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7 things your agency should be doing to get you more direct bookings

Analytics , Marketing /

15th October 2020

As new localised lockdown measures coming into place for hotels located in key UK regions the pressure on hoteliers to get more direct bookings is increasing. This blog explores 7 key things your agency should be doing for you to acquire them.

7 thinks your agency should be doing to get you more direct bookings. Photo credit Alejandro Barba Unsplash

The global pandemic has hit the hospitality industry hard. As we see new lockdown measures coming into place the pressure on hoteliers to get more direct bookings is increasing. They need greater control over how they respond to lockdowns and to avoid the expensive commission OTAs charge for indirect bookings. This blog explores 7 key things your agency should be doing for you to acquire more direct bookings.

Direct bookings are key at this time because they are more cost effective and give hoteliers the opportunity to build positive relationships with their customers. This increases the propensity to rebook and builds a virtuous cycle of direct bookings leading to more direct bookings from happy customers who choose to come back. Having a greater proportion of direct bookings also reduces risk. OTAs have previously issued blanket refunds or cancellations which was not the best outcome for many customers or the hotels. 

Get more direct bookings

#1 Optimise media spend for current audience trends

It’s undeniable that travel trends are now dramatically different. How has your agency reacted to this? Regardless of how successful your agency was in delivering direct bookings pre-COVID, it is unlikely to be the best approach now. 

Your agency should be reviewing your audience segmentation because segments that you once relied upon may not even be active at the moment. You may need to consider completely new target audiences and your agency should be looking at your booking data and search trends to work out the best ways to optimise your media spend. They should be monitoring target audience searches to keep you ahead of the curve.

#2 Capture all channel data to create a single customer view

In order to truly understand the best way to acquire more direct bookings, your agency should be looking at all your data from all your marketing channels rather than looking at individual channels in isolation. Deeper insight into customer behavior can be derived from the relationship between behaviours on different channels. 

Bookers use multiple channels to make their searches separating these channels in silos is a bad approach. You need to know what combinations of channels bookers are using to search for you and book with you. You need to be able to see at a booking level, how PPC, Display, GHA and natural search are all interacting with each other, to maximise the efficiency of your paid campaigns – now is not a time to be wasting money. Getting the data into one data platform where you can see where journeys start, the points on the journey and which channels are being used for convert to a booking, is more important than ever. Once you have all the data in one place you can create a single customer view to feed into analysis for better decision making. 

#3 Use leading intelligent predictive analytics and automation to bid smarter

Intelligent analytics should be used to identify the nature of the relationships between the bookers, which channels they use and the bookings they make. It is powerful because it predicts what bookers will do next. The pandemic has thrown almost all of these relationships up in the air so it is critical that your agency refreshes their predictive models to understand as quickly as possible the new indicators that separate people idly searching the web to ease lockdown angst from those who have serious intent to book.

Using intelligent analytics at this time will give you a march on the competition and enable you to optimise your direct and indirect channels mix to specifically target those with real intent to book. 

Once you have understood the changes that have occurred to the channel mix bookers are using your agency should also make use of any automated bidding facilities in the areas your data indicates you have a competitive advantage. Automation uses machine learning to identify revenue opportunities for the lowest possible cost. They represent another way to optimise your media spend.

With fewer bookings being made and greater pressures on your marketing budget now is the time you most need your agency to be bidding smarter.

#4 Make best use of Google Hotel Ads

Google Hotel Ads is a hugely powerful tool that can help you acquire more direct but many agencies aren’t using it to its full potential. The first thing your agency should be doing is ensuring that all the basics are covered. Rate and availability all need to be up to date and updated to the standards Google wants to see. Google’s own algorithms are very punishing on brands that are not providing Google with accurate information. Your agency should be making sure that your website is ranking first in the list of booking options. They should also be advising on how far in advance you should be displaying rate and availability information. Focusing on the next week and the coming month might feel like the right thing to do, because it makes a difference fast, but that’s where everyone else is playing too. Instead look at the long tail and share your availability out as far as Google allows, which is 330 days. The volumes may be low but there is far less competition so the bookings cost much less.

#5 Emphasise messaging and ad copy

Search data shows that intent has changed. Web users want to know which hotels are open and what safety protocols are in place as well as looking for competitive pricing and flexible cancellation terms.

Bookers are looking for reassurance and confidence to book so your agency should be emphasising clear messaging and ad copy that communicates availability, new safety protocols, opening dates, COVID19 compliance and price updates. This requires copy changes but don’t abandon your best practice. You should still A/B split testing those changes. It means working harder to maintain your position, at a time when search volumes have dropped. So, you need to accept that you’ve got to do more, to deliver less but it does mean that you’ll get a larger piece of a smaller pie. 

#6 Send fewer emails 

This may sound counter-intuitive but increasing emails to existing customers at this time will do more harm than good. Your agency should be advising against spamming your customers. Instead they should using your data intelligently to work out which customers want to engage now. Your aim should be to reach out to those who you can see want to engage, with messaging that reflects their unique needs at this time.

It is our view that you can rarely get a customer to do something they don’t want to do and you should never try, which is why we always advocate customer managed relationships rather than traditional customer relationship management approaches. This approach pays dividends. For one client we were able to deliver 65% repeat business rather than the typical 20% standard industry rate. This best practice shouldn’t be abandoned because of the pandemic. There is even greater need now to protect your relationship with your existing customer base. Your agency should be helping you to work out who you should communicate with as well as the messaging and the best time to reach out. Remember, CRM is mainly about supporting the customer to do what they want to do. Right now, they might not want to book because they have bigger issues. When you reach out be mindful and appreciate that you are almost certainly not their biggest priority.

#7 Have a clear strategy mapped to migrate indirect bookers to direct channels

Your agency should also have a clear strategy in place to migrate any indirect bookers to direct channels for future bookings. Your agency should be using data gathered from across your business to identify which bookers have the potential to rebook and who may need an incentive. 

Marketing competition and industry conditions are harder than ever which is why your agency should be working even harder to help you acquire more direct bookings. 


Written by: Stephen Barr, Chief Insight Officer and Co-Founder

What next?

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You might also be interested in reading How to supercharge your direct booking campaigns in “the new normal”.


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