[VIDEO] Beating the OTAs & driving more direct bookings
This month, we held our exclusive webinar on How to Beat the OTAs and Drive Direct Bookings, attended by some of the biggest hospitality groups and most luxurious hotels in the world.
If you missed out, don’t worry! You can watch the one-hour webinar at your leisure by filling in the quick form below – watch if you want to learn:
- How you can use your existing data to understand the value of OTAs to your hotel and the optimal marketing budget split
- How to tailor, optimize and expand your paid search activity to increase awareness and click-through’s
- How you can leverage OTAs for maximum value
- What activity you can be running in your wider marketing activity to reduce OTAs share on your bookings
We were joined by three of Wolfenden’s marketing experts and our guest speaker, Philip Bolson, who has previously held senior positions as manager of The Grand Hotel in York and managing director of Lake District Hotels.
Here’s a snippet from each talk with some actionable takeaways for you and your team to implement to see success in 2022’s season and beyond.
Use the three R’s – Relationship, Reputation and Results – to frame your marketing activity
When people want to book your hotel, they want to feel that they’re actually coming and staying somewhere that’s got a little bit more to say about it than just its facilities. So, how do you demonstrate that? It comes down to three pillars, what we like to call the three R’s:
- The relationship the hotel has with its team: To be successful any business must want to build a team that is healthy, happy, engaged, and effective. This comes down to things like welfare, pay and conditions, training, true benefits, do they have someone to talk to and have listen? Do they have an influential part to play in the direction of the business? You have an opportunity in your content whether that be your website, social channels, or offline to “tell & show”, to influence, to promote what your business does. If your team is healthy, happy, and engaged they will be more likely to be effective in converting 3rd party bookings, getting that next booking in, to sign up to that loyalty scheme and so on.
- The reputation your hotel has: To be successful any hospitality business must want those that; use it, supply it, partner with it, and the community in which it operates in to love it. This comes down to things like your service and investment, partnerships and collaborations (supporting other businesses for example), commitment to the circular economy, meaningful charity work, awards and authentic online engagement.
- The results your hotel it delivers: To be successful, any hospitality business must have a commercial plan that complements its focus on its relationships and reputation. Any plan without the first two will never achieve what it could achieve. Do you know the full story of your business – do you really know what is happening? Does marketing in your business have a constant presence? Yes, you may be able to talk about various marketing statistics, but is it really helping with your business’s success? You have a part to play in ensuring that your commercial activities talk about your relationships and its reputation.
To get people to stay with you again and again, to be true advocates of your hotel, they’ve got to love what you do – use the three R’s to frame your activities and amplify what you do with your hotel team and show potential customers how much you care. The OTAs can’t do that.
Understanding the role of OTAs
Do the OTAs introduce customers and drive greater visibility for your hotel? Do they drive additional assurance and information to the customer? Are they simply driving conversions at the end of the customer’s journey?
Answering some of these questions will help you understand the role the OTAs actually play in your customer’s journey. One of the best things to do is actually speak to the OTAs and understand what’s driving interest in your hotel on their platform.
The OTAs measure everything and will drive huge amounts of insight, they’re generally happy to share a lot of this. Once you have this, compare their conversion journey to yours. Does yours reflect a straightforward conversion journey? As the expert in your brand and your service, you should be presenting an enhanced customer journey to your users.
The OTAs are leading when it comes to hotel bookings, but they don’t know what else you offer – so if you have other services like a golf course, conference venue, wedding venue, restaurant etc. – this is where you can own the rankings, both organic and paid.
Do some keyword research to find what people are searching for around these services and use this to frame your content strategy, as well as your ad campaigns. Coupled with a stay as well, these bookings are likely to have a higher value, too.
Tailor your PPC ads as much as possible
OTAs will likely be bidding on your hotel name so they appear top of the search results and receive the majority of traffic for that search, but they’ll only display a fairly generic ad listing – you can make your ads really bespoke to specific searches, using ad extensions to make your ad more appealing and taking up more space on the page.
First things first, take a look at keyword frequency. Ensure that your keyword is show throughout your ad consistently, providing the user with full transparency of the service you’re offering. The more your keyword is shown in an ad, the better the chances of greater ad rank and quality score. Increasing quality score will then lead to cheaper CPCs, helping you drive more traffic for less and maximising your budget.
By adding sitelink and image extensions to your ads, you can advertise additional services that you think could be useful to what the user has searched for. For example, you might have a Weddings & Events service, or a restaurant, or a spa – the OTAs won’t put this information in their ads so you have the chance to showcase more of what you offer, giving users the option to click through straight from the ad.
Call extensions is something else that will improve the user journey and won’t show in OTA ads. Add your phone number as a call extension so that users can call you direct from the results, this is a really useful feature for mobile visitors.
Google has continued to automate certain features within the Ads platform. It’s now moving away from the expanded text ads (ETAs), with ETAs to be phased out later this year. This shifts our focus towards responsive search ads (RSAs), these ads provide us with a more robust testing option, as Google’s algorithm rotates various headlines and descriptions to find the best performing combination.
You have the option to implement 14 headlines and 4 descriptions to your ads, fuelling the algorithm with options. You can ensure your ads contain three key aspects:
- Relevancy (supports Ad Rank/QS): This helps support your ranking quality score and again, rewards you with cheaper CPCs allowing your budget to go further.
- USPs : Reflect the USPs about your hotel and what makes it special.
- Incentivised CTAs (improves CTR): Whether it’s free cancellation or another offer, provide an incentive for the users to click through.
Don’t forget the power of your brand
In the long-term perspective – curate your brand rather than chasing sales. Whilst we’ve talked a lot about the tactical steps you can take with your marketing activity, let’s take a moment to delve into the strategic activity you should be running alongside this to boost your organic marketing share and brand awareness. There is huge long-term value in building brand advocates and to do that you first need to widen your brand reach.
You are unique, so lean into your USPs. There are a multitude of channels to get in front of your audience – the main thing is finding which works for you. The key to really getting it right like we’ve covered above is understanding your data and gaining insights into things such as how far in advanced a customer booked vs. how much they spent for example, all of these different combinations of data can give you so many insights to feed back into your targeting.
No other hotel is like you, you might have a unique location, unique facilities, unique customer service, so find your strengths and communicate this. Unearth the things that will bring your business to life and reach your potential customers.
One of the strongest ways to build your brand is through content and PR, you can hit a variety of objectives, so not only does well targeted and positioned PR help you reach your target audience, but done in the right way, it can help lift your organic rankings and visibility too.
Get in touch
With over a decade of experience working with some of the UK’s biggest travel brands and hotels, including The Grand Hotel York, Lakelovers and Lyme Bay Holidays and countless award nominations within the travel sector, our experienced team of marketers are well-equipped to help you boost conversions.
If you’ve watched the webinar and would like some help implementing some of the advice given, get in touch for a chat and let’s see how we can help make 2022 your best year yet.
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