The cycle of OTA dependence is all too real and aggravating. But, it’s time to face the facts. It’s your fault, not the OTAs, if an OTA-driven guest doesn’t come back and book direct the next time around.
Some hoteliers are dropping their pitchforks and getting smart about their relationships with OTAs by leveraging them as a customer acquisition tool. We agree with this approach. It’s time to embrace OTAs as a channel (albeit an expensive one) that gets new business in the door. But once that OTA guest checks in, it’s now up to you and your staff to make an extraordinary impression on them to keep them loyal from that stay forward.
In other words, you should only be paying for that OTA customer once. Then, use these tactics to keep the guest coming back to you, not the OTA, for a return visit:
1. Deliver a remarkable experience
Today’s hotel guests want amazing experiences. They want more than your amenities and creature comforts, more than packaged entertainment and big-ticket attractions. Out-of-the-ordinary experiences are what will ultimately compel guests to return to you again and again. Look at what your comp set is doing to stand out. How can you top their offerings and stand out amongst the crowd? Get creative and brainstorm ways to wow your guests in unexpected ways. Some stellar ideas we’ve seen in the industry include a chocolate buffet, a running concierge, complimentary photo memory books and a fun-loving dog you can adopt for the day.
Extraordinary experiences do more than just urge the OTA guest to book direct for a return visit. These experiences compel guests to share stories and brag to their friends, family and social networks, giving you even more exposure to new business.
2. Build a culture of great service
Even with a remarkable experience, it’s the staff that can really make or break a guest’s stay. Encourage managers and employees to personally connect with guests and build relationships. Make it clear to the front desk that a guest is a guest, no matter what channel they came from. Often, guests who book through an OTA are assigned to the lowest room product, which can often cause major friction and cause them to feel as if they are being punished. Why punish a new customer? Even worse, that guests will leave your hotel believing that your worst rooms are the BEST you have!
Because most OTA guests don’t understand the nuances of their reservation, they may not even be aware of what else your hotel has to offer. Mention larger room types that you have available and upgrade them when space is available (the loyalty you will engender is greater than the cost of any net operational revenue you might incur). Offer them local tips on how to make their stay even better. Make sure your front desk conveys to these guests how happy you are that they chose you. Treat them like VIPs, as you would any other guests, at every touchpoint.
3. Collect their email address upon check-in or check-out
We can’t stress this enough. Don’t let OTA guests walk away without leaving their email address! This is the only way you can market to these guests later and stay on top of their mind. But, you have to give them a good enough reason to do so. Offer to send them their receipt directly to their email. Ask for their email address when they log-in for Wifi. Offer to send them an exclusive offer via email.
4. Communicate the benefit of booking direct while on property
It is your responsibility to educate your guests on all the reasons why it’s worth their while to book direct. Leverage the one thing that OTA doesn’t have – personal interaction with the guests. Have your front desk mention all the perks of booking direct casually upon check-in and check-out. Print out the benefits on keycards, hotel brochures and even the signage in the elevator. Email the guests post-stay thanking them for their business and offering them an exclusive offer to return. Every OTA guest should walk away aware of the privileges they’ll receive if they book direct the next time around.