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Hoteliers: Cut down OTA fees in favor of better booking options

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People see Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as their travel supermarkets, and it won’t change soon. 72% of surveyed British travelers finalize their purchases with OTAs and just 42% of them purchase with a hotel brand, with a similar trend noticeable for the US (2017 Eye for Travel report). 

It's time for hotel managers to pledge a timed decrease in OTA reservations as they hurt their bottom line. Know how to convert OTA onlookers into your own guests by starting with this practical direct booking blueprint.

People see Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as their travel supermarkets, and it won’t change soon. 72% of surveyed British travelers finalize their purchases with OTAs and just 42% of them purchase with a hotel brand, with a similar trend noticeable for the US (2017 Eye for Travel report). New year, new budget travel booking channel is draining hotel revenue with recurring reservation fees. Hoteliers can stop the leak by advertising less with money-draining OTA partners and reinvesting in methods of generating bookings without commissions.

Save on OTAs - you have options
Dependence on commission-based OTA websites should be minimized if possible. For a start, inventory showcased with an OTA might be set at no more than 80% of rooms, which will allow the hotel to re-invest more in direct promotion from what’s saved on commissions. In this sense, popular OTAs are used as mass-advertising platforms for increasing the hotel’s visibility. 

Hoteliers might also partner with alternative OTA websites that offer just terms of use. Currently, there are at least two global platforms that provide direct booking requests to hotels, with at least one of them operating under a 0% commission policy without rate parity restrictions.

Weak digital presence won't win you guests
Let’s remember that before the purchase, deal-savvy guests will cross-examine their booking offer on a hotels web page with an OTA listing. We can use that window of opportunity to form a trustful relationship with prospective OTA guests, who will feel compelled to book directly, provided that the experience is rewarding. For brands to steer away from commissions, the quality of booking information on their website must excel that what’s presented by a third-party agent. Consult with a creative professional whether your communications are enjoyable to receive - chances are they might be just a little too stiff.

The second step is to provide the visitors with a compelling reward for booking direct, displayed on the top banner, such as a free parking spot, a small breakfast, or a guided city tour discount. Large chains with bloated Adword budgets can be spotted offering promo room codes in their Google Search title. Regularly confront your website standards with those of your direct competitors to see whether guests truly benefit from visiting. Remember that their natural expectation is that the booking process can be completed flawlessly within 2-4 subpages, with a rich representation of room standards and hotel amenities right after date input.

Help them imagine their stay
Notice how we get exhausted by scouting for travel advice across several pages. Hotels should curate their own digital tourism platform to earn their prospective guest’s trust. An optimal solution would be to include an “Explore the city” subpage with aggregated, local news content that would encourage them to stay the site. And the longer they stay, the more willing they will become to purchase with the brand. Newsfeed plugins of such functionality can be implemented at no recurring cost or under a subscription fee if a brand decides to embed its social media content. They’re also easier to curate than blogs. Allow the visitors to subscribe to the feed with e-mail for them to stay updated before arriving in the city, and you might leverage this point of contact to provide a branded city guide later on - or it might be a surprise discount code for newcomers to show appreciation for their engagement. Implementing LiveChat within the page will allow the staff to strike a conversation with a prospect in the midst of their booking research.
 
Public image is key to trust
Social proof is the force that drives the guests booking decisions, as 95% of them read reviews prior to choosing their hotel (2015 TrustYou report). Although users turn to OTAs for travel recommendation, hotels might counter that by including their guest’s social media mentions of our brand in the bottom section of the main page.The reasoning here is that is such posts, often backed by images, vividly reveal how enjoyable their stay was for them to make the effort of speaking about the hotel online. Marketers should remain on the lookout for social media brand praise, as many guests might be pleased with an offer to be featured on the resort’s page.

Verified user reviews will provide guests with additional booking reassurance. Hoteliers might implement automated referral software into their website that collects post-stay customer feedback. Travelers validating your hotel will consider after-purchase reviews as more trustworthy than entries of external feedback websites, which have been proven as easy to trick.

Make rewarding guest loyalty your value
Remember to strengthen your guest retention by making visitors feel welcome even before their arrival. You might start with two pre-visit e-mails, one with a welcome package that might include a 1-day free facility pass and 3 local tour discounts, while the other one should provide them with a Google map of the hotel’s area with key interest points bookmarked. User targeting can be adjusted with data collected from the hotel’s wifi gateway that mostly requires email for login. As a follow-up, the guest might receive two room discount codes in return for completing the feedback survey. One for his next stay and one for sharing in either a unique or time-limited form. Expand your retention efforts by simplifying your loyalty program. Guests will be delighted to receive brand points just for reviewing their stay on Twitter or for checking in with Facebook.

Schedule time to prepare a draft commission-free booking this week. Start by setting clear goal of decreasing a number of paid OTA bookings by next January. Then, focus on perfecting guest engagement pre and post-stay to generate more "earned" bookings while upgrading your website to ease the reservation process. 

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