As OTAs increasingly use aggressive marketing techniques, hoteliers are at risk of losing a significant share of their total reservations to third parties.
NB: This is an article from Milestone
Hoteliers often cite the digital media advertising budget strength of OTAs as the primary reason for this shift. While the advertising budget strength of OTAs is noteworthy, the truth is that a substantial portion of the OTAs market share growth has been driven by organic search traffic.
Robust website technology combined with extensive research on conversion techniques drive this growth. In addition, OTAs do an excellent job of search engine marketing and email marketing. The surprising truth is that all these strategies are easily accessible to individual hotels, offering an immense opportunity to enhance direct revenue while lowering the cost of distribution.
Milestone works with over 2000 independent hotels and brands to drive higher direct revenue and shift market share from OTAs and other third parties by using the same technologies that are deployed by larger travel websites. Here are four top strategies that are most effective in driving direct business:
Hotels need to ensure that the website user experience and technology for search and conversion is on par or better than the technology deployed by large OTA sites. Some elements that can easily scale to hotel sites are:
- Schemas (Structured data) for voice search and latest search algorithms.
Extensive use of structured data to mark up the content on your website leads to better indexing of content by search engines and hence a better ranking on search. Structured data is necessary for not only search engines but also Apple’s mapping engine and other major consumer channels. Having basic schemas such as your address information or your basic business information is not enough, hotels must mark up most of the content on the website to gain better optimization for voice search as well as the latest search algorithms. OTA sites were the first sites in the travel industry to deploy structured data and hence their great visibility in search.
- A/B Testing
Another key technique that OTAs deploy is constant A/B testing to enhance the user experience and conversion on the site. Milestone’s CMS has a conversion rate optimization module that allows hotels to conduct A/B testing using technology like that deployed on large, enterprise content management systems. A Milestone customer recovered $10,000 a month in revenue using this technology.
- Revenue recovery technology
Effective use of revenue recovery technology on your website further enhances conversion and revenue generation. One key technique is to send email campaigns to customers who visited your site but didn’t book. OTAs are experts at persistently reaching out to customers who abandoned their website. Milestone’s CMS provides the necessary technology to allow our hotels to reach back out to the guests who didn’t book on their site.
Mobile AMP Site – Leapfrog OTAs and your competition on mobile with AMP
One of Google’s biggest initiatives of 2017 is to enhance the mobile experience using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Google found that 40% of visitors abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. AMP sites load 4x faster, in less than a second, and consume 10x less data. AMP sites offer a unique opportunity for hotels to provide a better user experience and visibility to their direct channel website. Milestone’s CMS is the world’s first hospitality industry CMS to enable AMP sites for our customers.
Omni-channel marketing must evolve with the customer journey to stay ahead of OTAs
Mobile phones have significantly altered the customer journey to multiple devices and multiple channels. It has become critical for a hotel to be present across all devices and all channels. OTAs do a fantastic job of ensuring their presence across devices, the web, social media, and advertising channels while providing relevant content that pushes the customer down the purchase funnel. Hotels must perform a thorough digital presence analysis across all critical channels to identify gaps vs. competitors and the OTAs. Key components of your omni-channel strategy include:
- Local maps, Internet Yellow Pages, and data aggregators
These channels distribute your business information to consumers through end-points like Uber, in-car navigation systems, iPhones, etc. It’s critical to have a consistent presence in local data aggregators and on local map channels. Having data in these channels is only the start; maintaining data integrity and cleanliness on these channels is also critical. This is one area where hotels have an advantage over the third-party sites as search engines give higher credibility and website link to the data provided by the owner of the business. Leads and reservations through your local search and SEO efforts have the lowest cost basis and provide your highest ROI. The Milestone Local platform is at the core of maintaining a complete and clean presence on this channel.
- Digital Media Advertising
This segment is where the financial strength of OTAs translates into more visibility. Hotels can compete with OTAs by being strategic in their spend. It is important for hotels to be present in the three major categories of media channels: PPC (Google, Bing, and Yahoo), Display (Adara, Sojern, Google Remarketing, Google Display), and meta-search channels. (TripAdvisor, Kayak and Trivago). Not advertising on these channels simply gives OTAs a further advantage. A key tip is to ensure that you are saturating the share of voice for your brand name across these channels before bidding on un-branded terms. Hotels should trademark their name so OTAs cannot use hotel names in advertising. Hotels should also negotiate the rights to use of the hotel name in contracts with OTAs. In general, brand name keywords are lower cost and very high return. Focus your relationships with OTAs to drive business for competitive, destination specific keywords. It’s still important to monitor and maintain rate parity across the digital media advertising channels. We find increasing instances of rate parity issues because of the proliferation of third party sites.
- Social Media Channels
Ensure presence and engagement across key social media channels – especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Flickr or a similar photo sharing channel. Hotels have a huge opportunity to create brand loyalists by engaging consumers with captivating content related to local events, sightseeing opportunities, trip itineraries, and dining and entertainment options. While OTAs are doing a great job of delivering destination specific content, hotels are the real experts in the destination and can gain a significant edge by highlighting that knowledge.
- Email marketing
OTAs are very diligent with consistent messaging through emails and retargeting any visitors to their websites through email campaigns. Hotels can use a simple CRM system to segment their customer base and consistently send out messaging to potential guests and any website visitors who didn’t book.
Your hotel’s unfair advantage – relationship with guests while they are on-property
One major advantage that the hotel has over any third party is their direct experience and relationship with the guest, which is an enviable position to be in. Hotels should take advantage of that relationship and in-person presence. Make sure to collect guests’ email addresses during check-in or check-out so that you can market to them directly in the future. Find out who is staying more than 3 or 4 days and give them incentives to book direct next time by offering rewards or upgrades. Several brands are offering incentives for booking direct and any independent hotel has the same opportunity to convert travelers to book direct.
This article provides insights into some of the top strategies deployed by Milestone to increase direct bookings for our customers.
Milestone is a leading provider of digital marketing software and services for hospitality, retail and finance. We provide a full range of solutions including website and mobile design, content creation, SEO, analytics and competitive intelligence. Our state-of-the-art technology and solutions drive revenue and ROI for clients across the globe. Over 2,000 companies world-wide do business with Milestone, including leading hotel chains, major retailers and financial services companies. Milestone has garnered over 300 awards and a reputation for blending outstanding design with advanced technological capabilities. Milestone is one of Silicon Valley Business Journal’s fastest growing companies and is an Inc. 5000 company.