Recently, a substantial number of hotel chains dissolved their contracts with Online Travel Agencies (OTA) to be able to offer products at affordable prices on their own websites. This is an effort to increase bookings, via the hotel’s own website. Also, the move is meant to put an immense pressure on the OTAs for revamping their contract terms. However, even though this tactic may work for larger chains; boutique and smaller independent establishments may find themselves at a disadvantage. Without the support of several channels, small hotels will find differentiating and marketing products difficult and expensive. This is where a well-designed hotel digital marketing strategy can help exonerate them from the OTAs.
Distribution Channels – Differentiation VS Commoditization
Is the problem of rate equality just about varied parties agreeing to retain consistent rates? Or, is there a lot more behind the rate tension between OTAs and hotels? For hoteliers, the grievances against OTAs primarily include their exorbitant rates of commission. The hotels view this as the hijacking of their brands and the absence of control over their hotel’s marketing and management of customer relations.
As a matter of fact, the concerns are a lot more complicated than just concurring on rates. In most cases, the hotels may have inadvertently signed contracts agreeing to unfair terms that they would want to change.
In the year 2015, Travel Tripper compared a number of standard OTA standards and found out that they typically consist of the undermentioned (or similar) clauses:
- The Accommodation expressly gives consent to not target Guests that have been acquired through OTA in either offline or online marketing promotions or unsolicited or solicited mail.
- The OTA shall be granted the permission to provide a discount on the price of the room at its own cost to the members of its closed user group.
Both the clauses bluntly remove the ability of a hotel to get in touch with specific groups of guests. Furthermore, it authorizes the OTAs to “own” guests and their data. This particularly becomes problematic when OTAs offer discounted rates and loyalty programs. Such offers are not possible for a small-scale hotel to provide by itself. To make things worse, the hotels have absolutely no say over the conditions of such perks.
The solution is crystal clear for some hotels and chains: Annul the contract with the OTAs and make use of their own site and booking engine.
However, smaller properties do not have the required resources to do it alone. Although these small-scale hotels acknowledge the significance of differentiation through myriad distribution channels, they are inclined towards greater control. Hotels are increasingly considering alternative solutions. Roomkey, a distribution channel controlled by hotels and providing customization and products not available to OTAs, is one such solution. Roomkey does not turn hotels into commodities. It permits hotels to differentiate their products, advertise unique services and traits, and allows them to compete on various factors, other than rates.
What Can Hoteliers Do to Stand Apart from the Crowd?
One thing is for sure. Hotels need a digital marketing strategy that distinguishes their offerings and helps them stand out. Larger hotel chains are able to differentiate themselves, without an OTA contract, through:
a. Lucrative loyalty programs
b. Brand awareness
c. Power of negotiation to set up numerous channels
But, the mentioned tools are cost-prohibitive for small hotels.
Take a look at the following 11 hotel digital marketing strategies to attract hundereds of guests!
1. Be unique
To stand out from the rest, try being personal. Tell a story to your potential guests. Hotels have so many interesting stories to tell. In fact, a 15-room motel along the highway may also have some really great stories to share.
2. Accept your speciality
Your hotel must appear in distribution channels that are most appropriate to your market sector. For instance, if you own a boutique hotel, you can try and get listed on tablethotels.
3. Get the most out of your site
To get the maximum out of your website, make sure that your site is regularly updated and made available across all mobile devices. Your site must be a reflection of the exclusive features and characteristics of your hotel. To amp up your direct bookings, you can create content with professional and enticing images.
4. Reward loyalty
To value the loyalty of returning guests that directly book, via your website, you can offer them rewards. You can easily offer a 10% discount code to your returning customers. This offering is still less than the commission paid to the OTAs.
5. Personalize the experience of guests
For providing exceptional guest experience, you can offer added options to customers making a booking. Also, you may partner up with local attractions, restaurants and tours and offer these as add-ons to customers who have booked with you.
6. Set apart your packages for booking
Come up with room type-ideas as product offers. Utilize your booking engine to offer special offers and promotions that you do not provide on the OTAs (for example, a package with a free meal in your restaurant or a day at a nearby spa).
7. Social media marketing
Your hotel must have a presence on the popular social media channels. This will not only increase your hotel’s presence online, but will also add new channels of communication. Social media will give you a platform to informally communicate with potential customers. You will be able to offer a friendly feel to your guests by showcasing your unique traits.Social media drives customer relationships, brand awareness and retention.
8. Focused market campaigns
Knowing who your target audiences are and what they want is important. It will enable you to offer apt experiences to your guests. Gather such information, via surveys, online reviews, Google Analytics and Facebook & Twitter insights. By exploring existing data from varied sources, you will be able to find similarities. These similarities will give you a better understanding of the behaviors and desires of your audience, while making targeted marketing easier.
9. Develop a hotel digital marketing tactic
As you know your target audience, you will also know the tools they use to plan a trip, such as specific websites, search engines, reviews and social media sites. To gain a competitive edge, make sure that your hotel appears on social channels and searches. From the early stages of planning to the end (reviews and post-day socials), your hotel must make an impact.
10. Streamline the booking process
Make booking on your hotel’s website as efficient and easy as possible. Make it possible for people to check the availability and book a room on any page of your site. Furthermore, customers must be able to make bookings at any time and across all devices and platforms. This way, you are less likely to lose customers.
11. Introduce mobile bookings
If you do not have a mobile website, it is high time that you create one. An estimation was made in 2016 that more than 50% of all online bookings for US travelers will be carried out on mobile devices.
The above-mentioned examples reveal that there are some common traits for hotels wanting to enhance their digital marketing strategy. The features are:
The characteristics mentioned above are true for all hotels, regardless of their size and character. Irrespective of the channels through which you choose to market your hotel, effective marketing involves 3 critical factors:
a. Having a say in the way your hotel is being promoted
b. Keeping an eye on how customers are being handled
c. Highlighting your strengths and offering them as perks
A successful hotel digital marketing strategy is made up of the above-mentioned factors. Irrespective of the size of the operation, every hotelier can benefit without OTA intervention. So, pep up your digital marketing endeavors to enhance your audience reach and visibility.
Hope these tips helps you in strategizing your Hotel Digital Marketing. Let me know what other digital marketing ideas you have discovered.