Direct bookings are big business for hotels, but the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) is costing hotels these reservations and revenue. But thanks to Marriott’s merger with Starwood, now guests can choose from thousands of properties from 30 hotel brands around the world through one united hotel brand. This merger is allowing these hotels to rival the huge choice and convenience that has made OTAs so popular with travelers. This merger may also give these hotels an advantage by allowing their millions of guests to merge their Marriott and Starwood member rewards into a single joint account. By offering such strong incentives, Marriott and Starwood are hoping to reclaim some of the leverage lost to OTAs that has cost them direct bookings, and finally win their battle against these online travel agencies. To help hotels direct their focus toward reclaiming direct bookings, Forbes.com featured the following actionable strategies to help hotels open their doors again to direct bookings.
1. The Key Is Retaining Rate Parity
More and more travelers have moved to OTAs because they often feature lower room rates than the actual hotels. But to win back their share of direct bookings, hotels must keep their rates the same or even less than OTAs. This rate parity is more important than ever now that current rates are embedded into Google metasearch results. Since guests will book where they can pay the lowest rate, hotel brands need to ensure that their “best room rate” is widely visible all through the booking process.
2. Make Room for Incentives
The best way for a hotel to earn direct bookings is by creating valuable incentives that highlight the benefits of booking directly through the hotel. Many hotels use their loyalty programs to provide such incentives. With their recent merger, all Marriott and Starwood loyalty program members will have access to lower room rates, along with benefits like free Wi-Fi, free mobile check-in, and exclusive ways to earn points toward free future stays at thousands of global hotels.
Another way to offer incentives is by leveraging the hotel’s inherent advantages over OTAs. For example, OTAs excel at selling hotel rooms, but only hotels have the local knowledge that proves to be valuable to guests in a new location. Hotels can emphasize their local expertise by providing insightful customized content on the highlights, unique attributes, or luxury amenities of each of their locations. Guests appreciate these insider tips because they enhance their travel experience. By focusing on the pleasures of a location instead of simply selling a room, this provides added value that guests could never receive by booking through OTAs.
3. Make Booking Fast and Simple
OTAs are attractive to travelers because they streamline the booking process. Now, hotels can rival OTAs by adopting this same strategy and keeping their direct booking process as convenient and easy as possible to make travelers return for reservations.
4. Pack in the Power of Metasearch Listings
When travelers click on a Google listing for a hotel, it leads them to a long list of bookings options instead of straight to the hotel’s website. That’s why hotels need to embed Google’s listings with direct metalinks to the hotel’s booking engines. In addition, using a pay-per-click model presents another way for travelers to book direct, but the hotel’s room rates must be the same or lower than those listed by OTAs to make travelers visit the hotel website to book.
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Written by Michael Del Gigante