Direct bookings are more profitable than bookings through third parties. Studies have shown the benefits of convincing guests to book direct on your brand.com website. They typically have much lower commission costs than third party channels, and they give you a better chance at winning a guest’s loyalty than you get with bookings from an OTA.
The difficulty, especially for independent hotels with smaller marketing budgets, is reaching guests and persuading them that direct is best. OTAs have massive marketing budgets and cutting edge research, and there’s no denying that they’re convenient. So, what do you need to do to persuade guests to book direct – and what mistakes are you making?
No booking funnel is perfect, but there are best practices for your book direct strategy to follow that will lead your hotel to more revenue.
In some cases, it’s about recognizing that your hotel website is a touchpoint at many different stages of booking: guests might look at it while they’re dreaming about a vacation, visit again when they’re doing research and comparing options, and stop by again when they’re finally ready to book.
Today we’ll cover 4 of the easiest mistakes to make in your book direct strategy, and more importantly, we’ll show you how to avoid them. We’re going to talk about:
- Optimising Your Images
- Displaying Social Proof
- The Paradox of Choice
Let’s get started.
1. Don’t Miss Out on Remarketing
If you’re not remarketing to website visitors, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to scoop up guests who were uncertain or distracted mid-booking.
Remarketing is simply using web technology, like a cookie on your site, to target emails or advertisements at users who’ve shown interest in booking a room.
This means following up with potential guests who arrive at your site and express partial interest. Usually they do this by giving you their email addresses or initiating the booking process, but not following through.
You can remarket through social campaigns, paid ads on search engines like Google and via email.
Email is the channel with the highest rate of return. If you’ve got their email address, they’re usually at least considering booking. Also, email is a personal and powerful way to connect with travellers. However, you’ll reach a smaller audience if you aren’t using paid campaigns on social or search engines.
Loews Hotels reported a $60,000 boost in revenue from a small $800 dollars invested. Remarketing was one of their “biggest successes,” and according to their team, it lead to a far greater number of direct bookings for their hotel.
Net Affinity have noted that remarketing to those that have abandoned bookings can push a huge number of conversions—here’s an example of our e-zine remarketing:
This email can be sent hours after a guest fails to complete a booking. Ask guests if they’ve forgotten to book, or if they’re ready to make their booking now. You might also offer a discount or incentive to book, and highlight the benefits of booking direct.
Remarketing is a powerful way to snag more bookings from your hotel website.
Be sure to request emails early in the booking process to capture more leads. This gives you the opportunity to follow up with email remarketing campaigns that include promotions or special offers based on a customer’s activity in the booking process. For example, if they spent a lot of time on your spa pages, you might send them spa-based promotions.
2. Avoid Old or Unflattering Imagery
When you’re buying something online, images are one of the most important parts of your decision. Guests won’t get to see your hotel before they arrive, so the images you put on your hotel website are the only chance you have to form a good visual impression.
Here’s a guide from Leonardo, a company specializing in visuals for hotels, on how to use images to tell your hotel’s story.
Guests want to see what you’re offering them, and images are often the easiest way to show them what to expect. That’s why sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor are so careful to encourage and prominently display photos from reviewers.
For images that successfully tell your hotel’s story, focus on these things:
- Make sure your images are responsive. 30% of traffic to tourism and travel sites comes from smartphones
- Have your photographs taken by a professional
- Make sure your photos reflect your hotel’s personality
- Ensure that your images don’t reduce page loading speed. Slow loading speeds fracture conversions.
- Check that your image complements your call to action and draws attention to it, instead of competing against it.
Here’s a few samples of strong imagery:
They have high quality, inviting images that don’t sacrifice loading speed. Their images convey the atmosphere of their resort, the idea of a luxurious experience, and they also load well on mobile.
The color scheme is warm and welcoming. The images load quickly and are high quality. But more importantly, they capture the luxurious, personable experience the 4 star boutique hotel aims to create.
3. Don’t Make Claims without Proof
Expecting potential guests to believe your every claim without proof will hurt your conversions. Your tech-savvy guests are bombarded by ads and marketing messages. Users today are constantly being sold to, and they shop smart. You can’t expect to make a claim and think they’ll just believe you.
However, reviews and testimonials are a different story.
Reviews, testimonials, and other forms of social proof are effective conversion boosters, because as humans, we care greatly about what others think of us. We’re more likely to do something if everyone else is doing it. This tendency is why sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor thrive.
When it comes to enhancing conversions with social proof, reviews are effective tools for hotel websites.
Take a look at these reviews from Egerton House Hotel:
They work well because:
- Each review tackles one main point. The reviews cover atmosphere, location, customer service and convenience, but no one review tackles all of them and there isn’t too much overlap.
- They give information on the reviewer. Information on each reviewer is provided on the left, detailing the type of trip and the name. This helps the reader match a person to the words and adds authenticity to the reviews.
- The reviews are recent. This adds to the credibility of the reviews and makes them more believable.
4. You’re Giving Guests Too Many Choices – Really!
A famous New York Times case study tested the influence of choices on buying decisions.
The test was carried out on two different Saturdays and had some interesting results. The first Saturday, 24 different flavors of jam were offered to participants. The next Saturday, only 6 different flavours were offered.
On the day with 24 different flavors, only 3% of people actually bought anything.
On the day with 6 flavors, however, 30% of people made purchases. This resulted in 600% more jam sold.
Too many choices can hurt conversions. This is called the Paradox of Choice, and it’s one of the most well-known theories in modern psychology. While autonomy and the freedom to choose are essential to happiness, being bombarded by hundreds of decisions a day adds stress and can paralyze decision-making. There’s a sweet spot in the middle, and that’s what you should be aiming for.
Hoteliers are often tempted to show multiple room types with dozens of offers, packages and rates, all of which is sometimes presented as one overwhelming list. This typically creates an unpleasant experience for the person trying to book and increases anxiety.
To prevent your site from overwhelming your guests, make the booking process more digestible.
You can do this by:
1. Reducing add-ons in the booking process
Data shows that only 3% of guests actually purchase add-ons, and a huge list of add-ons isn’t worth the potential confusion it can cause in the booking process.
Does this mean you shouldn’t use add-ons? No!
However, you should limit use of add-ons, or display them later in the booking process to lighten the load.
2. Create Smaller, Digestible Steps
Speedy, short sentences and punchy paragraphs are easier to read than articles with huge chunks of text and page-long paragraphs.
Shorter sentences and paragraphs make you feel like you’re progressing, and you felt quicker doses of gratification when completing sentences and paragraphs faster.
Well, one way to make your booking process more digestible and less likely to overwhelm potential guests is to break things up and make them shorter.
Instead of chunking multiple parts of the booking process together, let your guest select the room first, then the packages, then the add-ons, etc. A well-designed booking engine is the bedrock beneath your book direct strategy.
To persuade guests to book direct, make sure to include these 4 things in your strategy. Remarket to hotel site visitors, use compelling images, show what others say about your hotel, and aim to make the booking process as clear and simple as possible. These 4 things are vital to conversion rates, and making use of all of them can give your direct bookings a big lift.
Need help implementing the advice above? Get in touch with us and find out how we can help you.