Having been confined to their homes for more than a year, it is no surprise that people are eager to return to your property. Your guests are returning with a renewed appreciation for the guest experience and new expectations of what that experience entails. Returning guests are coming back with more technological confidence, having spent much of their lockdown researching recipes, ordering food, and shopping online with little or no human interaction. They now expect to have the same DIY technological freedom when it comes to booking their travel.
During this same time, your property had to make tough choices to remain in business. Like many hotels and resorts, you may have had to furlough or lay off employees to reduce costs. You may be facing the same staff shortages as other properties because of qualified hospitality workers leaving the industry. If this sounds like your property, having guests who expect to book more online will present you with a welcome opportunity to operate with reduced staff. The two main ways for you to facilitate online bookings are through an online travel agent (OTA) or your own property-based online booking engine.
Outsourcing Your Online Booking – OTA
If your property has not been using OTAs, they are a popular option for hotels and resorts because of their exposure, ease of use, and limited upfront technology and development investment. Big-name OTAs invest in advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) so they can drive traffic to their site and win top-of-mind awareness with travelers. Because they already have an established infrastructure, they are a quick way for properties to accept online bookings with no upfront cost. Once you have set up your property, you will be charged anywhere between 15% and 30% per reservation (Hotel Price Reporter) plus additional advertising charges if you decide to invest in having your listings show up more prominently on their website.
While their popularity and ease of use may make you question why it is worth considering anything else, there are drawbacks. An OTA usually limits what guests can book on your property to just rooms, so potential guests will need to book dining reservations and activities, such as spa treatments at your property another way (manually if you do not have an online booking engine, or they may choose to book them off property). Also, an OTA is a convenient and cost-effective way to attract new travelers who do not have a hotel/resort preference. However, returning guests and guests looking specifically for your property will also be shown listings for other properties in your area, so you will be “sharing” space with competing properties. OTAs are where most properties start with online bookings, and if you have been using them for years, you may be wondering why you would consider an online booking engine for your property?
Bringing Your Online Bookings In-house – Online Booking Engine
There is a limit to what guests can book on your property through OTAs. Because of this limitation, guests are making off-property reservations and bookings, and you are losing revenue. If activities such as dining, spa visits, golf, classes, etc. represent a significant source of guest revenue for your property, off-property bookings are significantly decreasing your property’s revenue per available guest (RevPAG). Having your own online booking engine allows you to capture online room reservations and activity bookings for your property. And because a properly planned online booking process makes it more seamless for guests to book rooms and activities, your property will substantially increase its RevPAG above what you could achieve with a combination of OTAs and call-in bookings. It is not unrealistic for a property to increase RevPAG by 200-300% by planning a well-designed booking experience with timely prompts that encourage guests to book additional activities that enhance their on-property experience.
An online booking engine will also help you recuperate revenue lost to OTAs. When you choose the right hospitality partner to build your online booking engine, that partner will not take a percentage of the room bookings. Guests who make reservations on your website will receive the same price as advertised through an OTA, and you will save the 15% to 30% commission you were paying the OTA for those reservations.
Your online booking engine will also help you establish a stronger connection with guests. Reservations through your online booking engine are booked using the guest’s email address rather than one generated by an OTA. Having your guest’s personal email provides you with an opportunity to communicate with them directly using your own branded content. Based on their bookings you can further enhance their experience before they arrive, during their stay, and post-stay with targeted communications and relevant promotions, thereby building a targeted customer relationship strategy.
A Comprehensive Strategy
With all the advantages of an online booking engine, listing and maintaining your property through OTAs may seem redundant, but this is not the case. The best solution for maximizing your online bookings is to use OTAs through a channel manager and your direct online booking engine in tandem for a comprehensive approach to sales. OTAs can serve a valuable role in the marketing of your property to new guests. The strength of OTAs is their visibility and reach. The money OTAs spend on advertising and SEO makes them some of the most visible brands in hospitality. Keeping a listing with OTAs allows your property to leverage its visibility to increase your exposure to potential new guests. When these new guests discover your property on an OTA, they will visit your website to learn more about your property. Once there, your online booking engine will take over. Your booking engine will allow guests to reserve a room at the same price as the OTA and book dining reservations, spa treatments, golf, activities, etc. to customize their own stay. Guests are returning to travel, so now is the time to reach out to your hospitality technology partner to start building your online booking engine.
About the author
Frank Pitsikalis brings a wealth of professional and personal experience to his roles as Founder & CEO of ResortSuite, and as International SPA Association (ISPA) Chairman. Combining his knowledge of the hospitality field with his background in enterprise-level technology, Frank founded ResortSuite, establishing a position as the leading provider of true integrated, guest-centric, hospitality, and leisure management technologies including spa software and resort software.
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