potentially cannibalize business that you could have won without having to pay high commission fees.
Rate parity clauses in OTA agreements – or demands that you not offer rooms for less than what the OTAs advertise – make the situation even more sticky. So what is a hotel to do? How do you get customers back to booking direct without breaching your OTA agreements?
Here's a few ways savvy hotel operators entice customers with discounts, while staying in compliance with rate parity.
Offer Deals to a Limited Audience
Parity agreements prevent hotels from offering discounts publicly. However, this restriction doesn’t apply to those offers hotels distribute to a limited audience. You can send a discount code to your Facebook fans, for example.
Offer Value-Add Packages and Other Add-Ons at a Discount
Rate parity only applies to offers for the exact room advertised on the OTA. This doesn't prevent you from packing that same room with other services for a value that is overall a better deal than what's on Hotwire, Priceline, or where ever. You could, for example, package a room with drink tickets and a shuttle ride to an event happening that weekend and provide savings that equate to more than what is on the OTA. Other Add-ons could include parking, Wi-Fi or a discount for room service.
Create a Thriving Customer Loyalty Program
One of the best ways to cut the OTA out of the picture is to leverage your past guests. Anyone who stays at your hotel should be added to your email list for “discounts, offers and other exclusive deals.” This is a list you can email and offer packaged services or other discounted rates “as a thank you for your past business.”
Offer Discounts at the Front Desk
In addition to your website, another point of contact with guests you control is your front desk. Here you’re engaging in face-to-face interaction with customers, so give them a reason to use your website instead of an OTA’s. If a guest reserved their room using an OTA, upon check-in you offer them a 10 percent discount off their next stay if they book directly from your website. To cultivate trust, the front desk should also have a sign that prominently guarantees that the hotel’s website will offer the lowest rate. In addition to deals, you could also send newsletters or your latest blog post. The goal is to always keep your property top of mind.
Make Sure Your Website Layout Follows Design Best Practices
A marketing channel many hotels seem to give scant attention is right under their own doormat, so to speak—their own website. All too often, hotels ignore the most obvious ways to optimize their site’s user experience. Hotels must make it as clear and hassle-free as possible to book from them, or potential customers will seek out an easier solution.
You have to capture the user’s interest immediately. There should be a call to action, something that says, “Book Now!” I also recommend having a prominently displayed phone number on the site.
Far from being as inviting as their guest rooms, some hotel websites may be actually steer the potential guest to go elsewhere as I've seen websites that are difficult to navigate, lack web-based reservation systems, or do not list rates, some that have links to other sites that feature their competition among a host of other things.
Leverage Online Reviews to Attract Website Visitors
Many times when customers use OTAs, they get a list of five or so properties in a similar price range, which prompts them to visit review sites to see which property other guests have liked the most. This is also your opportunity to draw customers to your own site, rather than having them go back to the OTA to book.
In order to draw Yelp and TripAdvisor users back to your site (instead of to the OTA), hotel operators should respond to every comment users post. For example, if someone comments on how nice the spa was, a hotel could respond by thanking the customer for their feedback and informing them of a new spa package they’re currently offering with bookings through their website. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value.
By implementing these tips, you can both reap the clear benefits of using OTAs and drive customers to your own website.