Amit Vyas: How to market your hotel like an OTA

OTAs take a share of revenues, but they also deliver customers and build loyalty

Take inspiration from the calls-to-action and layouts of the top OTA websites.
Take inspiration from the calls-to-action and layouts of the top OTA websites.

Love them or hate them, the hotel industry would be hard pushed to live without them today: online travel agents (OTAs) take a share of revenues but they also deliver customers, create opportunities to build loyalty, and sell rooms that may otherwise remain unoccupied, reports Amit Vyas, CEO Nexa.

OTAs provide attractive consumer convenience to search and compare destinations, properties and prices; but the OTA channel benefits come quite literally, at a price. A fact most hoteliers are painfully aware of is that booking hotels through an OTA results in a large slice of commission paid — typically 15-30%.

While some critics believe we may be coming to the end of the dominance of the OTAs, still they continue to invest billions of dollars in marketing, advertising and technology, providing an essential and valuable ‘billboard’ effect that hotels can use to their advantage.

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Hotels need to optimise all the benefits of OTAs while continuing to push their own brands equally. After all, customers often still book directly with hotels even after visiting an OTA. Hotels can learn a lot from OTAs, and while they may not have the resources to achieve quite as much reach, these tips may help build brand loyalty and increase direct bookings.

So what are OTAs' big secret?
There isn’t one. In fact it is very clear: OTAs’ success lies in skilful use of the internet, good websites, and the digital marketing of their huge inventory of hotels. Other attractions are that hotel reviews, profiles, images and database information are organised conveniently in one place for the customer.

Leveraging powerful content
It’s not just the online content and the millions of visitors that make OTAs powerful — it’s how they use them. OTAs use their content to rank highly in search engines and on paid sites. They also advertise strategically online and track the activity of site visitors, including their movements through Google, Facebook and Twitter. OTAs re-target the same visitors, advertising specific locations or properties that these prospective customers have viewed on the OTA sites.

Start with the website
For any hotel wanting to balance OTA revenues with direct bookings, the most important place to start is the website. When a potential customer visits your website, you must create a positive first impression. Simply look at an OTA such as Booking.com to see the calls to action and design layouts, which are great examples of how sites can work hard for you.

Understand user experience
Hotels have to better understand the user experience online in order to make their websites more effective for visitors. Today’s online audience has less time and patience when browsing, so if a website takes too long to load, or the content is confusing or unclear, visitors hit the ‘back button’. Check the bounce rate and see if visitors are only looking at one page, and then leaving — if so you need to change that pattern.

Make visitors stay on your website
Content must be helpful. Create content that adds value to a hotel experience rather than just focusing on sales — for example, your ‘Ultimate Dubai Guide for First Time Family Visitors’ can be branded and shared, and may also become the preferred guidebook for visitors during their stays. Website content can also lead to indirect revenues through highlighting spa / F&B opportunities, as well as offering booking incentives and rewards.

Mobilise your site
Bookings are as likely to be made from an iPad or mobile app as from a PC, so make sure the site is mobile-enabled.

Use high-quality photography
Having high-quality images and videos on a website is essential and makes a huge impact — lots of variety also helps. Encourage guests to comment on their stays too, because traveller opinions, both in terms of volume and quality, are critically important to other prospective customers. Incentivise comments if you need to, and feature them prominently.

Make it personal
Maintain guest databases and then use these for email, Facebook and Twitter marketing campaigns. These are closed loop marketing processes that allow hotels to directly communicate with previous guests even on public forums and social media platforms, but only that specific person sees the message/incentive to book. Use every opportunity to gather email addresses and encourage guests to fill out online surveys of services at certain points around the hotel.

Socialise your content
Don’t forget SEO and the impact of social media on SEO rankings. However, only use social media for a good reason and only for posts that highlight a USP, whether that relates to the location or the property. Make sure you enable direct booking from social media where possible to make life as easy as possible for your customer.

Social media marketing
Social media marketing allows you to take full advantage of the targeting opportunities within Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Hotels can re-target website visitors but must be strategic with this. Not all customers are focused on price and so re-targeting messages may be counterproductive. So, for a spa page, a re-targeted banner image showing a relaxing spa experience may be more impactful than one that relies on rates as the main attention grabber.

Content needs context
Customers search for hotels in the context of a destination. Content marketing ties SEO together if hotels are creating content not only related to specific properties and property features, but also to local events, attractions and the destination as a whole.

Inbound marketing
When it comes to inbound marketing, not all hotel guests are the same. You can tailor content and strategies that appeal to specific audiences, such as PAs for business hotels, leisure tourists,
or groups.

Stat attack

  • US $1.8 billion is spent each year by Priceline, google’s top digital travel industry advertiser.The next top spender is Expedia, which pays out $1 billion every year
  • 50% US online travel shoppers are influenced by professional photography, while 25% view professional videos during travel shopping
  • 50 million users access expedia each month 10 million is the number of downloads of the expedia app, across 180 countries to date, averaging more than 4 million users each month
  • 68% is the monthly growth of bookings through the expedia app
  • 2.1% more likely to be booked - hotels that have thorough descriptions of their offer. Those that use high-quality photography on their websites are 1.9% more likely to be booked

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