keyboard with words online booking reflecting desire of hotels to drive direct bookings through their digital marketing efforts

As globally hotels look to combat the cost-of-living crisis by cutting costs and protecting margins, optimising book direct strategies is an obvious way to reduce costs of distribution.

NB: This is an article from Guestline

A focus on direct distribution is not new but given evolving changing customer behaviours what now underpins its success? What are the best channels for driving direct traffic to your booking engine? What are the characteristics of a highly converting website? And what metrics should hoteliers be looking at when assessing its effectiveness?

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We recently brought together a panel of four hospitality professionals for a live webinar to unpack what they believe is important in building a direct digital strategy for hotels. Dan Visser, Director of Sales and Marketing, The Langdale Estate; Gordon Cartwright MIH, Executive General Manager, Lumley Castle Hotel, Nadine Schröder, Head of DACH Market, Hotelchamp; and Pete Stevens, Head of Marketing and Operations, Clockwork Marketing, all kindly joined the debate while moderated by our very own Chris Jones, Senior Product Manager.

Know your audience

The first stage in any book direct strategy is to know your customer and your audience – who they are and their behaviours so you can begin to engage and communicate with them in a meaningful way. Pete suggests starting by profiling your guests based on the information stored internally within your PMS and CRM. Digging deep into Google Analytics will uncover much about your website visitors, how they are interacting with your website and who is converting. Pete adds that ‘this can be effectively supported with information from tools such as Experian and Mosaic to profile existing customers and understand their behaviours with such data as social status,where they live, and how much money they have to spend.’ This depth of understanding of website visitors and hotel guests will allow hoteliers begin to speak to them in a way that resonates, engages and drives conversion.

The importance of data- ‘What gets measured, gets managed’

The importance of data was a key theme in the discussion with Gordon pointing out that although he is a General Manager, at times he feels as though he is a Data Analyst. He is a firm believer that data is at the heart of setting your strategy citing ‘What we measure, get managed. Everything gets logged in the hotel, with easy visibility to see what the trends are and what’s moving, and decisions are based around what is happening there.’ Having started the process of data collation and management over two years ago, Gordon can see the significant impact this level of insight has had on his business and keeping on top of trends has and believes it has been integral to understanding his guest and meeting their needs.

Interestingly, Gordon stated that for him, although there is value in using the data provided by third parties, the real value came when they began to challenge their own real live data. ‘We can see the importance of generically of external data, but we can’t leave the responsibility of the success of our business to algorithms. There is a need to dig deeper and validate it’

But while all were in agreement as to the importance of data, not all traffic driving activity can be measured and it’s important not to overlook this. ‘You don’t know the value of PR activity until you stop doing it and see what bookings you don’t get’, says Dan. ‘Social media posts can be hugely effective in raising awareness of your brand and driving traffic to your website, but don’t always get measured until they hit your website. You have to get an understanding of how the non-measurable activity supports your overall strategy’

Driving traffic to your website

Armed with an understanding of your guest, how do look to attract traffic to your website? Allocate a significant proportion of your direct marketing efforts to SEO activity through content and website updates advises Pete. ‘Google Business Manager is hugely important and constantly being updated. A sustainability feature has been recently launched in response to customer demands and is key to searching’ He suggests combining this with PPC and Meta where appropriate although it’s important to adapt your strategy according to the nature of your property. ‘Meta is suited more to city centre hotels where price is more important. Social is great for inspiration, and can be a very effective conversion tool especially for F&B deals. Email, although a smaller pot, is a great way to connect with your already engaged customers.’ He also states that referral sites such as Mr and Mrs Smith can be useful for sending traffic to your site.

Dan taps into channels that allow him to create an emotional connection with his guest. He says his experience has shown there is huge value in ‘starting with a story’ such as a picture of a beautiful sunset or a sundowner at the pool. This may be less importance for cities which are more price driven but for destinations ‘the stories that are told about your property are really important. The guests experience starts when they see the first post.’ His experience has shown that it is important to test various channels over time. ‘This is not an overnight fix. The booking needs to be driven through our own channel but try some good quality content on a variety of channels and give it some time and go on a journey with it. Just because social media channels are free, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to invest time into them.’

A high converting website

As customer requirements have shifted post pandemic, it’s important that your website is updated to reflect what guests are now looking for to optimise conversion. ’Cleanliness and flexible cancellation rates are now really important to guests so make this information easy to find’ says Nadine. ‘The browser spends on average 8-12 minutes on your website’ she continued. ‘Dig deeper into how they interact with your website. If they are scrolling up and down, ensure there is a chatbot to help them find the right info, or a contact number if they are struggling to find the information they want. Once you have succeeded in getting them to your website, its important you use all available insights to understand how they interact and improvements that can be made to prevent them leaving without converting. ‘

Pete emphasised the importance of great content – words, images and videos. ‘You cannot commission enough great images or videos’. In addition to this, website non-negotiables to optimise conversion are speed of website, mobile responsiveness, a straightforward and easy to use booking engine, and the importance of continually updating SEO to ensure you appear high in search rankings.

But even with the highest spec website will fail to convert if the pricing and packaging are uncompetitive. In Dan’s experience, value added packages that are exclusive to direct bookers have proven a useful tool in building his book direct strategy. ‘Value adds can include food and beverage offerings, spa incentives, room upgrades. It’s important to incentivise the booker and give them a reason to book with you and not via a third party’.

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