How hotels can direct their efforts towards direct bookingsNews / Distribution | Technology | OnlineBy Viewpoints | July 21, 2015Share This article was originally published on Hoteliers are always seeking ways to increase sales, but it seems as if every new marketing tactic comes with a steep commission structure that eats into the revenues.NB This is a guest article by Brandon Dennis, VP of marketing at Cloudbeds.It’s time for hoteliers to make direct bookings the dominant revenue source for their properties. Here are seven suggestions.1) Mobile bookings - duh!I’m embarrassed bringing this up. This should be a no-brainer by now. Time and time again I see hotel websites with booking engines that are not optimized for mobile devices. To add insult to injury, some of them charge commissions!According to a 2014 study from TripBarometer, only 45% of hotels accept mobile bookings.But getting your website and booking engine mobile optimized is easier than ever. If your current booking engine is not mobile optimized, switch today to one that is. Every day you wait, you lose business.2) The Billboard EffectBy now, we’re all familiar with The Billboard Effect. It's the phenomena where guests who discover your hotel via an online travel agency (OTA) visit your website. Many end up booking directly with you. Properties who list inventory on OTAs increase their direct reservations by up to 26%.It seems counter-intuitive, but you will increase direct reservations by listing inventory on OTAs. It’s smart to list at least a small segment of your inventory on OTAs to enjoy this dynamic, even if you don’t want to use OTAs as the primary source of your reservations.But it can be a complicated and time-consuming project.Listing inventory on OTAs is not exactly a user-friendly procedure. Instead, find a channel manager. A channel manager can help you push your vacant inventory to many different OTAs at once. It keeps them all up-to-date with your current vacancy status. This helps prevent overbookings while giving your OTA marketing the largest possible reach.The more OTAs where you list your inventory, the more direct traffic you will get. Choose a channel manager that can be integrated with many options. Favor those with niche marketplaces that suit your property best.3) Targeted discountsRate parity is when you agree to publicly sell your inventory for no less than what you sell it for on certain OTAs. It can be a bummer, because your cheapest rates should always be on your website. It is how some OTAs remove the incentive for guests to book directly with you.But there is a way to get around this. Most rate-parity agreements do not apply to guests who are part of your brand’s marketing database. This includes social media followers, email subscribers, and customer loyalty program members.You can send private, compelling offers to these individuals. If you do so with enough frequency, this can be a huge driver of direct bookings.4) Content marketingContent marketing is when you produce compelling content, such as how-to-guides and photo galleries, that inspires guests to book with you.It can take a lot of time and is hard to do well. But in spite of how tricky this can be, it’s important to tackle for many reasons: Compelling content is what drives new traffic from search engines. Without it, your SEO strategy will not work.Content marketing is a great way to get email addresses. You can produce, say, a local tourist guide, or a gallery of high-resolution photography. Then put them behind a content-gate. (A content-gate requires a viewer to share their email address with you before they can view your content). In this way, you can bolster your email marketing list, which you can now use for targeted discounts to get around rate parity.Content marketing is also what keeps people sticking around on social media. Cute photos of your dog may interest your Facebook followers a bit. But they will be much more interested in, say, a photo-journal of the construction of the new wing of your property, or your new spa. Your Pinterest followers may find memes you found on Facebook funny. But they’ll be more interested in exploring original, inspiring photos from your property. It may take hiring someone, or even a small team, whose job is to do nothing but produce and share new, compelling content. But it is a great way to increase direct reservations.5) User-driven designYour website is a conversion engine that has one goal - to turn website visitors into paid hotel guests.It is not an art canvas for playing music you like or showing off your favorite animated gifs. Put thought into the layout of your website, and the content you publish there.Your average run-of-the-mill hotel website will have a few low-resolution photos of beds. This isn’t good enough. When you send guests to your website, make sure they enter an environment that inspires them. Make sure it is easy for them to book.Make sure that you have a bold, colorful call-to-action (CTA) on every page of your website, such as "Book Now". Make sure that your website’s primary navigation is easy to read, and that it doesn’t overwhelm your visitor.Use high-resolution, large photos when you can. Guests decide whether they like your property very quickly indeed. Photos inspire them the quickest, so make sure that you hammer them with awesome imagery as soon as they arrive.Make your website for your guest, not for you. You’ll turn it into the conversion engine it needs to be to give you more direct reservations.6) Encourage guests to join your loyalty programNot every property has a loyalty program. But maybe they should.Most guests like going places where they have had a great time in the past. This is why so many families go to Disneyland year after year.Business travelers return to the same convenient hotels where they get a nice stay for an affordable price. Loyalty programs incentivize guests to choose the same property over and over again.If you start a loyalty program, you can leverage it to get more repeat business. This also gives you a segment of your marketing database that work as “super-guests”. They are more likely to respond well to your new deals and content.They are more likely to respond well to content you share on social media. This can garner that content the views, likes, and shares it needs to gain a wider audience.7) Respond to online reviews and commentsOne of the best opportunities you have to find new guests is to join conversations already taking place about your property. From OTAs such as Expedia to online directories such as Yelp, guests from all over the world are talking about you.More than that, your future guests are likely to visit each of these places when researching your property. The average guest visits travel websites 38 times when planning a trip.Your website may be visited but what about the rest? They are OTAs, directories, online community forums and other places where guests talk about your hotel.The nice part about this is that you, too, have the freedom to hop on in and voice your opinion. Respond with good energy to negative reviews and low ratings.But more importantly, talk about the great things guests can see back on your website - discounts, photos, guides, etc. Provide links back to your website when possible.Set up Google Alerts to email you whenever someone mentions your hotel’s name online. This will help you keep up-to-tabs with the buzz about your property. Be sure to inspect your property listings on OTAs and directories, and respond to reviews when you can.A personal comment from the owner or manager looks good to guests, improving your brand’s perception. Also, those same guests are more likely to visit your website, share their email address, and become a direct customer.Domination Takes WorkHey, this takes work, no doubt. But that’s why so many hoteliers fail at increasing their direct revenue!The difficulty of this leaves a huge window open for those willing to put in the work. There are twenty properties in your area. But 19 of them are too busy to deal with all this “online nonsense”. Guess which hotel will benefit from it? That’s right, you - the one who sits down and makes an effort.It can be done, and you can do it.NB This is a guest article by Brandon Dennis, VP of marketing at Cloudbeds.NB2Hotel signpost image by Shutterstock.