The travel industry is fragmented, but that doesn’t mean hoteliers can’t grab a piece of the pie. In the online space, that grab starts with a hotel website.
“No channel is more profitable than your own hotel website, and that website should be driving the most bookings for you with [online travel agencies] supplementing it,” said Darlene Rondeau, VP of best practices and online merchandising at Leonardo, a hotel marketing company.
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However, she said that throwing anything and everything on the website won’t convert lookers to bookers. Instead, she provided five tips to help drive direct bookings—and profits.
1. Tell the Unique Story
A hotel’s website is its digital storefront, Rondeau said. Hoteliers need to distinguish what sets their property apart from the competition. They can do that by telling a unique story on the hotel’s website.
“This is the one thing that OTAs cannot do,” Rondeau said.
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She said hotel websites should use visual storytelling to create an emotional connection with shoppers. Words, images and captions can be used to tell the story. High-quality images are crucial because 65 percent of people are visual learners and photos have the ability to convey a story quickly and effectively, she said. It’s important to be authentic and genuine when telling the story in order to create the emotional connection.
“Stories conjure up memories and develop an emotional connection with a travel shopper,” Rondeau said, adding that emotion has a big influence on whether shoppers will make a booking.
2. Lead with Guestrooms Photos
Leonardo analyzed more than 500 million pieces of media and found that guestrooms are the most-viewed images on hotel websites. Because of this, Rondeau advised hoteliers to lead with these images instead of exterior shots.
“Unless you have a historic or artistic building, don’t lead with exterior shots,” she said. “Traveler shoppers want to see where they will be sleeping and what the guestrooms are like.”
Images from every angle should be displayed so that travelers can get a feel for the space. A great way to show images is via a gallery with multiple room types.
“Help [travel shoppers] to imagine they are already there,” Rondeau said.
3. Provide Social Proof
Travel shoppers want evidence that others are staying at the hotel they will book. This is what Rondeau calls social proof, or independent third-party feedback about a hotel. Examples include guest reviews, awards and star ratings.
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Good reviews can translate to more dollars in the till because 76 percent of shoppers will pay more for a hotel with better reviews, Rondeau said, citing TrustYou research. Likewise, 53 percent of travelers won’t book without first reading reviews, according to Phocuswright.
Rondeau said reviews should be embedded on hotel websites in order to keep visitors on the site longer.
“Don’t give travel shoppers a reason to leave your site to search for reviews because you risk them not coming back to you,” she said.
4. Provide Special Offers
Travelers should be offered an incentive for booking direct, Rondeau said. A good way to reward direct bookings is to provide special offers on the hotel website that can nudge lookers to book.
These offers don’t need to focus on price, but rather they should create value in the consumer’s mind, she said. For example, a guest will be provided free hotel Wi-Fi for booking direct.
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“Call out the offers everywhere [on the website] because the more they see the deals, the more likely they are to remember them,” Rondeau said.
5. Optimize the Mobile Site
In 2016, 60 percent of travel searches and one-fifth of reservations were made on mobile devices, according to Google. That’s why hotel websites need to have an optimized mobile site to drive direct bookings.
The mobile site should include, according to Rondeau:
- a clear call to action to book now on every page;
- mobile booking engine integration;
- click-to-call functionality;
- Google Maps integration; and
- local area suggestions.
“Your website absolutely has to be mobile optimized,” she said, in order to drive the direct bookings that will lead to increased profits.