How hoteliers turn lookers into bookers
 
How hoteliers turn lookers into bookers
06 SEPTEMBER 2019 7:19 AM

There’s always going to be leisure lookers who don’t book a hotel stay on their first search, sources said. The challenge is retargeting and re-engaging to convert them into bookers.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Hoteliers want to turn leisure travel lookers into bookers, but that first requires understanding who those potential guests are, where they’re coming from and why they’re traveling.

Lisa Giaimo, VP of sales and marketing at OTO Development, said those guests are changing day to day, so efforts to convert them from lookers to bookers have to be dynamic and flexible, too.

Leisure guests are coming from all types of travel now—transient, business and SMERF (social, military, education, religious and fraternal), she said on a panel at the recent Hotel Data Conference titled “Leisure business is the foundation of successful hotels—how do you get the most of it?”

A hotel’s location and offerings still are key to attracting leisure guests, she said.

Katherine Solomon, corporate director of revenue management at Arlo Hotels, has noticed about 60% of leisure guests at her New York properties come from domestic travel, while her Miami property sees a much bigger chunk of leisure coming from international.

Leisure is a big piece of the pie at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said Inderpreet Banga, Wyndham’s VP of channel & distribution strategy, and his company sees leisure travel coming from everywhere, but it depends on where the property is located, he said.

“If they’re in major cities, you’re obviously going to get more international leisure. If it’s roadside, you’re going to have more domestic. … We see a great deal of families travelling within 50 miles,” he said.

While understanding the guest type has a lot to do with collecting data, Banga said it also comes down to the owners, operators and front-desk team at each property.

“Really just being able to target and asking those questions at the front desk … ‘What are you doing here, how can we help you?’ and being able to cater to that,” he said.

One thing leisure guests still want, he said, is value. Combining data and face-to-face interaction, hotels can better reconfigure their product to deliver that value, which is something Wyndham is really educating its franchisees on, he said.

Capturing bookings
Banga said there will always be a ton of lookers, especially those who go to multiple sites at once to see if they’re getting the best deal. The only way to convert them to bookers is to demonstrate and strengthen the value proposition and experiences, he said.

Timing can also be a factor, Giaimo said. Knowing the booking window, the patterns of high leisure demand, when people are in the looking phase and when that converts to the booking phase is really important, she said.

“You want to set your strategy to the appropriate time within the booking window. If not … you’re either leaving money on the table, or you’re missing out on opportunities by not pricing within an acceptable range for that consumer to turn from looker to a booker,” she said.

Timing is very different than normal corporate patterns, and hoteliers need to be mindful that it changes throughout the year, whether it’s around summer vacations or holidays, she said. Each particular leisure demand period behaves differently, she said.

OTO has “the information available to us that will show us how it behaves differently,” she said.

Solomon said Arlo Hotels will time its newsletter with that booking window to promote rate value offers, whether it’s for summer travel or Thanksgiving or Christmas, and ensures the best offer is front and center on the hotel’s website.

“The best rate you’ll find is on our website, including sometimes complimentary value-adds,” she said.

Understanding that booking window dictates when that message needs to be sent out, she said.

Dominic Donatoni, enterprise sales consultant at Navis, said lookers aren’t always going to book “on the first call,” and it’s important to send out messages to retarget those guests who might be ready to book after a second look.

“Just because they said no to you once doesn’t mean that they’re not wanting to stay with you,” he said.

It’s important to make that guest feel like they aren’t just another “head in the bed,” he said.

Pricing power
As an independent, Arlo Hotels was a little more flexible with pricing when it was starting out, to focus on bringing in as many guests as possible, Solomon said.

But as Arlo began to gain more name recognition, she said the company began to gain more power with pricing, especially over high-demand times.

A big factor for OTO on the leisure side is redemption stays, Giaimo said. Her team is very mindful of redemption nights and of what the occupancy strategy is when heading into those heavy redemption nights, she said.

“The difference between one point of occupancy can be a $20,000 revenue decision if we’re not hitting threshold … so that can be really impactful and that may change your strategy regardless of events happening in the area,” she said.

Being transparent and consistent about pricing is key, Banga said.

Once the guests arrive
Getting guests to book and stay at a property is one thing; keeping them on property to generate revenue is another challenge.

Donatoni said a lot of his hotel clients offer promotions to extend guests’ stays.

“If you know that you have a period of time, in some cases it could be a Sunday, where you know that your occupancy is going to drop, or maybe it’s mid-week, it’s being able to target those guests that are on site to extend their stay,” he said.

It’s good to know, too, if guests have done any research on ancillary spending during the booking process—for example, if the guests made dining reservations or are they taking part in the spa packages, he said. From there, the concierge team and experience planners come into play to engage with guests on-property.

Because Arlo’s rooms are traditionally smaller, about 150 square feet, and there is no front-desk area for staff to upsell, Solomon said they have to get creative. One way they do that is by utilizing the hotels’ public spaces to partner with the community and host events.

“If we have a space that is unsold during a period of time that isn’t a lot of lobby traffic, we will offer that space to a yoga partner, a plant partner, those paint-and-sip partners, and the way we’re able to make money off of that is to get a percentage of the sales of tickets,” she said.

The caveat is that her team always mandates that a few tickets will need to be free for guests.

Another strategy is to give guests a food-and-beverage credit of $15 or $20, which will cover one cocktail.

“Once you have one, you want two, then three … so that’s a way of us driving that business to our lobby bar,” she said.

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