10 rules for getting round Booking and Expedia

Optimize360 The 10 rules to get around Booking and Expedia. Direct vs. OTA

Obviously the title of this article is a bit provocative, but when you consider the hegemony represented by Booking & Expedia (and their subsidiaries or complementary Meta Search sites), many hoteliers are asking themselves whether they can generate more direct bookings in order to meet the dual objective of controlling their customer database and managing a more efficient profitability mix.

Booking and Expedia together account for almost 70% of bookings worldwideand manyhotels have become too dependent on them and are seeing their sales generated by these "partners" exceed 80%.

So what can be done to limit this dependency and win back direct market share? How can we make up for the 10 billion dollars invested between them in Adwords around the world, and emerge as a force to be reckoned with?

Here are 10 basic rules which, if followed, can go a long way towards helping hotels limit their dependence on OTAThis will enable them to win back market share directly.


Download the Free White Paper Digital Best Practices for Independent Hotel Websites

1/ Managing brand defence via Google Ads and Meta Search

It's become ESSENTIAL!

Brand protection via Google Ads

Before you get to the officialhotelThe first 4 positions of the search results above the URL of the site are pre-empted by the OTAs if we let them.

And despite trademark registrations with the INPI, which up until a certain point made it possible to block the possibility for distributor partners to use the hotel's name for Adwords, Google is now going back and allowing them to buy the hotel's name in terms of keywordsand be positioned above the natural results.

It is therefore imperative that when a web user intends to search for a hotel directly by name, they do not leave it to the OTAs. 

Otherwise, in the best-case scenario, the Internet user will book with an OTA, but will be charged a commission of 17% of the price including tax (i.e. 22% of the price excluding tax). see. Booking conditions -), as there is little chance that the 5th position (the hotel's natural result) will be clicked under these conditions.

In the worst case, with Booking or Expedia presenting the hotel's details alongside competitors with similar rates and... better ratings, the risk is of losing the customer altogether, even though they were looking to come to your hotel.

The only condition is, of course, to have lower acquisition costs than the commissions left to the OTAs. 

Conversion costs must therefore be calculated as follows: (price drop-out + variable Adwords costs) < OTA commission rate

It's important to realise that this can be achieved quite easily, in the sense that even if Booking and Expedia spend billions of euros on Adwords, as soon as they start fighting over a particular hotel, it's not in their interest either to sell at a loss on the dossier in question.  

It is therefore entirely possible to compete with them while maintaining a break-even point higher than the commission they receive.

It is generally quite easy to set up an effective brand defence at around 10% of turnover, which is always better than 22%.

Brand protection via Meta Search*.

Here too, it has become imperative to appear with the direct price of your hotel in the knowledge graph to the right of the search results. 

Not being included implies two things.

  • The first, as with Adwords, is the risk of letting the customer who was looking for us go straight to a booking via the OTAs or wholesalers who have paid to be included. And therefore leaving them with a little more indirect market share.
  • The second is not appearing in the Google Travel tool with its official website, even though this tool is set to become the dominant one in the near future (see article on the subject).

The bare minimum is to take part in the Google program Hotel AdsYou can do this either through your Channel Manager (if they are able to do so), or through specialist companies. ( Optimize 360 recommends Wihpwhich has the best Meta Engine management performance on the French market)

In fact, a solo independent establishment will not be able to connect to the various Meta Searches on its own. Google, for example, generally requires a partner operator to have at least 200 hotels in its portfolio in order to become a partner.

On the other hand, not all operators are equal, in terms of the technical capacity of the connections to be put in place, and in terms of the tools for monitoring and budgeting each Meta Search.

Here too, of course, the challenge will be to keep commission rates at CPA levels, CPC or lower acquisition costs than OTAs.

(* Google Hotel Ads, Trivago, Kayak, TripConnect de Tripadvisor, Skyscanner...)

2/ Managing a pricing gap with OTAs

This is also a sine qua non if we are to have any chance of the 2nd choice criterion for a traveller being effective.

Remember that the first criterion for choice is geographical location, and the second most important is... price.

Advertising directly in the Google knowledge graph with Google Hotel Ads has therefore become a "MUST HAVE". 

Reminders in the form of modules on the official website are not a luxury either.

Quite a few operators have entered this niche. So there's no shortage of technical offerings.

The other imperative is to fight wholesalers who sometimes get involved in the battle by charging prices that are not in line with current pricing policy. All this for having often made agreements with OTAs to buy rooms in batches at indecent rates.

The best thing to do is to dry up the source as soon as you notice it, often by booking a room to find the source, and then threaten them until you get your way.

3/ Have a website that is more attractive than the customer files in OTAs and directories (and a Booking Engine that's as good as it gets).

One of the big advantages of a hotelier What makes an independent hotel stand out from the "standardised" and spartan hotel files of the OTAs is precisely its ability to stand out when a visitor comes to visit its official site.

Beautiful, representative photos of the hotel, hard-hitting direct offers, and any other element that will help internet users to find the hotel cool, sexy and competitive will be major assets in converting direct.

The white paper Optimize 360 has produced on the subject provides a fairly exhaustive overview.

Download the Free White Paper Digital Best Practices for Independent Hotel Websites
Of course it is, have a perfectly ergonomic booking engine, It will be vital for the independent hotelier to move quickly and responsively, as they are lagging far behind the OTAs. And that's putting it mildly...

OTAs have the "mega advantage" of already peddling all the pre-registered data of most of their customers, bank details and places already booked for loyalty purposes (e.g. Booking's Genius programme).

Online booking must therefore be at least as smooth and easy as possible, even if we can't match the ease of use of a booking platform like Booking or Expedia.

Having a "connect with google" and a "connect with facebook" could go some way to alleviating the need to fill in all the contact details again and again... but the main channel managers and booking engine providers don't seem to have understood or integrated this yet...

4/ Generate hard-hitting direct offers, unique, differentiated and atypical offers (and promote them) 

We can't stress this enough, but only relaying offers on your website that are identical to those available from the OTAs will not convince Internet users to book.

Unless you think that a loyalty programme is designed for them, which is one of the levers we will look at later.

On the other hand, any "package" offer, a unique and atypical offer reserved for customers who book direct, will be a major advantage when it comes to converting on the official website.

Booking only the most beautiful rooms directly, keeping differentiated offers (with restaurant, with Spa, with additional services or discounts on the direct site) will guarantee higher conversion rates. 

The more you know about your customer beforehand, the more you'll be able to personalise your offers. But you still need to have a CRM on the subject. And you still need to know that the customer has already been there...

For 1st visits, only Google, with its machine learning and big data, can identify the travel intentions and consumer habits of potential customers.

OTAs too, but to a much lesser extent. And only based on their own customer database.

5/ Providing exclusive live services

As well as the prices on offer, we need to highlight all the additional services reserved for customers who make the effort to book on the site.

Having a 7/7 - 24/24 Chat is quite simple, for example, but it can make a huge difference at the time of booking. Do you have any questions about nearby car parks or other services?

No OTA is currently in a position to respond as precisely as the hotel itself on these issues.

On the other hand, a reactive, accurate and professional chat response can make the difference between taking a direct booking.

There is also a freephone number to encourage people to call free of charge.

This is all the more important when the hotel's offer is so wide-ranging and complex (pet-friendly, Spa with timetables, catering and its formulas, etc.).

The more direct contact you have with potential customers, the more likely you are to generate direct bookings.

6/ Looking after corporate hotel customers, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events)

Corporate hotel guests

It goes without saying, but it's better to say it, that international customers and tourists are unlikely to return to the same country, let alone the same hotel. Unless that hotel is in a tourist location where recurrent stays are envisaged.

There's almost no point in trying to win their loyalty. For them, it's a question of making good use of OTAs, of their E-Reputation and the attractiveness of its website in trying to attract them. 

On the other hand, corporate and business clients are more likely to return to the same location if their head office, clients of these clients or conference venues are in the vicinity of your hotel.

So it will obviously be easier to attract and retain these customers. 

But to do this, they must be offered all the services that are supposed to encourage them to return.

From corporate loyalty cards, to top-notch Wi-Fi, to services that give business travellers a real reason to come back, alone or... with colleagues or even their team.

MICE

Of course, not all hotels are suitable for MICE clients, depending on their configuration (seminar rooms, restaurants, dedicated facilities and services, etc.).

But once they are, it's time to let people know what you can do.

If only to be able to book a meeting room.... how many hotels have a dedicated booking engine? Or simply to start with, a dedicated quote request form, and people who are able to deal with this very special clientele within the hotel.

To handle MICE successfully, you need to be able to provide services that go well beyond the purely receptive. Companies travelling for a seminar will undoubtedly need special logistics, special requirements and potentially peripheral and ancillary activities.

So you need to be able to put together packages that can be customised in every way. 

Presenting them on a clear, well thought-out website. But you also need to know how to attract customers.

The CEO himself is unlikely to be responsible for this. It is therefore necessary to adopt an appropriate presentation and language that can correspond to possible searches carried out by Internet users in Google.

And, of course, using sponsored ads Google Ads to attract research in this field.

Optimize 360 reports on a case study ICI in which, for an investment of €2,000 in adwords, the ROI was €100,000 generated in one year.

7/ Marketing your hotel

A specialist hotel marketing agency is not a luxury.

While this can be expensive, it can also be very profitable.

Being able to canvass companies that bring business customers to a major city, calling on agencies that can have a major influence on regional tourism, tourist offices or even specialist agencies from abroad are all very interesting levers to pull.

Take Chinese customers, for example. It's almost unrealistic to think that even though your website is translated into Mandarin, it will attract Chinese tourists.

And for good reason: this would mean indexing your site not on Google, but on Baïdu who is Ultra Leader there, and it's almost a waste of time to try.

Baïdu requires a very different approach to site indexing than Google, and gives priority to government sites...

It's much better to find good local correspondents who can relay the information on their own sites than to try to emerge on your own.

Marketing your hotel means first and foremost identifying the growth drivers you want to pursue as a result of your positioning. 

But this is becoming a real way of diversifying our customer base and reducing the influence of the OTAs. And therefore their market share.

 

8/ Top customer service. A well-qualified hotel CRM

Because it does not have the same database as the OTAs, whose customer files are historically based on previous trips or even on the habits of their customers, an independent hotel will be all the more relevant in its offers if it knows the Typology of its customers.

Even though his PMS (Property Management System) is supposed to pass on basic information from customers who have already been there, you can go much further in understanding your typical customer base, and therefore in the offers you are supposed to make.

Have you already taken at least the minimum care, as a result of the major origins and nationalities of your customers (source PMS, Google AnalyticsOTA...) or simply had your site translated into the major languages?

Even before talking about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) - Type https://www.experience-hotel.com ), this is the minimum that can be done to make foreign customers feel "comfortable" when browsing and booking.

Bear in mind that the OTAs are already translated into languages from all over the world, and that an Asian customer who finds all the information in his own language, and not on the official site, will be 99% more likely to book on a site that he simply understands.

Once you've said that, you need to take into account where your customers come from, understand their consumer habits, the 'little things' that will make a difference, and promote them in terms of services and values. 

As we will see later, having a 24/7 chat service that can respond live to questions from Internet users will also be a major asset. The OTAs are not in a position to do this for all the hotel customers they represent. 

9/ Setting up a loyalty scheme

It is obviously complicated to counter global programmes such as Booking's 'Genius', or to draw inspiration from the programmes of major hotel chains such as Marriott, which is achieving record levels of direct bookings, and which has such clout that it can even negotiate extremely low commission rates with the OTAs.

But before you do that, the first thing to do is to identify the customers you think might be likely to return and travel to your hotel again.

A simple, specific promotional discount code for booking direct via the official website and the channel manager could be a good start.

Beyond that, taking care of and looking after your customers through a hotel CRM can be an excellent way of keeping in touch and, from time to time, making offers to customers who have already been to the hotel.

Once again, the easiest clientele to build loyalty with will be the corporate clientele, but if you're in a tourist area, it's also worth trying with a different clientele, likely to come back on holiday to the same place that they've enjoyed.

10/ Work on your natural referencing and long tail tactics.

Too many hotels have (unfortunately) wrongly given up on SEO, also in the mistaken belief that the traffic generated and the effort involved were not worth it in an environment pre-empted by Google itself, the OTAs (Booking and Expedia), the Tour Operators and Meta Search.

This is a serious mistake, because it has been proven in figures that if all the cursors are aligned ( SEO, SEAMeta Search, Community Content Management, tactical positioning of the blog/news, Yield & Revenue Management, hospitality, loyalty, etc.) then the hotel is really in a position to win back direct market share.

A case study was carried out on 5 Parisian establishments that had implemented all of these elements.

CASE STUDY FOR 5 HOTELS: + €725K IN DIRECT WEBSITE SALES IN 10 MONTHS THANKS (AMONG OTHER THINGS) TO SEO

SEO applied to the structure of the site, and the strategy of optimised SEO content, remain a real weapon for going after cross-sector queries and generating qualified traffic to the site.

Most hotels that write blog posts don't think them through so that they are effective in Google.

The most they do is produce a sort of collection of advice that is read by absolutely nobody, and generates no traffic to the site.

On the other hand, thinking up articles in such a way that they correspond to typical Internet user queries is a very, very interesting thing to post. And potentially very effective.

Having a long tail strategy is very important in the long term. 

If a hotel has produced 2,000 blog posts, each attracting just 2 hits a day, the site itself will generate 4,000 hits a day.

When you consider that Google attaches particular importance to the production of quality content on the one hand, and to traffic itself on the other, there's no comparison between a site that doesn't produce any content and one that does.

Let's take a crude example, but one that speaks volumes from an SEO point of view.

Two hotel clients of Optimize 360 have produced an article based on the principle of finding a hotel in Paris during the 2024 Olympic Games.

hotel for the 2024 Olympics

There is no doubt that all the hotels in Paris will be saturated during this period, but tactically the two sites concerned will generate unrivalled traffic in the run-up to the Olympics, because for at least the next two years they will not be dislodged from their top positions.

Optimize 360 strongly recommends that you don't leave SEO aside for a hotel website. Instead, really capitalise on a tactical, SEO-optimised content strategy.


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