For most hoteliers, dealing with the big online travel agencies (OTAs) is a bit like adopting a lion cub - small, cuddly and harmless in the beginning but an uncontrollable monster after a couple of years.
In the modern world, shifting stock via the OTAs is a necessary evil. They are great for bringing in the bookings, though the high commission rates, tough rate parity rules and downward pressure on prices often make the relationship painfully one-sided.
Of course, the obvious way to avoid a mauling from these giants is to get more bookings direct. And that means ensuring your own website will convert the "lookers" into actual paying customers.
Let's assume that you've cracked the problem of search engine optimisation, have a great pay-per-click campaign and are doing fantastic marketing that really hits the spot. As a result you've got a website that potential guests are finding with regularity.
Despite what you might have read, that's no guarantee of online success. Independent hoteliers especially often find that there is something that is deterring would-be clients from booking. In the vast majority of cases the answer is all down to a cumbersome user experience.
The OTAs are the masters when it comes to constructing websites that work for the consumer, so it makes sense to use the same tricks. Simplicity is the key to everything, and by following some obvious steps you'll soon see a notable increase in your conversion rate.
Sally Richards, managing director, RaspberrySky Services
four ways to convert lurkers into paying customers
1 Room types You might know the difference between the "classic", "superior" and "deluxe" rooms at your property, but as an aid to making a booking, these types of description are virtually meaningless. There's no hospitality standard, so don't assume clients have a clue what you are talking about. Think about room types that are helpful - "large", "comfy", "cosy" or "spacious" actually say something about the experience and what they can expect.
2 Use your intelligence Filling your shop with product that nobody wants is a surefire way to drive people away. Very often, general managers come to a property with grand ideas about new packages without any thought to whether they will sell. Use the data you have to identify what works for you and maximise these opportunities first.
3 Keep it trim In the same vein, limit the choice available. When a customer searches your site they should be returned only three or four prices/packages and find it easy to understand quickly what is included. The biggest sin is to have competing products on show at the same time. If you want to see how it should be done, look at the OTAs. How does a rate return on Booking.com, for example, compare to the same search on your site. Which is easier to understand?
4 Shop like a customer Minimising the number of clicks to booking is a vital skill. So act like a customer and search for your property via a search engine, then navigate to the booking page. Is it a straightforward task? Are there unnecessary diversions or steps? Do the same to see how your property is sold via third-party sites and see where you could improve.
smoothing the journey
Independent hoteliers are often seduced by tech companies and web developers, resulting in websites that are over complicated.
● Less is more
● Avoid Flash animation at all costs. It's bad for search engine optimisation and is an unnecessary barrier between you and customers
● Label pictures clearly so images match room type descriptions, especially in the booking process. Do not mislead guests
● Do not ask for personal data to check availability