UK Hotels: 5 ways to drive direct bookings 2018
Who’s already getting anxious about how to rev up revenue streams for Q1 of 2018? Smart hoteliers know that it pays to be prepared for the period when bountiful volumes of Christmas revelers and New Year detoxers have left the building and ‘winter’ really begins to bite.
For hoteliers, direct bookings have never been more crucial to growing revenue throughout the year – and during the low season every penny counts. The growth of the sharing economy, which has resulted in increasing competition from the likes of Airbnb offering alternatives to hotels, has meant that hotel supply in many of the world’s peachiest destinations now surpasses demand.
In its revised forecast for 2017 and first view for 2018, PWC predicts that the weak pound will help hotels defy global uncertainty and appears to be finally driving stronger travel demand. A cold comfort of sorts that will bring some cheer to hotels in London for whom the future looks more optimistic than earlier forecasts had anticipated.
For hotels nationwide, shaving back distribution costs is the most obvious and pressing solution for driving revenue. Question is how can you successfully shift bookings away from the all-powerful OTAs and optimize your virtual check-in desk – i.e. your own hotel website?
While lack of resources can be a big challenge for independently-owned hotels who run their digital marketing in-house, the fact is that that businesses of all sizes often overlook the key actions that can have a dramatic impact on shoring up revenue streams.
The 5 key elements of a winning direct-first campaign strategy
- SEO & back links – From audits to action plans
More than one-third of hotel website revenue is generated via organic search, making a robust SEO strategy – combined with compelling web content – vital. Housekeeping in the form of a comprehensive SEO audit should be your first plan of attack if you’re falling behind in the SERPs or are in any doubt that your website is offering a first-class experience across all devices, notably mobile.
Mine your partners for link opportunities and cross promotions via social and when it comes to securing coverage, ensure your PR team is delivering a tactical online PR campaign – taking a quality over quantity approach by targeting media sites and blogs (beyond the major players) with a minimum Domain Authority of 50+ and crafting tactical pitches for the most influential sites that offer dofollow links.
- User experience – Make it first class
A bumper crop of likes on Facebook or Instagram is lovely to see but does nothing for your bottom line if these admiring lookers aren’t turning into paying bookers. A deep dive into your conversion rate performance via Google Analytics will reveal the cold truth about the quality of user experience you’re currently offering your potential customers. It starts with the very first point of contact: is your site responsive and fully optimized for mobile search; do your pages and content load swiftly; is the navigation clear and intuitive; is your copy legible and well written, and are your designs and visuals slick and appealing? If conversions are low, identifying the faults that prevent customers flowing through the funnel is the key priority. In short, you need to identify what’s putting them off.
- Clever content – Sell experiences, not rooms
Why should customers book with you direct? What’s in it for them? Compelling reasons why, including how your room rates compete with the leading OTAs/best price messaging, should be prominently featured on your home page. Also craft a selection of incentive offers and packages, such as ‘complimentary dinner for two if you book three nights,’ discounts on spa services, complimentary afternoon tea, theatre tickets etc. and feature these on a dedicated landing page.
It’s also time to think beyond beautiful ‘wallpaper’ images and present a taste of your myriad destination experiences, both at the hotel plus the attractions nearby. Facebook’s 360 video is just one of the latest cost-effective tools for immersive content creation, and with Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR you can embrace the exciting new world of Virtual Reality. Facebook Live is already in mainstream use, and Instagram and Twitter each have their own tools. According to Cisco, video traffic will account for 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016., making investment in video for your website and social pages an absolute must.
- Smart social – Because pumping out organic posts won’t cut it
Your social pages are also key for SEO and driving traffic to your website but you need a clear channel strategy, brilliant engagement tactics and an astute approach to paid media to make them sing. Investing in the creation of a social media playbook, which maps out the content remit and types and style of post that work best for your brand and audience can effectively help your in-house team stay on track and on message. And expanding your hotel’s paid search presence via social channels, Google and Hotelfinder during low seasons is critical. It’s time to start planning your Q1 paid search campaign – and if needed, provide staff training in smart ways to get the most ROI from paid media (content, ad types, targeting and budget allocation).
- Direct marketing – The smart money is on email
Did you know that email continues to drive at least 4x higher ROI than all other marketing formats -including SEO and SEM , with, according to eMarketer, conversion rates 3x higher than social media?
And yes, that applies to the hospitality sector too – and recent research from Performance Horizon and WBR Digital, also revealed that emails secure the highest percentage of returning guests.
It’s astonishing and yet email campaigns invariably still only get a very humble slice of the overall marketing budget pie.
What are you doing to build your customer database? How do you get the email addresses of the guests you want to see sipping drinks in your hotel bar in the first place? Start adopting smart tactics for acquiring emails, including the creation of a well-designed newsletter they can sign up for via your website. Distribution tools such as Mailchimp allow you to import a bespoke newsletter template. And don’t be shy about asking guests who booked with an OTA to provide their email address – you can offer them a free glass of wine, 10% off a massage or a VIP invitation to a special event in return.