Three Strategies to Boost Direct Bookings and Still Appease OTAs

Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline and other travel deal sites require hotels to pay significant commission fees in exchange for bookings. While this is an important revenue source for the industry, some hotels have experienced an increasing percentage of their business moving to these channels (effectively reducing the amount of undocked reservations they receive).

One primary reason for this trend is the assumption that these online travel agencies (OTAs) will always have the better deal. While rate parity clauses prevent hotels from publicly advertising rates for less than what’s on the OTA, there are strategies property owners can use to entice more customers to book direct.

Recently, my company interviewed several hotel management software and hotel marketing experts to help brainstorm several ways hotels can drive direct bookings. Here’s what they suggested:

Blog About Great Deals and Share The Posts
Your blog is a great avenue for both reminding potential customers why that moment is a great time to travel, and for pitching them on deals relevant to whatever event or season might be happening. You can send these articles to your email list, as well as optimize them with keywords that have high search traffic. This latter strategy can drive more organic traffic to your website. For example, “SXSW hotels” receives 170 searches per month, so Austin-area hotels could write blogs optimized for that keyword so they rank when people search for that term in Google. Here’s an example of a blog post advertising Spring time events in the area around The Sanctuary Beach Resort in Monterey Bay:

Hook Viewers with Strategic Design
Often, travelers shopping on OTAs visit the hotel’s website to learn more about the accommodations offered. This is your chance to capture those site visitors and stop them from going back to the OTA. This takes smart web design.

First off, make it as clear and hassle-free as possible to book. Provide “book now” buttons on every page that link to your hotel booking automation system. These buttons should be located at the top of the page so they are the first thing customers see. Also, include call-to-actions on every page that encourages visitors to “sign up for our email list for exclusive discounts,” or “Like on us on Facebook for special deals.”

Also, many customers assume they will get the “least desirable rooms” if they book on an OTA. So you need to show them what your best rooms look like immediately. This could convince them it’s worth splurging on your room rather than an OTA room. Make sure your most attractive rooms, views and balconies (if you have them) are front and center (like on your homepage). These images need to be professionally taken, high quality and show the best parts of your most desired rooms – soaking tubs, incredible views, large windows and so on.

By implementing these tips, savvy hotel managers can drive customers to their own website without upsetting their OTA and still reap the clear benefits of using OTAs. Rather than a battle, it can be a win for everyone involved.

Interact with Customers on Review Sites
Many times when customers use OTAs, they get a list of five or so properties in a similar price range. In addition to visiting the hotel websites, they might also go to something like Yelp or TripAdvisor. This presents another opportunity to draw customers to your own site, rather than having them go back to the OTA to book.

When customers post reviews about your hotel, you need to try your best to answer as many as possible, where they’re positive or negative. Review, a web-based tool by eRevMax, makes monitoring these reviews as easy as checking emails. The application scours all hotel review sites and collects every mention of your hotel in one location. It also lets you respond directly to guests without ever leaving its interface, cutting down time spent hopping from one review site to another for an effective hotel guest review management process.

Besides just viewing and responding to comments, the tool gives you a deeper understanding of your customers. You can see exactly what’s working and what’s not, trends among customers, and also how your hotel stacks up compared to your competitors.

How do you increase direct bookings? Let us know!

Alan S. Horowitz contributed to this report.

Ashley Verrill is an analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM,, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.

Bourbon Hotels & Resorts uses RateTiger for rate and inventory management

Bourbon Hotels & Resorts, one of the major hospitality players in Brazil, has signed up eRevMax to increase their online business penetration and revenue. “RateTiger will help Bourbon Hotels & Resorts have complete control over revenue management. They will be able to identify the best producing websites, while also improving the relationship with channels that have a lower commission.” said Jan Murza, VP-Sales, Americas, eRevMax International.

Online travel is growing at over 18% in Brazil, and expected to cross USD 20 billion by 2014, as the leisure tourism sector gets a huge boost from international tourists visiting the country for the FIFA World Cup. Ten properties will be using RateTiger Channel Manager to increase online sales by ensuring real-time room availability across all distribution points through automatic adjustment from pooled inventory.

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The Curious Case of Guest Reviews

Being a part of the industry, hotel reviews are something I always take with a pinch of salt, especially those making extremely negative remarks in online reputation sites.  However, the internet is a place for opinions and if many more people join in the chorus to say negative remarks about the property, then I would rather give it a miss than taking a chance on a booking. But does that really mean that it is a bad hotel?  

Truth be told, if more people are not happy with the property than are happy, then there must be something wrong with it. Guests express their dissatisfaction when they have bad experience. The first lesson of the service industry is that customer is the king, and in this age of hyper-activity in the internet, they rule.

As simple as coffee makers
I worked in a hotel where a decision was made to pull off all the coffee makers from the rooms.  Management decided that it would save money in the long run because they would be cutting the cost of replacing and stocking this one guest amenity and could focus time and money in other areas.  There was a café in the lobby and so at check-in, guests were given a voucher to use at the café.  You would think the problem was solved. Well, not quite!

Guests began to leave negative reviews not only on travel sites, but also through the hotel’s internal guest feedback form.  It seemed that one amenity affected their entire stay and made them question the worth of the room.  To appease the guests, rate adjustments had to be made; additionally they were provided complimentary coffee from the café.  Our ranking on TripAdvisor went down because our competitors continued to supply coffee-makers in their rooms and so guests felt they were getting more for their money.  Another decision was made by the executive team and coffee makers were placed back in the rooms so that we could recover from the guest backlash.  

Unknowingly (or maybe not) guests have placed themselves at the decision-making table of most hotels!

Stitching it together
As revenue management evolves, it is getting away from simple rate management and is now incorporating customer relations and social media into its strategy. The more satisfied guests you have, the more likely the guest is to return and spend more money, as well as telling others so they will visit and spend money as well. Hence reputation has a positive correlation with the hotel’s overall Average Daily Rate (ADR) and revenue. The time has come for the revenue management department to work hand in hand with the marketing department.

A recent survey by suggests that 90% of travelers would avoid booking hotels labelled as “dirty” in online review sites. Sure, the situation might not be as bad as the guest made it seem, but the hotel cannot prevent the reviewer from expressing his/her opinion. However the beauty of online reputation sites is that most will give the hotel an option to respond. And the hotel needs to do just that – Respond! More so for negative reviews!

As an hotelier, facing these challenges can be a nightmare, especially when it hits you out of the blue. Therefore, it is essential to take an analytical approach to understand your strengths and weaknesses as per your guests and take a cohesive approach to address these issues. However since guests share feedback on various review and travel sites – all this valuable information lay scattered and unstructured. It is here that online reputation management tools play a big role in consolidating these guest reviews and provide them to hotels in structured reports. Usually, these tools pull guest feedback from various review websites including Qype, Holidaycheck, Yelp, Expedia, Facebook, Twitter etc. 
Data is then compiled together into review reports which include guest details (as it appears on the site) along with their feedback and the rating they provide to the hotel. eRevMax, the company I worked for has its reputation management tool – RateTiger Review, which uses sentiment analysis to understand the guest’s emotion towards various aspects of the property. Keywords relevant to the properties are then identified, and ranked based on their popularity, frequency of mentions, and guests’ sentiments towards that category.

In other words, semantic analysis gives out a snapshot of what’s right and what’s wrong with
the property. For the hotel, it serves as a measurement of guests’ perception against intended brand positioning. For the marketing team this analysis provides a key insight into guests’ preference, which will help them customize their promotions to have a direct resonance with customer sentiment. From the operational perspective, you now know the areas you need to address the most. For instance, if a hotel continuously keeps getting comments that their rooms are outdated and uncomfortable; this is an indication to the management to invest in renovation to ensure guest satisfaction, as well as attract new guests.  Guest review analysis works hand in hand with rate, occupancy, RevPAR and channel performance to provide hotels with the overall picture, and efficiently use Price Quality metrics to make strategic rate decisions.

Managing your feedback
The explosion of social media has made it almost impossible for hotels to ignore online reputation. According to recent studies, one third of consumers will not book a hotel room without first reading reviews first (Laterooms Survey, Nov 2012). Reviews with a rating on 4 – 5 generate more than double the conversion compared to a review with 1.0 – 2.9 rating on Expedia. Hotels that have a higher guest score typically will have better placement on the travel sites.  A better placement on the travel site means more bookings.  More bookings mean a higher room rate, and eventually higher revenue for the hotel.  

Take the example of Slovenia based LifeClass Hotels & Spa, which has experienced a surge in repeat business by developing a post-stay, guest engagement through online guest review websites. Each property assesses the information and responds to guest reviews from social channels like Facebook, Yelp, etc along with those associated with sales channels (like Booking and Expedia) multiple times a day. “We have been actively monitoring guest reviews of our properties as well as those of our competitors. RateTiger Review has helped us to respond pro-actively to negative reviews, and address our product offerings,” observed Alen Milosevic. This has resulted in 30% revenue growth in 2012.

What’s more, an improved ranking has a positive correlation with direct booking. For 4C Hotels in London, pro-active guest engagement has resulted in a 5% increase in direct booking. “Whenever we see a negative posting, we action a proper investigation to find out what went wrong. We don’t make the same mistakes as before, we are able to identify them and address them,” says Asad Zaheruddin, General Manager at the hotel.

A strong visible position on guest review websites indicate that your Price Quality Index is working well, that will enable you to make the right pricing decisions based on RevPAR performance.  This will allow the hotel to flex their rates based on a number of pricing strategies depending on booking levels. However, there are no short cuts. It is an evolving process that has to start today! As we move towards the age of consumer controlled brand conversations, hotels need to integrate customer feedback into their business approach and strategy planning.

Revenue management was always a game of chess and now even more pieces are being added to the board. By staying actively engaged with guests, hotels can ensure a more consistent and loyal base. Are you listening?

Authored by Rose Adegite, ex-Revenue Manager; adapted by Aparna Bhattacharya, PR Lead at eRevMax.

Spain’s largest hotel complex to drive online revenue with eRevMax

Marina d’Or Holiday Resort has selected eRevMax for optimizing revenue through effective online distribution. All seven properties in the complex will use RateTiger Channel Manager for rate and inventory management across third party channels. “RateTiger will help our properties connect to a significantly higher number of important channels, managing them all from one user-friendly interface and streamlining our distribution process.” said Jorge Juan Iranzo, Revenue Manager en Hoteles Marina d’Or.

Located in Valencia, Marina d’Or Holiday Resort has five hotels in 3, 4 and 5 star categories along with two serviced apartments consisting of over 2150 rooms with capacity for 7000. RateTiger will help Marina d’Or Holiday Resort to manage the rate and availability distribution process, boost exposure to online booking channels globally and drive down the cost of booking acquisition.
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Jumbo Tours reports 21% increase in online bookings

Leading B2B International wholesaler Jumbo Tours has enhanced its distribution technologies following a two-way direct XML integration with eRevMax for its brands Jumbonline and Jumbobeds. “Thanks to the direct connectivity, many more hotels have migrated to the XML. Since we completed our 2-way XML connection, the bookings in eRevMax distributed properties have increased by over 21%. As a result we have achieved a huge improvement in our sales and distribution targets.” said Franco Bracotto, eBusiness Director of Jumbo Tours Group.

The improved data flow now offers better room package promotion planning and distribution on Jumbonline and Jumbobeds. Hotels can leverage Jumbo Tours for improving market reach as the travel site offers services to tour operators from around the world and has a turnover forecast of over 1,800,000 passengers for 2013 with its brands Jumbonline and Jumbobeds.

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Chinese hotel chain signs eRevMax for market expansion and revenue growth

Rosedale Hotel Group has recently partnered with eRevMax to expand its online visibility to further improve market share. Intense competition in the Chinese hospitality sector has made it important for accommodation providers to optimize all demand sources. Online travel booking is growing in double digits in China and is expected to reach USD 48 billion by 2016.
“We chose RateTiger Channel manager as it is considered one of the best online distribution tools in the industry. It helps our Reservations team save valuable time while reducing workload, we can now make all updates directly from the RateTiger dashboard.” said Mr. Louis Cheng, General Manager of Rosedale Hotel Kowloon and Rosedale on the Park. Headquartered in Hong Kong, Rosedale Hotel Group will also be using RateTiger Shopper, the leading price intelligence tool to monitor rate parity across all its channels. This will empower the property with better room rates and price forecasting to generate more revenue. 
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