Driving Direct Bookings Growth For Hotels [2018 Updated Edition]

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Driving Direct Bookings Growth For Hotels [2018 Updated Edition]

Our first post on this topic was close to 12-months ago now and was one of our most popular. Since then we’ve stuck to our core strategies as originally outlined, but there are a few areas where performance has dropped, as well as a few where performance has really picked up – providing you some great opportunities for improved ROI. So, we thought we’d repost with a few tasty updates sprinkled throughout

…enjoy!

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It’s no secret technology is playing havoc with the profitability of the traditional accomodation and lodging industry.

You’ve got AirBnB listings sprouting up left right and centre, a whole raft of AirBnB competitors or ‘variants’ nipping at their heels [each with their own sizeable user base!], endless amalgamation and domination of huge budget Online Travel Agents [OTAs – booking.com, Expedia etc] and a range of tech focussed accomodation startups.

It all makes for a dire need for differentiation in the hotel industry, lest your business profitability commences disastrous free fall.

You could be forgiven for hitching any revenue shortcomings you’ve experienced in recent years to the word ‘digital’ in general [and all the above listed businesses associated with the word] if you’re operating in a traditional hotel, but the truth is if there’s one thing digital is, it’s a leveller of the playing field.

Sure, your hotel, chain or business can’t always compete with huge budgets that OTAs often have at their disposal, but you can certainly differentiate to create market edge and position, and ultimately start moving your revenue needle up month on month.

Here are a few key digital marketing ‘fast wins’ that you can implement within your group to drive some measurable gains for your direct bookings, and reduce your reliance on OTAs.

 

Find your angle

While the scale of large aggregators can be helpful for pushing into new global markets, the unique voice of your property will inadvertently get lost in all that noise.

 

To start, list out five offerings that you property/ies have that few in your area do. Be sure to hone in on geography (at the end of the day, people are travelling to your hotel to stay, so this whole strategy should be planned around geo-targets). They could be location (beach, anyone?), price points, a well known F&B offering, special packages, recent renovations or even celebrity endorsements or brand positions.

 

Aim to identify offerings that lend themselves to direct response digital marketing – think more call to action, buy this now, and less branding. By doing this you are giving yourself creative positions that can leverage impulse buys and bookings from users which is a huge growth area in accommodation marketing.

 

Once you’ve got your five offerings or positionings nutted out, you’ve got a base to kick off your digital marketing campaigns, optimising and targeting around each of these individual offerings instead one one simple brand message.

 

By executing on this strategy you can expect to see more targeted digital marketing campaigns across social, digital ads, SEO and email marketing, and consequently less ad spend wastage and higher conversion rates across the board.

 

Take a broad view on digital channels

Stepping away from the aggregators for a moment the next biggest player in the accommodation vertical is without a doubt Google. Between Adwords, Display, Remarketing and Business Listings there’s not a hotel that isn’t dabbling in the Google suite of products in some way, shape or form.

 

The aggregators know this, so they programatically (automatically) deploy large marketing budgets into the Google suite to drive maximum possible traffic volumes to their sites, detracting from your own brand site which is a much more cost effective channel to acquire bookings from.

 

As a way to combat this be sure to take a look at what other digital marketing channels are at your disposal, and avoid being blinded by the Google lights. Don’t get us wrong – most of our client campaigns feature a Google product in some way, shape or form, but they’re generally paired with Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter or more emerging channels.

 

Here are a couple of samples of what we’re talking about;

 

Facebook for MICE

Try creating a like for like list using email addresses. This enables you to target specific industries, job descriptions and audience types. There is a big misconception that Facebook is for Leisure only and not for MICE, but don’t forget most white collar workers in Australia are on Facebook. Facebook is accessed 90% through mobile devices, so users don’t have those pesky corporate firewalls to get around, so you’re bound to find the right audience here. The overarching corporate set haven’t quite cottoned onto this yet so you can buy the inventory you need for cents on the dollar when comparing with Google.

SEO for best possible ROI

Big industry players focus 90% of their attention on digital advertising, forgetting the raw power of quality marketing automation and email marketing and even SEO. We regularly see SEO driving a room night booking for about 20% of the cost of a booking driven by traditional digital marketing channels such as SEM, so it’s worth looking into. In years gone by we’ve talked a lot about technical optimisation for SEO and while this is still vital, you can generally milk everything that’s available out of technical SEO inside your existing website with 3 – 6 months worth of solid work with your SEO agency, freelancer or web developer.

The next steps once you’ve wrapped all of your technical elements is to take a microscope to your content marketing strategy. More and more SEO is about building and maintaining a really high quality website, and then becoming a rock solid brand voice – publishing bucketloads of content that users get huge value from (i.e – not sales-y content, real, quality stuff that will give the user plenty of value – stuff they can’t find anywhere else). Using this combination Google see you as an autohrity in your industry, and someone who’s really trying to elevate your industry as a whole. This type of content work isn’t going to drive results overnight, but we’re still seeing regular users finding our website through blogs that were posted and started ranking years ago.

The total cost to us aside from the time to write them?

$0.

 

Get focussed on granular optimisations

While the sugar hit of booking aggregators can be great for last minute vacancies I could swear they’re getting more and more expensive by the second!

 

The Devil is in the detail if you want to avoid carving out 20% of your average booking to Expedia.

 

To illustrate the opportunity that lies here, let’s break down the cost of Expedia running on ‘autopilot’ vs offering a manual, human driven process – the target outcomes we can expect from each over a one month sample.

 

Expedia, Trivago or equivalent Direct, granularly optimised strategy
Average  bookings through platform = 300 Total bookings through website = 600
Average revenue per room booked = $180 Average revenue per room booked = $180
Total revenue = $54,000 Total revenue = $108,000
-20% agregator commission = $43,200 +on-site up and cross sells @ 20% = $129,600
$43,200/m in revenue -total digital marketing costs = $115,600/m in revenue
Cost to acquire $43,200 rev = $10,800 Cost to acquire $115,600 rev = $14,000

 

 

Booking aggregators build large tech stacks to automate as much of their process as possible. There’s normally a custom systems architecture behind the website itself to power it, and then a range of very large digital marketing resources and systems around driving results for search engines and social media channels to pick up and profile their brand amongst every other brand (including your hotel website). At the end of the day, if they don’t get bookings for you, they don’t get paid.

 

The only way the aggregators can do this at broad, international scale and satisfy their Shareholders desire for perpetual growth is by automating their process.

 

Because they do this, a lot of opportunity slips through the cracks. The name misspellings, the locals that decided to book something local last minute, the up-sells, cross-sell and resell, the non-brand-loyal consumer – they are all areas that OTAs can’t capitalise on – programatic automation systems just aren’t built to do so.

 

Here are the steps to take to supercharge your digital marketing – social, SEM and SEO – campaigns and ultimately drive fast results that will step you towards outperforming most aggregators within 12 months.

 

  1. Break your activity into multiple levels of subcategories. Automation will get you an acceptable result, manual campaign optimisations will get you a fantastic result. Take one brief, for example a brief for a Corporate campaign, and break it into sub-campaigns with different call to actions and varying geo, interest and textual targeting or activities. Once you’ve done this, hit the big green button to take them live
  2. Optimise extremely frequently. If your team or your agency haven’t been inside your digital accounts and assessed the five fastest ways they can add value to your accounts and improve your results in the last 72 hours, your campaigns are now out of date and you’re being pipped at the post by your competitors. They’ve got the upper hand on what you’re doing, and they’ll be getting a lower CPA or CTR than you are. 72 hour intervals are a minimum in terms of frequency of optimisation, but you’ll see upticks in results again if your team are working in your accounts even more regularly than that
  3. AB test again and again. Digital markets move – you’ll find the landing page or creative offer that is driving a result today will be irrelevant next week. Design and develop a regular, targeted system that lets you deploy creative quickly, test, measure and then continually improve while live in market. This process can be hard to achieve with large approval chains and processes, so if you can focus on stripping any fat out where possible across both your agency partners and your internal stakeholders, you’ll get some quick wins.

Take advantage of streamlined internal processes

The realities of business are that no matter how efficient a team are, there are normally multiple stakeholders that need to approve a campaign, creative or optimisation strategy.

 

In order to facilitate this process in the most efficient way possible (remembering time to market is lost time in market) it’s worth taking a look at a few tools.

 

If you’re DIYing the complete process;

  • Canva – an online design tool that lets you whip up banner ads in seconds
  • SEMRush – a digital marketing tool that assists in uncovering untapped SEO and SEM opportunities relevant to your brand
  • Mailchimp – a free email marketing platform that is very easy to use in its simplest form

 The above is just the tip of the iceberg – there’s a virtual treasure trove of opportunity in the digital marketing space when it comes to accommodation providers, it’s simply a matter of setting strategy and then scheduling adequate time to actually execute that strategy. Execution will be one of the pillars of your digital success, so be sure to look at all options available to you when it comes to prioritising digital for the second half of the year.

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