“First of all, the online travel agencies have proved they have some value to the hotel industry so we shouldn’t expect them to wither away,” said John Burns, president at Hospitality Technology Consulting. “We have to remember that the online travel agencies are our distributor by choice. It may be a poor choice, but it’s our choice.”
There are, however, other, better choices that will save hoteliers billions. Here is a step-by-step guide for hoteliers to reclaim their hard earned money.
Step 1 – Modern Hotel Web Design
The migration of direct bookings from hotel websites to OTAs is cause and effect. The cause? Hotel websites are outdated and give guests a poor experience. The effect? Guests now go first to OTAs to find hotels instead of going to your hotel website.
The solution is to invest in a modern website that evolves with the Internet. Hiring a freelance flash web designer doesn’t cut it. You may fork over $10,000 and in two years your website will be dated. The only viable solution for hoteliers is to choose a web design solution that advances with the Internet as it evolves.
SaaS companies like buuteeq are built on modern, state-of-the-art web technologies and produce websites that are ahead of the curve when published. As time goes on, they invest in new technologies as they emerge, constantly updating their CMS and final product to better take advantage of them. This means that hoteliers don’t have to have a new site redesign every two years to remain competitive. One subscription plan shelters the hotelier from obsolescence.
Step 2 – Hotel SEO
Hotels built with lousy information architecture (IA) perform poorly. We’ve all seen such sites—gaudy, clashing colors, animated gifs, music that loads with the page, page frames, ill-formatted text and so on. Not only do such websites give guests a poor browsing experience, but search engines have a hard time crawling them for good information, and by consequence they rank poorly.
Investing in search engine optimization (SEO) allows hotel websites to perform well organically. Hoteliers must be careful—there are ‘black-hat’ SEO vendors that promise sky-high results but use techniques that are frowned upon by Google. They best choice is to choose web design that has an IA built with white-hat, organic SEO in mind. Call the designer you are interested in and ask them about what they offer for SEO. If they sound like a slick car salesman, stay away!
Step 3 – Mobile Hotel Website
With over 50% of internet browsing coming from mobile devices by 2015 according to Forrester Research, hotel owners who ignore mobile go obsolete. Instead of letting OTAs steal your direct bookings, create a template for your website that works well on mobile devices. Cropped images, large navigation links, the removal of unnecessary code and script and clear, easy-to-see reservation buttons are a must.
You could hire a third party to design a mobile hotel template for you, but often these templates exist under new domains, such as mobile.domain.com. This is bad for SEO. Instead, be sure that the web designer you choose also includes a mobile template that exists under the same domain. Guests shouldn’t have to remember multiple domains for your hotel website in order to access it on various devices. One domain, one website, two templates, optimized for mobile—that’s the golden fleece.
Step 4 – Hotel Facebook App & Social Marketing
The Internet has gone social. There is a ‘like’ button on every website. You can’t browse the Internet anymore without seeing enigmatic ‘digg’,’+1’, ‘stumble’ and ‘tweet’ buttons everywhere. At the moment, the king of social is Facebook, and your hotel needs to be on it.
Different people browse differently. A Facebook Place or Page for your hotel is necessary to rope in social browsers. These are guests who might never find your hotel unless it is on Facebook. Having an app for your hotel is essential so that guests can book a room directly from Facebook. However, it is not enough to install some 3rd party hotel app. The best choice is to find an online marketing service that not only offers the services mentioned above, but pushes all this information to Facebook as well. There is no sense in paying five different companies for five different services. Find one that does them all well, and run with them.
Step 5 – Hotel Online Reservation Engine
The most important step that brings all the others together to produce a direct reservation is your own booking engine. Standard forms are no longer enough. Browsers today are used to immediate results. They don’t want to fill out a form and then wait a few days for you to email them back with their reservation confirmation. They want a confirmed stay now, and this is an area where OTAs shine.
Find an online booking engine that works for your hotel. There are many out there to choose from. These questions may help you pick the best one:
1) Does it sync with your hotel website and online marketing so that your hotel information is always up-to-date?
2) Is the interface clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate?
3) Does it include your hotel’s promotions, packages and add-ons?
4) Does it work in the currency of your choice?
5) Is it commission free? Do you get to keep 100% of every dollar your guests spend?
6) Does it give you reservation management, so that you can open and close reservations and keep track of your inventory and customers?
If the booking engine you are examining doesn’t answer ‘yes’ to all of them, then walk away. Find one that does, and preferably, find one that is integrated with your other marketing materials mentioned above.
Once your hotel has carved out its own digital home on the Net that conforms to these five steps, you’ll start to see your direct reservations increase, and your travel agency commissions fade away.