In order to gain an advantage in the direct-booking fight with OTAs, one easy fix is to ensure your hotel’s contact information is displayed prominently on your website.
As frequent HNN readers know, one of the most popular topics of both hotel industry conferences and hotel trade publication articles these days is how to capture more direct bookings and redirect market share from online travel agencies and other third parties in order to reduce the costs of customer acquisition.
Much has been written about how to improve search engine optimization and the website visitor experience as a means of accomplishing this. Yet one often overlooked way of encouraging direct bookings is to make sure your hotel’s phone number and email address is posted prominently on your website.
When visiting desktop version websites of seven major hotel brands, only two had their 800 number posted on the home page; in both cases it was in very small font at the top. However, when visiting the same two brands via their mobile websites, the 800 number was not displayed at all. Interestingly, one of the brands that did not have its 800 number posted at the desktop website did display it on its mobile website version, but again at the bottom in small font.
In checking the websites of a few randomly selected upscale and luxury hotels and resorts, most do not have a phone number display whatsoever on the home page, and those that did had it in very small font at the bottom. To find the phone numbers at the majority of the independent hotel websites, a visitor has to click on the “contact us” link.
Similarly, the email address to send an inquiry for a reservation, group, meeting or event is also hard to find at most websites.
It is hard to imagine that this is an oversight by web designers, given the amount of attention most hotel marketing and distribution executives invest in electronic marketing. Instead it seems more likely that it is a continued bias against voice and email distribution channels. On the surface it might seem more cost efficient to encourage guests to book online, if you only look at the direct hard costs of taking a reservation via voice as compared to having it come into the central reservation system directly.
Yet when you consider that a well-trained, sales-minded reservations sales agent can convert more of those casual, online shoppers into bookings, it is well worth it. On top of that, if you can get even a few of those online shoppers who are surfing multiple distribution channels to book directly via voice rather than booking your hotel via an OTA, there is a significant savings in commissions.
For sales and catering events, it is also better for the hotel salesperson to have a chance to field an inquiry directly via a voice conversation. This provides an opportunity to connect with the customer, investigate “the story” behind the inquiry, and to offer descriptions that allure and entice by appealing to emotional desires, all of which provides an advantage over the competition. For those planners who prefer to inquire electronically, it is far better to receive the inquiry via a direct email than via a third-party website which might distribute leads to other hotels.
Smart marketers know that most searches these days are conducted on mobile devices instead of desktops and laptops, even though mobile bookings still continue to lag behind (other than at OTA websites). Since many consumers prefer to “click to call” instead of completing the transaction on a small screen, mobile websites in particular should display phone numbers prominently to make it easy for a mobile customer to buy.
Here are some additional suggestions for encouraging website visitors to contact your hotel directly:
- Post both 800 and local numbers. Some website visitors might be in countries where your 800 number might not work. Others prefer to contact a local number as they believe it will lead to a local contact.
- If you use a vanity number, include right next to it the numerical version. This is especially important on mobile websites to enable the “click to call” feature.
- Larger hotel operations should also post direct dial numbers for specialized catering and sales departments.
- Similarly, post direct contact email addresses for these specialized departments.
- If you do not post an email address and instead only use a “contact us” form, chances are you have an open text box labeled “comments.” Instead, this should be labeled “Tell us more about the hotel visit, meeting or event you are planning.” This will encourage those who prefer to make email inquiries to provide your sales and reservations sales staff with more detailed information that they can then use to provide personalized email responses.
- Use a unique 800 number for website and for mobile searches, and different 800 numbers for other promotions such as email blasts and print. This will help identify the source of phone inquiries for marketing tracking purposes.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that might be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.