Learn how to master the Online Travel Agents

OTAs have taken a fair amount of stick these past few months, but love them or hate them, they are here to stay. We caught up with Chris Waters, co-founder of Inn Style, an online booking system, and put to him some questions on how to get the best out of OTAs and make the most of your online presence.

Two too many

Q: We are using two OTAs at the moment but are still not seeing a huge ROI, how can we get the best out of these platforms?
Mr Waters says: Using two is probably not the answer and you’re probably in danger of being spread too thin. Take a step back and looking at the sums. You need to decide which OTA can provide you with the most bookings or whether your brief is to use a channel to plug a few availability gaps. I’ve spoken to hundreds of hoteliers and would probably say that Booking.com is the best because the experience it provides to the guest is generally very good. And while I appreciate you are giving commission away, if your own service and website is up to scratch, you should take direct bookings from recommended or repeat clientele.

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Doing it ourselves

Q: We think we should redesign our website and want to encourage direct bookings as a result. How can we best market ourselves online?
Mr Waters says: Think from the point of view of your customer. When it comes to finding the perfect boutique hotel, most guests won’t expect to make a whimsical booking in a few minutes flat. Obviously your hotel has to meet rational needs, such as location and facilities, but your potential guest will be likely to spend a little more to find that extra special place, and your website has to sweep them off their feet, without them even realising its happening.

How? Website romance in this instance is a love affair with two halves. Firstly, let’s call it the ‘wooing phase’ – you need to look your best to catch the eye, so invest in the best photography you can afford and compliment this with some decent copy that creates a brilliant first impression. A few dated photos and some lifeless copy can make your place seem crusty out of touch – click – and your customer has gone. Secondly, you need to be able to ‘seal the deal’. Customers want to know your real-time availability and want to make a booking seamlessly. You need to sweep away the frustrations of having to phone for availability or enter a reservations enquiry form. Make it blissfully simple to take that booking instantly by using a reservations system like ours which will show real availability, do the secure payment thing and follow up with a confirmation email to give your customer that fantastic end to end service they are hoping for.

And don’t let your beautiful website get buried on the internet. The easiest way to improve your search engine optimisation without extra cost is to encourage reviews on Google Reviews or TripAdvisor.

Time management

Q: I find a lot of my time is currently taken up with admin, whether it’s managing our bookings system, staff, website or social media accounts; how can I free-up some of my time and are there any technology systems that I would benefit from?
Mr Waters says: I’d wager the majority of time is wasted at check-out. Adding up those extras, vouchers, printing bills and receipts, guess what, it’s always at 9am, during the breakfast rush! This creates a major pain point for customers who expect a slick departure and it really needn’t happen at all. The irony is that you’ll have taken the customers’ card details at the booking stage and you’ll have added to their bill any extras, the night-cap or spa treatment, as they occurred. If you use an intelligent booking system, this should capture all this and allow you to prep bills in advance and offer every customer a speedy check-out.

And when it comes to housekeeping, a great bookings system will allow you to, with one simple click, print off a summary to inform the staff who is checking in, out or staying over, how they have requested their beds to be set-up and whether they want a morning wake up alarm, breakfast in bed or a newspaper.

As for your online presence, keep it tight and simple. In other words, in addition to a well crafted website, focus on choosing social media channels that will genuinely impact on your audience. So these days, Facebook doesn’t hold the appeal it once did for teenagers and is much more popular amongst the middle to older aged demographic; that might be the right channel for you. And if you aren’t able to create as much noise as you would like to then consider closing down some of your stagnant platforms – a dormant Twitter feed is probably worse than not having one at all and a dated film clip on YouTube will repel guests rather than attract.

Attracting overseas visitors

Q: Is there any better way to market my business online to the overseas markets, or would my best bet be to link up with an OTA?
Mr Waters says: Categorically, I would recommend linking into an OTA. Why? Because having a decent international feel to your website and marketing materials is almost impossible to do well without incurring serious costs. A language barrier will leave you at the mercy of translation sites and major OTAs should be able to bring you a fire hose of bookings as they already play the multi-lingual card fantastically well.

Keeping on the straight and narrow

Q: We are working well with our OTAs at the moment and they are helping to drive bookings, but how can we make sure we maintain this positive relationship?
Mr Waters says: If you keep fulfilling OTA reservations, there won’t be a problem and don’t forget to try price based or time based deals to see if it boosts effect.

The cracks will appear if you pipe availability via an OTA but cannot fulfil a booking, ultimately leaving them looking bad. They’ll still charge you commission which in turn leaves you feeling mad. No one is winning and around and around it can go. You’ll find you have no leverage with the OTA and you are no closer to filling your availability gaps.

The trick here is to deploy a reservations system that strips it back to handling one diary and one interface in real-time. This investment will allow you to enter your availability and know that the two systems are in synchrony. It’s a game-changer which can bring order to your entire bookings system, strip out those awful clunky log ins and free up your time to concentrate on building a better business so that your customers come to you direct next time around.



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