Is This The Year of Direct Bookings?

August 30, 2021

Large OTA’s have substantial budgets to invest in advertising and stay at the top of the search engines which makes competing with the likes of Airbnb, Vrbo, and virtually impossible for property managers. But there’s no need to compete. Travelers trust the larger booking channels and OTA’s are a great marketing platform and valuable source to introduce your property listings to new guests, but you should not rely solely on the OTA’s as your source of bookings and allow them to control your bottom line.

Americans are traveling and as the travel boom continues, the demand for travel will not slow down any time soon! Savvy travelers are starting to understand that eliminating the middle-man can get them a better deal (and a personalized vacation experience), resulting in direct bookings across hotels and vacation rental platforms gaining momentum.

According to data from VRM Intel, direct bookings accounted for over 50% of bookings in 2020 and 67% of travelers think it’s easier to book on a brand website rather than a third-party website. The #BookDirect movement continues to grow, and research shows that increasing direct bookings is a top goal for property management companies and hotels. Direct bookings eliminate the OTA commissions and third-party fees for the guest, maximize your profit margins, and increase guest retention and brand loyalty.

Boost Your Direct Bookings

There was a huge shift to e-commerce during the pandemic and an online presence and reputation are essential. AirDNA update shows that about three-quarters of consumers changed their shopping habits during the pandemic with 40% changing brands, primarily driven by millennials who are spending more and are more likely to switch brands than older travelers. Are you in front of these travelers?

In the current times of uncertainty with fast-changing regulations, restrictions, and safety protocols, there’s a new-found safety in booking direct and having an available human on the end of the line for extra peace of mind. The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted issues with the OTA’s as customer service was limited and travelers struggled to get refunds or any level of customer service, while professionally property managers took the time to understand their guests, rebook their vacation and build relationships.

Direct Booking Website: This is your most profitable sales channel! Your website should be optimized across all platforms, easy to navigate with a clear call to action and limited steps to reach your booking page, visible industry accreditations, clear pricing, and a secure booking and payment process. In addition, promote your local knowledge with rich destination content and blogs, display reviews praising your homes and company, promote the perks of booking direct, and offer live chat and a clear contact number to display your availability for personalized service.

Pricing, Policies & Payments: Encourage visitors to your website to book direct with competitive dynamic pricing to price confidently, discounts, incentives, or even a best price guarantee for booking direct, flexible cancellation policies for uncertain times, and secure payment processing for additional peace of mind. Check-out is a great opportunity to upsell personalized packages, grocery delivery, equipment rental or even luggage delivery, and value-added services for their stay (mid-stay clean, late check-out, early check-in). Remind your guests these added extras are not available during the OTA booking process.

Highlight Experiences: Travelers are looking for unique personalized experiences and are likely to spend more to get them! If you are not already partnered with a guest experience expert to offer your guests local tours, special attraction offers, and a personalized vacation experience, the time is now. Highlight local experiences and events on your website, build authority in your destination and make it clear to your guests how important their guest and vacation experience is to you.

Organic and paid SEO: There is no competing with the big OTA’s for first place on Google but there are ways to improve your rankings, both organically and paid, to boost your online presence and drive more bookings. Optimize your content, post regular blogs highlighting prime keywords for your destination, use Google tools to their full potential, monitor your online presence, and invest in building a strong, leading brand in your market.

Social Media: Social media is a dynamic, interactive, and free source to drive traffic to your website, promote special offers and build an online reputation. Millennials represent the highest percentage of travelers and 87% of millennials look to social media for travel inspiration. A marketing opportunity that costs nothing and has a high ROI. Create a fun hashtag for your brand, encourage your guests to follow you on social media and tag you in their posts, share their posts, create your own and use these visual opportunities to increase engagement with your brand.

Guests: Repeat guests should not be booking through the OTA’s. Encourage guests that booked through an OTA to book directly with you for their next stay and give them reason to, with repeat guest discounts and special offer codes for future stays, and an exceptional, personalized, memorable stay. These guests are your future direct bookings.

Email campaigns: Marketing automation is an effective way to reach out to your database of newsletter subscribers and past guests. Your emails should offer value (don’t spam!) with special offers for booking direct, local tours and attractions, seasonal events, vacation packages, and links to your destination blogs.

Human Interaction: A personalized and enhanced guest experience cannot happen without human interaction! We cannot (and must not) leave it all up to technology and need to find the balance between modern technology and human interaction in our guest engagement. Train your team to see every call (or Live Chat) as an opportunity to speak with a smile, let the potential guest know the benefits of booking direct and create a dream vacation and five-star experience.

As travel trends and booking behaviors continue to change vacation rental managers are placing more focus on #BookDirect campaigns and direct bookings are slowly winning back market share from the OTA’s. Now is the right time to optimize your channel management, redefine your sales and marketing strategies and balance your distribution channels with a stronger emphasis on the most profitable channel, your direct booking website.