Converting Lookers into Bookers: Building a Hotel Distribution Strategy That Works
It’s an understatement to say that, in recent years, marketing a hotel has become more complicated. The digital revolution has expanded booking opportunities – leading to a dizzying array of online travel agents (OTAs), website opportunities and social media platforms to take advantage of, and direct booking engines to build and deploy.
So, where does that leave the humble hotelier? In need of an effective distribution strategy, that’s where – so their property is noticed by travellers, they can successfully convert those lookers into bookers and can drive up conversion rate. Here are a few pointers on how to go about that.
Use your customer data
First, you need to understand the make-up of your customer base. Now, data is everything in today’s world, whatever the industry or sector, and it’s imperative you get stuck into your hotel’s revenue management data and break it down. The different behaviour of your customers will determine how you reach them.
Broadly put, they can be categorised as lower-yield and higher-yield travellers. The former group comprises those who book early (reliable customers who may book several times a year; generally, business travellers). The latter group comprises those who book much closer to check-in (through online travel agents – OTAs – or your own booking engine, should you have one, which means they’re far less reliable but pay higher-rates; they’re usually a mix of leisure and business travellers).
Reach across the channels
Once you understand how your customers book, you can target each of them via specific hotel distribution channels – but not necessarily just online channels. While we may live in the digital age, some of the customers you’ll want to reach – often older travellers – will still be more analogue than others.
So, your online distribution channels will most likely include OTAs, your own website and social media platforms (the latter directing customers to your booking engine, ideally). Your old-school offline channels, if you want to use these, will include wholesalers, tour operators and voice reservation services.
What’s your customer acquisition cost?
Addressing this is critical. If you haven’t calculated how much it’s costing you to convert each customer, all your efforts will be for nought. Yes, the devil’s in the detail.
Not only does it cost whenever you receive a booking via an OTA, due to a commission fee, it also does when you receive one via your booking engine (thanks to hosting and marketing charges). Now, cost-wise, of course, the latter is definitely preferable to the former but, you still need to calculate the precise figures – if you don’t, you’ll never work out the outlay for your distribution strategy. And you’ll never work out how much more one channel costs you than another and so, in turn, which of them to prioritise with your strategy.
Indeed, if you have invested in your own booking engine, so your customers can book direct and even compare live OTA rates with your own direct rate (via a hotel rate comparison tool), you’ll likely want to prioritise the channels that supply this – but without neglecting the others. Put simply, knowing your customer acquisition cost empowers you to properly plan and confidently implement.
Let content optimise your conversion rate
In today’s digital landscape, content is just as crucial as data. In part, that’s because the more channels you’re using, the more content you’re putting out there – and the more opportunity there is to let the quality of that content slip.
Your content, then, needs consistency across all channels. Whatever the platform, campaign or promotion, the content needs to remain as compelling and as on-brand as possible. That said, don’t overlook the need for personalised content (e.g. only target an email promotion for your property’s meeting rooms to meeting planners). And, of course, this is all true for your static content. The room prices, descriptions, images and calls to action (CTAs) on your website must be up-to-date and correct.
So, finally, to round up; implementing a successful distribution strategy isn’t impossible but does require preparation and dedication. Yes, the liberation of hotel bookings over the last few years may appear to have unleashed a monster, but it’s one that can be tamed – and entirely used to your advantage.