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Hotel Operators and Third Party Sites...We Love Them...We Hate Them.

G. Karatzoulidis recently asked me, "How do I increase my direct hotel bookings after a guest has stayed with me from booking on a third party site?"

There are no shortages of third party travel sites competing for your guests. The problem that hotel operators have is that they have a love/hate relationship with these third party sites. They help a lot when seasons are slow and occupancy low, but a thorn in the side when occupancy is high and their not needed. The best financial advantage for the hotel operator is to have your guests book directly and avoid the middleman. That’s good for you, but what about your guest?

So many third party sites to choose from, consumers have no shortage of choice

What are you doing to make it worth your guests financial advantage to avoid booking on those sites? Awarding member points by booking directly with you is not the best answer. Where is the value for the guest?

Only two weeks ago, I found a terrific deal for a Hilton Garden Inn hotel on a third party discount site. I am a Hilton Honors member and I believed if I went to the Hilton site, I would get the best rate but I was way off. The Hilton site was much more, even their “best” corporate rate did not come close to the third party site. So other than not getting the Hilton points, why would I want to book on the Hilton site? Where was the value for me?

In order to increase your direct hotel bookings after a guest has stayed with you from booking on a third party website, consider offering something of value for the guest to book with your hotel directly. This is where creative marketing becomes relevant.

I would start thinking about what kind of value you can offer the guest to book directly. Maybe add breakfast for two, maybe a free upgrade (upon availability), maybe use an app to allow the guest to check themselves in (if your PMS has this feature).

While many people are loyal to the brand, just as many are not and will stay at the best priced hotel for the class of hotel they are searching for. It could be Hilton this week and Marriott next week depending on the city. That’s a problem, especially if the guest returns to your town week after week and rotates properties based on price and value.

Your best solution is to win them over with exceptional and personalized service so they never consider another property. Guests and customers (for any business) will stay loyal if they feel they are not just another customer. That means using their name in every conversation, being personable, getting to know them as a person, not a confirmation number, etc.

Perhaps each of your desk agents can hand out a business card with their name, phone number, and e-mail. Hand the card to the guest and tell them to “call me directly” when they plan to come into town. That is personalized service and may draw interest in your property directly.

You could offer a free upgrade or nice discount if they book their next stay directly with the hotel.

Here is an old fashioned but never out of date idea….talk directly to your customers and ask them! Your front desk manager should greet each and every third party checkin and/or check out and offer an escort to the room. Upon check out, ask how their stay was, what could the staff have done better and what kind of incentive would you have to offer for them (guest) to book directly with you rather than third party? Everyone has a different idea of what the answer may be and your guests will give you the best ideas.

If you are operating an independent property, then you could also offer tour discounts, restaurant vouchers, complimentary car pickup from the airport, etc. Maybe find out their birthday or anniversary dates and send personalized cards with a voucher for something included. Be creative and consider all these incentives as a marketing expense rather than free stuff that you are giving away.

These incentives are added values that the guest receives by NOT booking at the third party sites and that is your goal. You want to give them reasons (plural) to book directly while not having to offer a lower rate than the third party.

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