Driving Direct Bookings in the Independent Hotel Sector

Independent Hotels Successfully Compete for Bookings Against Online Travel Agencies

Competition between Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and hotels and resorts continues to heat up. Not only are direct bookings more profitable for hotels as they can avoid paying steep commissions, but it also allows the property to provide better guest service and communications with the guest.

“For the guests, OTA’s provide easy shopping tools – multiple offers from competing properties in one location and the ability to bundle transportation,” commented Rich Morehouse, Director CRES & Revenue Management for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. “As a property, these are expensive guests when you consider the margins OTA’s demand as marketing costs.”

OTA’s are large organizations that are highly-focused on driving thousands of reservations each day. They can employ a veritable army of Search Engine Optimization experts and a formidable budget to ensure they dominate the top engine results. However, independent resorts can still compete successfully for search engine results. “We spend a significant amount of money with Google in the PPC environment, which drives traffic directly to our website and ultimately to our booking engine,” commented Ian Maw, Director of Sales & Marketing for Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa.

Many hotels cite the “billboard” effect of working with the OTA’s. By ensuring that their property is represented on the OTA’s, they aim to drive traffic to their own website where the guest can complete the booking.

“Property direct bookings often have value-add offers like a Ski Free option or packages that offer more resort amenities like spa, dining, or other activities,” commented Morehouse.

Making it easy to book on your own website can be a key driver for direct bookings. “When you make it easy to book on your own site, people don’t get discouraged and just go to the OTA to book faster,” commented David Cammer, Director of Lodging at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. “We sell multiple products online that you can’t get through the OTA. For example, we sell mountain adventure park passes, ski school, lift tickets and more all online, on our own site.”

Other strategies to drive direct bookings include targeting offers to get repeat customers to book directly with the property. “We offer an exclusive ‘past guest discount’ only available through our call center,” commented Ted Yeatts, General Manager of the Plaza Resort and Spa.

Capturing guest information and emails allows properties to market to them directly, even if they originally booked through an OTA. Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa makes great use of their database for marketing purposes. “This drives our current and future guest directly to our booking engine,” commented Maw.

“We put a major focus on capturing all guest’s emails,” commented Yeatts. “We did away with paper folios for express checkout and switched to emailed express checkout folios as a convenience incentive for guests who are hesitant to give us their email address.”

There is one area in which hotels and resorts will win over the OTA’s every time – providing incredible guest experiences that bring guests back for repeat visits. When hotels deliver on the guest service promise they are most likely to increase repeat guests as well as referral guests.

“We invest heavily in trying to create unique, personal and memorable experiences for our guests,” commented Yeatts. “We believe if the guest connect directly with a staff member on a personal level, they will likely book again and book direct. We incentivize our staff for creating these moments.”