How to Increase Direct Bookings (Hotels, Motels, Lodges, B&Bs)

For the longest time, and still today to a large degree, there is a belief that “build it and they will come” is a viable approach to business.

Many business owners consider their competition limited to who they can see glancing out the front window.

It is just not the case, especially in these flourishing Internet-driven times.

When travellers are looking to book, they are not flipping through a paper-bound directory (if they still exist), they are going online.

And when they go online, they are inundated with options, some that meet their geographic query, and some that do not.

This means options.

Although someone travelling for business is more likely to choose a property close to their work destination, it is no longer their only choice, spawning at least some consideration as to whether lodging really needs to be a stone’s throw to the office, or jobsite.

And someone vacationing may be interested in a specific destination, but stumble upon options for other equally or more interesting destinations.

This is what happens when you throw the vastness of the Internet into the mix, and if you are not one of the visible options, you are unquestionably (and unnecessarily) missing out.

But it doesn’t stop at simply being visible online – that’s only the first step – you need to remain top of mind when prospective guests are comparing their abundant options, and they will do this.

Let us consider a guest acquisition method based on firsthand experience. Granted, every property is different, and it may require some tweaking to find the right balance, but it has proven to work if you persevere.

In a nutshell:

  1. Increase (or gain) search visibility
  2. Send the traffic to a modern, mobile-friendly website
  3. Offer visitors an incentive in exchange for their email address
  4. Send them useful, automated content (daily, for X days)
  5. Direct them to an intuitive booking engine (on your own website)

Yes, those five steps can increase direct bookings for nearly any property.

But this list alone is not helpful without expanding on each of the steps, and that is this purpose of this article!

Step 1: Increase (or Gain) Search Visibility

Before the next four steps have any significant value, you need a steady flow of online traffic. It doesn’t need to be a massive flow, just a steady (qualified) flow.

Two ways to achieve this flow are from organic search traffic and paid search traffic. Striving for both will yield the most consistent results.

Organic search traffic typically occurs when you create enough useful information about topics closely related to your geographical area, or topics that would interest the type of people likely to stay at your facility.

Create information? What does that mean?

It means creating content for your website, such as articles for a Blog (a Blog is simply a way to organize written content).

But not short, sporadic articles with little effort. You will realize more traffic if a) you commit to your efforts on a regular basis (monthly, for example) and b) ensure the content you create is original and written in your own voice and c) long enough to be of value and d) complimented by relevant imagery.

Most property owners are familiar enough with their geographical surroundings therefore writing content about landmarks, festivals, eateries, events, local activities, etc. should come naturally.

This approach to increasing website traffic is technically free (unless of course, you pay someone to write the articles).

Like most “free” things in life, there is a trade-off – it is a slow process. Search engines will not show your content in high-ranking positions, overnight.

Therefore, the implementation of a content creation plan requires utmost attention now, with a sincere commitment. The sooner you begin, the sooner your chances of appearing high(er) in search results.

While your organic search efforts work their way up the ladder, you can still appear in prime search positions by simply buying them (no different than old-school advertising but generally less expensive with far more control and measurable insight).

This means determining what your prospective guests are likely searching for, creating a paid search campaign to satisfy these queries, and allocating budget to it.

It does not need to be a huge budget that keeps your listings on top of search all day and night. Remember, these are highly qualified searches and even a few a day may be enough to reach your monthly goals.

Combining eventual organic search rankings with immediate paid search placement, you can establish a flow of new and untapped traffic that will be instrumental in increasing direct bookings.

The key like all marketing efforts is finding balance between time and cost versus revenue, ensuring you are always seeing a positive return.

Step 2: Send the Traffic to a Modern, Mobile-Friendly Website

Once you have sustainable traffic-generating methods in place, you need a destination for this traffic.

A destination that is in your full control (not a social media profile), a destination that peaks interest and gains the confidence of prospective guests.

In short, a modern website.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be an elaborate website, but it does need to be mobile friendly, look professional, and function effortlessly.

When someone hits your website for the first time, it needs to reflect the quality and personality of your facility, and it needs to do this quickly.

A dated, clunky, slow loading site that looks broken on a mobile phone will send people back to the drawing board.

Rather, a quality, search engine friendly site consisting of key, well-designed pages and a Blog is the goal.

Step 3: Offer Visitors an Incentive to Get Them on an Email List

You have found a reasonable balance that gets traffic to your site.

Your site is interesting enough to prevent people from hitting the back button.

Now you need to get a small commitment from your visitors, and they will generally agree if you incentivize them.

If you do not get a micro-commitment, much of the new traffic will come and go, either forgetting about you, or unable to find you a second time.

You are not reaching for the booking yet; you’re simply asking them for an email address in exchange for “XYZ”. Of course, worded properly, and it won’t appear that you’re asking for anything!

With the right incentive, strategically positioned, a decent percentage of visitors to your website will exchange their email address.

We live in times where money (better said, saving money) appeals greatly to people, therefore a discount will usually peak the most interest.

You certainly don’t need to give away the farm, but it can’t be chintzy either. Rule of thumb, at least the equivalent of the taxes, preferably a little more.

You might be thinking that Hotels (Motels, or whatever type of property) do not offer discounts, that it’s unheard of.

Put aside old limiting beliefs for a moment and consider the big picture:

  1. A property has 10 rooms
  2. Each room rents for $100 / night
  3. 10 x $100 = $1,000 x 30 nights = $30,000 / month

Hypothetically, your “current” occupancy rate is 20% equating to $6,000 in monthly revenue.

Clearly, too much money is being left on the table!

So, you commit to writing monthly articles (yes, there is a small time-investment here), but you also commit to spending $500 / month in paid search.

Then, you warm up to the notion of incentivizing new guests with a 20% discount.

The initial goal is to increase your occupancy rate by 10%, or in terms of revenue, by $3,000 / month.

$3,000 – 20% (discount amount) = $2,400 – $500 (paid search) = $1,900 / month in (new) revenue.

If you are following along, you have added $22,800 new revenue for the year, after discounts and marketing costs.

The goal though is to improve your occupancy rate by considerably more, which in turn represents a significant number for any property.

How do you get the discount into your guest’s hands?

Upon arriving at your (professional) website, you present them with an opt-in form that announces the discount, stating it will be delivered by email.

Two important things have occurred here, a prospective guest is in possession of a discount (for your property, not your competitor’s property), and you have an email address of a highly interested prospect.

Step 4: Send Them Useful Content, Daily

Now, just because someone has a discount in hand does not mean they will use it, nor does it mean they will stop shopping around, it is human nature to do so.

But this is where you can outshine (and outsmart) the competition.

Using a commercial email platform, the emails captured on your website automatically get added to a list, then using the available tools you create a “one-time” sequence of messages that automatically gets sent to each subscriber, starting the day they subscribed, for a period of X days.

This method of marketing keeps your property top of mind, and because each email contains interesting (and helpful) content, they typically look forward to receiving them.

Naturally, and subtlety, each email also contains a link to the booking page on your website, and their discount code.

Step 5: Direct Them to an Intuitive Booking Engine (on Your Own Website)

With all the key steps in place, having a clear and simple way for guests to query real-time availability and secure their booking will be necessary.

Without this ability, they will likely abandon the reservation, and not return.

A good booking engine achieves the following, without human intervention (not everyone wants to get on the phone, more and more people are content doing business online):

  1. It resides on your own website, preventing a confusing disconnect
  2. It is secure, mobile-friendly, and fast across all device types
  3. It allows guests to check real-time availability at your property
  4. It allows guests to point and click most of their selections
  5. It supports discount codes
  6. It processes partial or full payments in real-time
  7. It notifies the property owner of new bookings, and sends the guest details of the booking (and reminds as the check-in date approaches)

Being in the business, you are familiar with this method of taking reservations, and have likely seen booking engines of all shapes and sizes – some very good, and some very bad.

Final Words

By providing useful content (via automated email) that will improve people’s travel, and keeping your sales messaging secondary, you will build rapport with prospective guests, resulting in more bookings.

Like any business, once you land a new customer and assuming they have a positive experience, there is a particularly good chance they will tell a friend. Multiply this by X new customers and your marketing costs eventually shrink.

No marketing plan is guaranteed, but the steps outlined in this article are based on firsthand experience, and with a little elbow grease, you can achieve many of the aforementioned steps yourself, or you can reach out to us and we will implement a fully automated process on your behalf.

The upfront and ongoing costs whether you do it yourself, or canvass some help, is fairly low risk compared to traditional marketing mediums for this sector (TV, Radio, Magazine).