David Barrett, managing director of Pic PR, explains why digital comms is the best tactic for getting direct bookings and how you can cash in.
The holy grail of any hotel’s online presence is securing bookings directly.
Online Travel Agents have tremendous power within the hotel industry and they’re often the go to booking method for potential guests. But while this helps occupancy, providing a welcome boost to hotel revenue, it comes with the downside of a commission fee.
Ideally, hotels would have guests booking with them directly and thus waiving the added cost of commission. But while this is the ideal scenario, it’s certainly easier said than done.
To do this you need to boost your hotel’s digital presence to touch the public consciousness and ensure they both know about your hotel and know where to go, as well as knowing just what it is that makes your hotel so good.
So how is this done?
Well, a great place to start is PR. It’s a fantastic tool for putting your head above the proverbial parapet and informing people about what you have to offer.
By securing an article with a well-respected publication, such as a national newspaper or a luxury magazine you’re able to demonstrate the authenticity of your brand, while also improving awareness of it. Even in today’s divisive times, people still put their trust in the media, believing in the integrity of a hotel review from a reputable source. Reading a positive review of your establishment gives them confidence that staying with you will be an enjoyable experience.
In our industry, you often hear the old adage that ‘print is dead’ but while there may be truth that print circulation is in decline, it’s certainly far from dead and still commands a daily audience of millions. Many people – especially older people and those with the most leisure time – still rely on the tried and trusted format of reading a newspaper. Using PR to reach that medium is still a key way to boost your brand.
But what has that got to do with digital comms you may ask? Well, each outlet has its own online presence. The nationals often have two separate teams – digital and print – but there’s still an element of crossover and certainly at the regional papers, the print journalist will be responsible for online stories too. So PR in the traditional sense will still leach across to digital, giving an opportunity to target two audiences – those that prefer reading papers and those who like keeping abreast of the news online.
Although OTAs have a large influence, the platform that has the largest influence is the search engine itself. One of the key benefits of digital PR is that it contributes to how high you appear in the search results thrown up by Google and its ilk.
Not only do you get prospective guests reading the article, but you’ll also get Google algorithms reading it too. Repeated mentions of your hotel and its services on national news outlets such as the Telegraph, Guardian, BBC and Mail Online will indicate to Google that your brand is offering a legitimate service. With Google wanting to display the most accurate results to its readers, this plays a large part in how it comes to its eventual conclusions.
While mentions of your hotel alone play a part, the most rewarding element is a hyperlink to your hotel website. If there’s a direct link between a reputable website and your establishment then Google will pay it even more heed, bumping you up its rankings as a direct consequence and making you more visible to potential guests.
As an individual hotel you’ll struggle to compete against the OTAs at the top of the search results, but by engaging with digital PR you’ll give yourself a fighting chance of appearing on the first page of Google’s search results for your locality, helping people to go straight to your website and book.
Another facet of digital comms is social media. Having active social media accounts also boosts your visibility in the search rankings, as Google uses them as extra pieces of its algorithmic jigsaw.
It also gives you a direct outlet to voice your company views and engage with an audience. The right sort of engagement can work wonders when it comes to displaying your hotel’s selling points.
If people are following your social media channels, then they’re more likely to book directly via your website – having become familiar with what you offer and not needing to use an aggregating site to choose your hotel as a destination.
Social media gives you the opportunity to inject some personality – and that’s what helps to sell it. People buy in to people and if your hotel has personality then it will work wonders with encouraging them to book. Some people will see your hotel as the destination, rather than its surrounding area.
A part of the digital comms puzzle which covers both PR and social media is the term influencers. These are people that don’t have the platform of a national newspaper or magazine, but do have the platform of their social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Influencers can have huge followings, with some even rivalling the main stream media for views and engagement. These can be managed in a similar way to PR – building a relationship with them and encouraging them to review or feature your hotel, which they in turn will promote on their own social channels, potentially holding you up in front of an audience of millions of prospective guests.
Speaking of YouTube…video is another digital component that can be exploited to showcase your hotel. A picture tells a thousand words, but a video tells a lot more. By utilising eye catching video and incorporating it onto your website and social channels, you’ll be able to display your hotel like no other way, giving the best approximation of its offering aside from actually visiting in person.
A suitably enticing video hosted on your website can potentially lead to a booking there and then. People often question whether images tell the real story or are just taken in a favourable light from a favourable angle – this is hard to replicate in a video. Despite this, imagery obviously plays a huge part, so the right photography to support your digital offering is essential – it goes hand in hand with PR and social media in particular, where it will be central to attractive content.
This all plays into your digital representation. Good video, good imagery and persuasive social media channels create a beguiling impression that people will want to explore.
Combined with digital PR – where videos and imagery are usually showcased alongside a trustworthy and reliable endorsement – then it becomes hard for prospective guests to resist if they’re looking to stay in the area.
Digital comms also includes aspects such as blogs on your website – another pastel to add to the portrait. By promoting blogs through social channels you help to boost the numbers of those reading them, while also offering inspiration to those thinking about paying your hotel a visit. It’s a great outlet in which to talk about elements beyond your hotel. Why should people visit the Cotswolds and therefore your hotel? Espousing the virtues of the local area via the medium of your blog and social media channels makes people more inclined to visit.
Effectively, you’re weaving a tapestry of everything your hotel has to offer – its amenities and location as well as more tangible elements such as costs and perhaps deals and offers available. By offering the best price via your own website and highlighting this on social media you encourage people to bypass the OTAs and book a commission free stay.
The challenge with digital comms is building the right picture, but there are plenty of tools at your disposal. Combining them in the right way helps to authenticate your offering, giving people the confidence to book with you directly – the best outcome for your revenue streams.