We don’t normally have an issue when it comes to selecting the right price, the strategies are generally the same and the tools are getting better all the time. However, thanks to today’s global access to information, that intermediaries have learnt to take advantage of, the average distribution price varies constantly.
There is no longer a fixed image and this forces us to create and maintain a new strategy, in fact, we even need to go further and predict completely new scenarios, such as comparative websites when they first appeared.
To do this, we suggest something that is sure to open the door to many ideas: think how users who book online to stay in your hotel behave.
Have you ever put your hotel’s name in Google? What about Trivago? What do you see? Have you thought of the searches you make when looking for a hotel personally? What is your aim? Is it all about the price? Do you find cheaper prices than on the official page? Where? How did you book in the end?
This is where your strategy begins. We can’t expect clients to book directly on our website if we wouldn’t. Let’s stop and think about a few things first:
1. Gather as much information as possible about your user.
We don’t just want to know where they search, but also, how they behave once they reach a site. You won’t get this information from Booking.com, even if you ask, but you can find out what happens on your own website: how did they get there? what information were the looking for? at what point of the sale do they give up? etc. Google Analytics is your ally in this adventure, get help from your web provider and or booking and marketing engines.
There are other ways to gather information: collecting email addresses during the booking process for future campaigns or a post stay email survey: “Can you remember where you booked your stay in our hotel?”, “Why did you book using that website?”, “What would you change in the booking process?”.
This valuable information gathered straight from the user will help you see where to look for clients and where your booking process is letting you down.
2. Watch how other intermediaries behave when selling your hotel online.
Many of them will do PPC campaigns using your name, others are on Trivago or Tripconnect (Tripadvisor) with a price lower than your retail price. That is how, among other ways, they take sales that would otherwise be made on your website.
There is no doubt that Booking.com, to name just one, adds value by bringing clients that you are not able to win over for many reasons: 24/7 customer service in numerous languages, expensive generic AdWords campaigns according to destination, etc. But users that are looking for your hotel by name, or clients that slip the net because of price dumping; they were yours until they ended up with an intermediary, therefore:
Copy all the techniques you possibly can.
Don’t let them have better conditions- if nothing else, price parity is essential, and offer something extra to your direct clients.
Don’t let them charge you commission for clients you could have attracted for less cost.
Don’t let them use your name in PPC campaigns. You can do that for yourself.
In equal conditions, any intermediary has better chances of reaching the end user than an independent hotel, make sure you make it a level playing field.
3. Use a technological base that will allow you to carry out your strategy.
It’s not all about spending a fortune on a new website or developing a personalised booking engine. It means finding versatile tools on the market with which you can integrate and show your client everything you have to offer.
It is also important that the interface the final user sees is attractive and clear, we want to appeal to the eyes, so we need an up-to-date, user friendly website, that adapts to all devices and displays complete, organised information.
And it is advisable that the back office tools complement this. It is not essential, but we do need our management tools (your PMS and/or your Channel Manager) to give us plenty of information that will allow us to take dynamic decisions.
There are many other complementary tools that can help: a good CRM to manage your client’s information, reputation management tools, client recovery, call me back, etc. but these all make up the second phase of your strategy, we can’t advance with these tools if we can’t solve the basics.
4. Invest in actions that have a high return over investment (ROI).
Now you have your foundation you need to invest. Remember that direct sales are not necessarily cheap, but they are profitable, you choose how much to invest. For example, if Booking.com charges you 18%, you have that much margin of investment to recover on your own Website, any more than that and it’s better to take the reservation from Booking. Obviously we want to reduce the distribution costs and reaching 18% in your direct sales costs is not the aim, but remember as well, that in any case, it will stop the client going back to Booking for future bookings, this is another advantage that is equal to the cost.
Invest in common actions like AdWords campaigns, price comparison websites, email marketing etc., but always with one criteria. For example, make an AdWords campaign that you know you can pay, with a user who has practically decided to book, like a campaign with your hotel name (which intermediaries are doing at the moment). Don’t pay for clicks in comparison websites if you don’t have price parity, it’s a waste of money. Another possible action, if you have a large, well segmented email data base, is to send out a well timed email marketing campaign. This can generate many more bookings than you’d think.
5. Combine your online and offline strategies.
Use your hotel’s resources to back your direct sales strategy: offer something different to those who book through your website, collect more email addresses at the reception deck, or with a sign-in device (tablet), offer promotional discounts at checkout so they can obtain a discount when they book next time through your website, etc.
Each hotel has its own optimal actions depending on the type of hotel and client. Of course, you may try a new action that doesn’t have the expected return, that’s not an issue, it’s all about trial and error until you hit on the best plan for you.
For all this you need the backing of your marketing provider, the day to day running of a hotel is too complex and has many specialised nuances that are beyond the grasp of most of us. What’s important is to understand the motive, the direction and aim of each step we make, so we can combine efforts and goals, remember, nobody knows your hotel better than you.
Learn, decide and invest with criterion. There’s so much more to gain.