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How to supercharge your direct booking campaigns in “the new normal”

Analytics , Marketing /

8th October 2020

The consequences of the global pandemic have hit the hospitality industry hard. As a hotelier how do you adapt your acquisition strategy to get bookings to pre-COVID levels as the new normal reveals itself?

get bookings to pre-COVID levels

The consequences of the global pandemic have hit the hospitality industry hard. As lockdown levels in different countries flex, new travel trends are emerging. The good news is people still want and need to travel but their habits are changing. As a hotelier how do you adapt your acquisition strategy to get bookings to pre-COVID levels as the new normal reveals itself?

Positive signs of building consumer confidence

The good news is that bookings are starting to recover since the initial UK lockdown measures were relaxed. UK hotels saw bookings go from just 9% *of 2019 levels on June 1st up to 50.62% of 2019 levels in the following six weeks. There is clearly ground to be made up but it is none-the-less an encouraging sign that bookers’ confidence is returning. 

This is backed up in a study by Siteminder that revealed more than 52% anticipate taking a domestic trip this year. 

Update audience targeting

Overall search traffic is lower than pre-pandemic levels so it is imperative that hoteliers engage with the correct audience to avoid wasting any of their advertising spend especially at such a critical time. It is important for hotels to consider whether they need to target different audiences. If your acquisition has stalled, as it has for many, you should look at who is booking now and who your best customers are – this may be a different audience to the one you relied on previously.

Audience targeting must be refined and clear. A good audience strategy will help to maintain some of your higher value bookers and re-engage existing customers who have perhaps haven’t rebooked with you yet. Targeting must take into account the changing needs and preferences of bookers and guests. Hotels should update remarketing lists regularly, checking to ensure the best possible engagement at an efficient cost. Look at the data and don’t be afraid to make changes to your marketing to reflect what you find.

Looking at Google trends for search terms such as “local hotel” reveals a lot about what bookers and guests are thinking. Hoteliers need to be collecting and using data from across all their booking and marketing channels and use it to hone their targeting so that ads resonate with potential bookers. 

What bookers want post-COVID

It used to be that leisure bookers would plan the furthest in advance. Often looking for overseas travel in popular tourist destinations up to a year in advance. Now this group is looking for a release from the hardships of lockdown. They want to take local trips and are prioritising time with loved ones. They have money to spend from trips that were cancelled and other activities or expenses that have been reduced as a result of lockdown. They need to be reassured that they will be safe and want the option to modify or cancel a booking if needed. They are also waiting to book trips until they are much closer to the date of their intended stay.

Business bookers are also returning as offices reopen and business travel is reinstated. The lead times for booking are shorter and bookers want favourable cancellation options and reassurance about health and safety protocols.

These trends are backed up by Siteminder’s study in which 48% said they will book accommodation less than a month ahead of time and that the three most important factors for bookers are:

Update your messaging

In line with these changing priorities, hoteliers need to communicate, availability, safety procedures, opening dates, COVID-19 compliance, and price updates to potential bookers. 

People are looking for hotels that are not closed down, have safety procedures in place and are clear and competitive about pricing. Therefore the advertising copy and messaging must reflect this. Everyone is sick of ‘doom and gloom’ so be positive in your messaging. Whilst Hospitality is living in a nightmare it did not create, people have their own worries and priorities and they typically have nothing to do with how difficult things are for hotels – let’s not make our problems their problems… let’s not overshare the angst.

It’s more critical than ever to focus on direct

Hoteliers’ guest acquisition strategies still need to focus on direct bookings rather than relying on OTAs. Getting more direct bookings reduces cost of sale by cutting out expensive OTA commission and creates immediate opportunities to communicate with bookers and guests to build loyalty and lifetime value. 

Direct bookings give hotels greater control over what they do in response to ongoing changes in lockdown guidance. Hopefully, hoteliers are no longer under the illusion that OTAs have their interests at heart. Hotels that have direct bookings can be more agile and responsive rather than being beholden to how OTAs choose to respond to Government guidance. It’s obvious that localised lockdowns will come and go for some time yet. If you have direct bookings you can reach out to customers to reassure guests, inform them about changes to your health and safety protocols or rebook their stays where necessary.

Use data from across your business to hone targeting

Collecting data from all marketing and booking channels and using intelligent analytics enables hotels to predict which online behaviours are most indicative of an online user who will convert. Up-to-the-minute data needs to be used to ensure marketing decisions are being made based on new behaviours. 

Similarly using Google trends data, PPC campaigns can be optimised in line with new behaviours and their related search terms. Many hotels have reduced their direct spend because there is a smaller audience out there looking for a hotel. This creates an opportunity for those prepared to be smart with their online spend to win big-time. Hotels should bid smarter to get better results from their programmatic media spend.

Working with a registered Google Hotel Adverts Partner (GHA), hotels should also review their use of GHA to ensure that rate and availability information is correct and that they are using the data it captures to continuously improve their campaigns.

 

In many ways our advice to hotels remains unchanged, to be successful over the long term they must focus their acquisition strategy on getting more direct bookings from bookers who are more likely to come back again’ as this increases lifetime value and reduces the pressure to continuously acquire more and more bookers. With the world and the industry as it is this has never been more vital. Hotels whose main audience is leisure need to connect to their customers directly before they arrive. If they rely on OTAs that vital first engagement only happens very late in the process – when the guest arrives for their stay. For business hotels, it is worth remembering that bookers may be booking on behalf of other people, building a direct relationship with a booker who has the potential to become the gateway to lots of future value is key. Focusing on direct booking will save hoteliers money and give them back control and their agility when dealing with the changing lockdown guidance that will continue for some time to come.

 

*Source https://www.hospitalitynet.org/news/4099809.html

 

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

What next?

If you would like to know more about how you can improve your direct campaigns contact us to find out more.

You might also be interested in reading 3 rules to build direct relationships for repeat bookings

 

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