4 Budget Items to Boost Direct Bookings
- Posted by Todd A. Vines
- On September 27, 2017
It’s budget season for hotel teams.
Many will spend the waning weeks of 2017 crafting budgets and tweaking business plans for 2018. A major goal of many owners and management teams will likely be an increase in direct bookings.
Even those who have a glass-half-full perspective when it comes to the “frenemy” relationship hotels have with online travel agents (OTAs) would prefer guests book direct. Sure, OTAs can be a relatively inexpensive referral source, but direct bookings will always nurture stronger relationships with travelers and offer preferable profit margins.
As hotel teams consider how to allocate funds for the year ahead, consider these four points to wrest bookings back from OTAs.
Refresh Your Website
Hotel teams should do a top-to-bottom website review at least once a year. (If you haven’t yet done so in 2017, now’s the time.)
Revisiting the site’s design, style and photography – and making appropriate updates – should be part of regular maintenance, or run the risk of appearing dated within the span of just a year or two, which is decades in digital time.
Examine content to be sure that the site follows the most current search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. Increasing your organic search engine rankings is still one of the absolute best ways to reach new audiences without increasing your advertising expenses.
Budgeting for a total website redesign every year is unrealistic and unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean the annual website budget should be zero.
Dedicating funds for a refresh each year will ensure that your website remains modern and relevant while increasing its longevity, which ultimately saves the ownership money.
Optimize Your Mobile User Experience
That being said, if you don’t have a “responsive” website design, you’ll need to invest in an update, stat.
To stand any chance at increasing direct bookings in 2018, a responsive website – one that optimizes its look, feel and navigation based on the type of device a user is viewing it on – is an absolute must. If you’re unconvinced, take a look at the data:
- Mobile travel sales are projected to increase by 16.7% in 2017, while laptop and desktop sales are projected to decrease by 1.6%.
- The number of adults who use a smartphone to book travel is expected to reach 57.5 million in 2017 – an increase of more than 14%.
- By 2021, mobile sales are expected to make up almost half of all digital travel sales.
This shift is indicative of the increase in the number of millennials expected to travel in the coming years as they move into careers. Polls have shown that this newest generation of adults budgets more money for personal travel than any previous generation, and 46% of them already book travel via a mobile device.
If you want growth, you have to be where travelers are, and increasingly that’s on their mobile device.
Step Up Your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Game
Excellent SEO practices will help your visibility with search engine rankings, but creating an SEM budget in addition to your social media marketing and content marketing budgets is a must if you genuinely want to compete with the OTA big dogs.
According to Google, more than 10 million travel-related searches are conducted every month. About 30% of those searches end up sending traffic to just the top ten OTAs.
In order to secure your share of the remaining 70% of the web traffic pie, invest in strategic SEM keyword buys.
Offer an Incentive to Book Directly
From the guest perspective, booking a stay at your hotel with an OTA is a smart move. The largest OTAs have excellent brand awareness and are already bookmarked in many travelers’ browsers. They often offer rewards, coupon codes, low rates and an easy booking experience.
Travelers are thinking about their own budgets and bottom lines. To increase direct bookings, offer your guests something that OTAs can’t. Some examples include:
- Best Price Guarantee, backed with a policy to reimburse guests for the difference if they find a lower price for the same room and dates within a few days of booking directly
- Complimentary room upgrades when available
- Welcome amenities such as a bottle of wine or bottled water
- Dining credits at hotel outlets, or tickets to local attractions exclusively for direct-book guests
If you budget for a direct booking incentive program, be sure to additionally allocate funds for marketing that program.
According to a Google survey, 85% of travelers cited cost as the most important factor in their booking decisions. Invest in a program that gives your guests a great value when they book directly, and your guests will return again and again.
There are many considerations when planning a hotel team’s budget, and it’s likely that increasing direct bookings is only one of many goals set for 2018. With these tips, however, teams can achieve this particular goal without spending a fortune.
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