Signing up with Booking.com, Expedia & AirBnB is a 'damned if you, damned if you don't' conundrum.
If you don't, you miss the opportunity of being found by potential customers on the industry's main search engines. If you do, and the customer does find you, you must pay fees of 15% or more to an Online Travel Agency (OTA).
To give your guesthouse the best chance of increasing direct bookings and competing with OTAs, there are a number of digital exercises you must do. Firstly, you must make it as easy as possible for customers to book your guesthouse.
Having a brochure website with a photo gallery is no longer good enough. Many customers would like to book a room in real time and may be deterred if they are asked to fill out an enquiry form, email or call your guesthouse in order to book a room.
Create a unique landing page & integrate a booking engine that has a 'channel manager' that syncs with OTAs. This will allow visitors to view the availability of your rooms in real-time, pay online and see your latest offers. One of Booking.com's biggest attractions is their cancellations' policy. Therefore, consider how your own cancellation policy could compete.
Search Engine Marketing
Those booking a weekend away or a week-long family holiday, will likely begin their destination search on Google. They will search for where to stay, where to eat, things to do, how to get there (check out Think With Google). You need to give your website the best possible change of being found naturally on Google. This is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
There are a number of ways that you can optimise your website for search engines (SEO). Arguably the most impactful is to optimise your website's page loading times & its mobile responsiveness. Google's algorithm marks down slow websites that are not developed for mobile first consumers. Another is an effective content strategy by creating regular blog posts about topics that are of interest to guests.
In 2019, unbeknown to many, Google launched their new hotel booking platform which syncs with Google Maps & Google Flights. It is Google's attempt to compete with the likes of Expedia and Booking.com.
This could be a very successful channel for your guesthouse, which comes at a much smaller cost than bookings though the above OTA's. While your listing on these OTA's will still be visible on Google Hotels, customers will also see the option to book directly with you. If you offer a 'Best Price Guaranteed' on your website, you are likely to attract the customer.
You must firstly opt into this channel and set your cost per acquisition percentage. This is what you are happy to pay Google for their part in securing the direct booking on your website. You must then ensure your Google My Business listing is up-to-date.
In order to confirm guest bookings, you'll likely have an existing database of customer emails built up over the years. Why not email and ask them to 'opt-in' and receive news from you. There is a personal aspect to B&Bs and guesthouses that many hotels will never be able to replicate. So why not use it to your advantage. An effective email marketing strategy preserves that one-to-one communication that social media marketing cannot achieve.
Here are some tips & tricks;
- Add a newsletter 'opt-in' option to your booking engine.
- Once a customer books via your website, send them an automated email giving recommendations on the best things to do or places to visit and perhaps even a digital guestbook.
- Before they arrive, send another automated email asking if they would like to book an evening meal that night or if they need any assistance.
- Once they leave, send an email encouraging guests to leave feedback online. Again, people often choose a guesthouse over a hotel for that personal touch. If they have enjoyed their stay, many would be delighted to support you and spread the word. They may just need reminding so don't be shy!
Other Digital Marketing Considerations
Here are a few other tips & tricks for your website to give you the best chance possible to increase direct bookings.
- Ensure a "BOOK NOW" button is easily visible.
- Add ratings & positive guest reviews from TripAdvisor, Google & Facebook.
- Create an extensive gallery of photos on your new booking landing page. Go one step further and allow your website visitor to explore your venue through a ‘Virtual Tour’.
- Continually test and improve your website.
- Launch a loyalty program.