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From OTA Shopper to “Book Direct” Customer: Your Website Can Pave The Way

From OTA Shopper to “Book Direct” Customer: Your Website Can Pave The Way

Booking engine is a term for an online hotel reservation system that allows website visitors to book online.  Now, you might be asking yourself, “Is booking engine integration really needed for  my website?” Yes, it is and here’s  why:

NB: This is an article from Milestone

Over the last couple of decades, while the Online Travel Agents’ (OTAs’) bookings share in the US hospitality segment went up from negligible to a whopping 39%1, their commissions also shot up from around 5% to 15-30%2. All this, while the hotel room occupancy rates only saw a marginal growth – as the increase in demand continued to get offset by a proportional increase in room supply.

So, long story short, the Hospitality Industry is facing depleting profit margins, thanks to the stronghold that the OTAs have gained over website direct bookings. Winning back this lost share is now critical, and a strong website integrated with booking engine can lead the way.

The phenomenal growth story of OTAs:

When OTAs first entered the space, they were enabling hotels to sell off unutilized inventories. Their value proposition was absolute win-win for all – hotels, OTAs and guests alike. With low commission rates and non-cannibalization of business, the OTAs were welcomed by the hotels. However, as the years went by, OTAs have altered the fundamental way of how people booked rooms. Today, OTAs have become the primary source of hotel discovery and command the largest pie of bookings. The OTA segment is currently dominated by two groups:

Booking Holdings & Expedia Group

Every hotels’ conundrum: Breaking up with OTAs? Or not?

With OTAs turning the tables, hotels cannot completely say no to them anymore. If you are a hotelier, you need OTAs for visibility among visitors searching online. At the same time, OTAs will take away a lion’s share from the hotels’ revenue as commission, while also dictating terms of visitor – hotel relationship. For example, some OTAs do not share the guests‘ direct contacts with hotels.

The two OTA groups – Booking Holdings & Expedia, spent a total of USD 10.6 Billion7 in 2018 in marketing and advertising alone – a significant amount of which went to their own brand marketing expense. For individual properties or even the mid-cap hospitality groups, these numbers are too staggering to compete with today.

So, what should you do? Quit the toxic relationship with OTAs or continue to stay with them? The answer lies somewhere in between – stay but take control of the relationship.

Winning back the Booking Direct share from OTAs:

A powerful website and a strong inventory distribution strategy is the key to ace the OTA puzzle. You can ensure that your hotel website gets discovered from search engines by implementing:

  • Right keyword strategies
  • High quality, mobile-friendly content
  • Website schemas

However, it’s equally important to not lose visitors who have already discovered your website.

Here are 4 direct booking strategies offered by Milestone CMS that you should look at, to maximize website-based bookings from those who have discovered your hotel and have landed on your website:

1. Integrate booking engine with your website:

Today, customers prefer a transparent and seamless online booking process which  doesn’t involve making calls to hotels for clarifications and  won’t take them to weird third party links for bookings. This can be achieved when you implement a booking engine and integrate it with your website. Milestone CMS powered hotel websites can integrate with popular booking engines like Synxis and Windsurfer.  This allows customers to view rooms left and room pricing and book seamlessly from your website page without directing them to a different site.  Here are 3 scenarios of website – booking engine integration and their impact:

(i) Website without a Booking Engine Integration

Website without a Booking Engine Integration

No option to book online. Visitors need to call hotels to avail booking options.

(ii) Website with a Booking Engine that is loosely integrated with hotel website

Website with a Booking Engine that is loosely integrated with hotel website

Button on the website that, when clicked,  will send the request to Booking Engine and display results based on the request parameters on a separate third-party booking engine site.

(iii) Website (like ones hosted on Milestone CMS) with strong Booking Engine integration

Website (like ones hosted on Milestone CMS) with strong Booking Engine integration

Visitors can view rates and availability on our CMS’s Booking Engine widget itself before submitting their preference. They can compare the room rates and room types from your websites. On clicking Book Now, the entire booking process can be executed seamlessly from your site itself without redirecting to third-party sites.

2. OTA rate comparison widget on the website:

Convincing customers to book direct is easier when your website can prove to them that the direct booking rates are better than the OTA rates. With Milestone CMS integrated with booking engine, your website can now include an OTA Rate Comparison Widget that shows a comparison of current direct booking rates with OTA rates. The widget selectively showcases only those OTA rates that are higher than the website rates, thus driving direct bookings.

Here is an example:

In the above example, the direct booking rate is shown as lower than TripAdvisor. Other OTAs having lower rates than the websites are not displayed.

3. Customized deals on the website:

Give website visitors a personalized experience on your site through best-deal popups and drive conversions. Instead of annoying, generic popups, Milestone CMS lets you create unique offers that are personalized for each user. So, as a Milestone customer, you can offer special discount codes or free room nights to a lucky visitor of the day (and many more unique offers), with a strong call-to-action such as ‘Book Now’ button directing visitors to the booking engine.

4. Display offer popups for visitors abandoning your website:

70%8 of website visitors who abandon a website never return. Even after making all efforts, if a website visitor tries to abandon your site, you can still attempt to retain him or her by offering irresistible deals. 10 – 15%9 of visitors leaving a website respond to well-made exit-intent popups that can integrate with the booking engine to convert. Milestone CMS lets you configure such pop-ups, which (i) attract the attention of the exiting visitors, (ii) have compelling deals to offer and (iii) create an urgency to book.

Finally, delivering a frictionless user experience with convenience, simplicity, and transparency is at the core of a successful book direct strategy for hotel websites.

Read more articles from Milestone

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