Driving Direct Business

David Collins, columnist and Co-Founder & Group Marketing Director at Great National Hotels & Resorts discusses how hoteliers can drive direct business through their own websites.

One perennial challenge facing hotel marketers is how to drive direct business to a hotel’s own website.

No surprise here. The direct channel is often the cheapest when compared to others and is potentially the most valuable since you get to own the relationship with the client from the ‘get go’.

However, now more than ever before the pressure is on.

Consider this: OTA commissions paid by European hotels have grown by a staggering 146% between 2002 and 2012 while average booking values for the same period have grown by just 49%.

And these OTA costs are forecast to grow by a further 40% between 2013 and 2015.

Add to this, reduced lead-ins to hotel reservations with for example up to 80% of leisure guests booking within just 30 days of arrival; and the increasing prevalence of deal sites which are almost single-handedly driving down ABVs and undermining repeat business as clients jump from brand to brand depending on the latest ‘deal’.

You have in effect a ‘perfect storm’ whereby expensive 3rd party channels are becoming more and more dominant; repeat business is more the exception than the norm; booking patterns are increasingly difficult to predict and RevPar is being eroded on almost a daily basis.

So what can hotels do to protect their own share of online demand?

Essentially there are 3 separate fronts, each one critical in enabling a property to drive direct business:

1) Visibility

2) Conversion

3) Retention

Take the first, visibility.

Without a comprehensive, on-going SEO effort, organic rankings will suffer which means increased reliance on expensive PPC.

Nowadays most hotels can just about afford to protect their own brand name as OTAs such as Booking.com out-gun them spend-wise. And that’s before even attempting to target generic search phrases.

Rather than set an absolute budget, agree instead an acceptable PPC cost per sale with your agency; consider also re-marketing which tends to be less effective than PPC in terms of ROI but more effective than banner ads on 3rd party sites.

And of course, apply a religious-like approach to refreshing and optimising content on your site: keep it relevant, don’t stuff your pages with search phrases and always, always sanity check links.

OK, so you’ve got the visitor to your site, the next challenge is converting the sale.

Not as easy as it sounds when you consider that consumers have an ever-reducing attention-span.

Don’t for example under-estimate the power of photography and – OTAs will be very quick to remind you of this – be sure your shots are optimised for mobile, tablet and desk-top.

Your site should be easy to navigate with relevant content including a quick-book located in the same position throughout the site. Special offers for example should also be prominently positioned particularly since these account for up to 60% of direct on-line sales.

Just on your booking engine, again this is key to your conversion performance.

Take a leaf out of the ‘OTA Guide to Business Development’ for example, many of whom understand that clients need to be nudged to book and re-assured once they’ve booked hence the reason why they use various ‘merchandising’ tricks such as a ‘Best Rate Guarantee’ flag; a ‘Thumbs Up’ logo next to your room choice; a ticking clock as to when the last booking was made; or indeed a dynamic number indicating how many other clients are currently looking at your particular dates and hotel.

All sensible stuff but not available with every booking engine provider so choose wisely.

Assuming the client books and they enjoy the experience of staying in your hotel, that should be the start of a long and beautiful relationship. Like relationships however you have to work at them and even then in spite of your best efforts – at for example sending e-zines, texting special deals, offering loyalty points, and providing free upgrades – be prepared for clients to drift away.

Nevertheless, do protect your database of clients at all costs, don’t over-expose it and never, ever sub-let it to a 3rd party: apart from getting into hot water with your local data commissioner, and no matter how brilliant or how relevant you might think a new local attraction is to your past customers, most guests will not thank you for it and will in fact move away from your brand in droves rather than closer to it.


Because now, more than ever, the nett impact of our being able to target and market to consumers on an individual to individual basis – which has been as much consumer led as technology driven – the nett impact has been that clients have become fiercely protective of their privacy and will take exception if they feel their search and buying history has been sub-let.

I know I do, so tread carefully.

About David Collins: David has over 20 years’ experience in results-driven marketing in the hotel and tourism industry. He has been instrumental in building some of the largest brands in the UK and Ireland, including Carlton Hotels, Lynch Hotels and Stakis Hotels, and is now Co-Founder and Group Marketing Director for Great National Hotels and Resorts.
  • James Kindred

    Great article! OTAs are becoming far too powerful and where they used to elevate online presence for some businesses, they have now essentially flattened the market and made it hard to compete as a individual.

    We’re hoping the app we’ve created (www.innstyle.co.uk) will help empower small, owner-managed businesses by enabling them to easily (and incredibly cost-effectively) take bookings through their own site.

  • Finbarr

    Great article David..

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