As hoteliers strive to increase their direct bookings to maximize their revenue, they must focus on two key elements that often escape most direct booking strategies: customer engagement during the booking process and following up with hesitant guests to secure conversion.
Why are direct bookings more important than ever for hotels?
Direct bookings are reservations made directly through the hotel usually via their website, without using a third-party intermediary such as an OTA (Online Tourism Agency).
This direct channel will continue to be a marketing priority for hotels as they have the biggest advantage of delivering the highest margins.
Direct booking is much more profitable for hotels compared to reservations via OTAs since there are no commissions paid to third parties, so the hotel’s acquisition cost per guest goes down. Direct booking also allows for upselling opportunities, which generates more revenue for your hotel.
With customer experience being the cornerstone of any tourism and hospitality business, the direct booking channel allows hoteliers to control the hotel guest experience online by creating a direct relationship with guests and providing them with personalized support.
Direct booking & OTA Mix
OTAs (Online Tourism Agency) are here to stay and Booking.com is a key source of visibility for most hotels.
But since hoteliers are drowned among the hundreds of OTA listings, it is difficult to stand out without posting a competitive price.
This is why, thanks to the disintermediation provided by the hotel website, direct booking is a profitable revenue channel to be leveraged strategically.
So striking the right balance between OTAs and direct booking is crucial for increasing hotel revenue.
OTAs have not mastered the level of close relationship a hotel can build with its guests. Yet, the guest who visits the hotel website will return to the OTA because hotels fail to engage them during the booking process.
So hoteliers need to capitalize on this by providing their guests with an engaging experience that builds trust and loyalty.
In other terms: Most hotels already have everything they need to attract and welcome potential customers: beautiful websites with plenty of information about their property & hotel facilities. Some even have price comparison and review widgets. Hotels just fail at one thing: guest engagement.
So how can hotels engage their guests to increase their direct booking and drive their revenue?
Guest engagement to drive booking
The key to guest engagement is direct and personalized interaction with customers to build a close relationship and influence the booking decision.
Hoteliers must put themselves in the customer’s shoes and imagine the booking process on their websites.
The first step in the direct booking process starts with research, where the guest looks for more information about your hotel.
In fact, visitors spend a lot of time searching for information, browsing through different offers, and comparing prices before making their final booking decision.
On top of that, with the current COVID health situation, visitors have more questions than ever about their hotel stay. Therefore, customers need to be reassured during the process, hence why customer support is a key element to finalize the reservation.
As a result, the way hotels communicate with their visitors can significantly increase conversions.
Delivering quick and efficient support to guests’ inquires not only saves them time but also creates a faster booking process and an engaging experience even before their stay.
Leveraging AI chatbots for hotels
Hoteliers are leveraging tools like chatbots and conversational artificial intelligence to drive guest engagement and increase their operational efficiency.
In fact, 64% of businesses believe that chatbots will allow them to provide a more customized support experience for their customers. (Statista)
Hotel chatbots provide instant and personalized support for guests, allowing hotels to simplify their check-in process and improve the guest experience even before their arrival.
Our hotel chatbot Velma will capture the guest’s details and profile from the beginning so you can nurture a close relationship throughout the guest booking journey.
Velma will deliver instant support to guest inquires and provide smart recommendations based on the guest preferences to ensure pre-arrival personalization. In doing so, you will direct your guests through the direct booking funnel while nurturing an engaging relationship with them.
But what if the guest doesn’t complete the reservation? This is where guest follow-up comes into play!
Follow-up to secure conversion
The hotel sales process is based on the customer type. Some guests are ready to Book Now, and this type has a very low cost of sales, so hotels need to identify and retain them, while others are hesitant and will eventually abandon their reservations.
So, how do you recover as many customers as you can?
Capturing hesitant customers should be your hotel’s priority.
A good start is to understand how different customers with different interests interact with your website.
See how you can use the concept of customer personas to increase hotel sales.
One of the most effective ways to recover abandoned purchases and boost conversions is through a proactive and automated follow-up sequence.
The good news is that Velma, our AI chatbot for hotels will make it easy to set up the guest follow-up since it has already initiated the relationship and captured all the necessary profile information.
Effective customer follow-up should add value to encourage the guest to return and complete the booking. Personalization is key to customer engagement and is achieved through personalized support and enticing offers based on the visitor’s expressed interest.
So, now it is time to follow up by email or phone to complete the reservation.
Since many hoteliers don’t have the time to call back the customer, a solution such as Hotel Res bot comes into play. Hotel Res bot also has an AI component named HERA (Hotel Email Reservation Assistant) that allows hotels to follow up on incomplete reservations by automatically sending guests personalized information and relevant quotes.
Since July 2020, Velma, our AI chatbot for hotels, and HERA have been working hand in hand to ensure that hesitant customers receive personalized information and are re-engaged with a relevant email follow-up.
As a result, this keeps your hotel top of mind for hesitant customers which naturally increases conversion.
By establishing trust and reassurance with undecided guests, hoteliers will achieve higher conversions and long-term retention with their guests.