Industry Update
Opinion Article 3 December 2020

How to convince new audiences to book direct

By Lily McIlwain, Head of Content

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"Our challenge was, 'how do we quickly speak to a new audience that we're not used to?'"

This experience, shared by Brian Gore of The Set Hotels at last week's Direct Booking Masterclass, is no doubt one felt by many hoteliers since the start of the pandemic. And while things are looking up - did somebody mention a vaccine? - it's likely that most hotels are still a long way away from business as usual.

So, what are the quick wins you can focus on as you navigate what's likely to be a tricky couple of months? In this article, we've rounded up the most actionable suggestions from last week's Masterclass session on captivating your domestic market. Featuring real-life case studies from The Set Hotels and Cheval Collection, this guide also includes templates for messages you can recreate using your Triptease Platform.

Flip the script: Redefine your hotel's location with clever marketing.

Jump to Targeted Messages template >

With prime city-centre spots in London, Paris and Amsterdam, The Set Hotels's locations would ordinarily be the envy of any hotelier. Not so in the COVID era. With consumer preference shifting towards wide-open spaces, outdoor activities and countryside locations, city-centre hotels have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic - even more so if they are usually reliant on business travel.

"Given our locations, we never experienced that 'bump' in domestic leisure bookings over summer that other hotels saw," explains Brian. "When we re-opened our locations in July and September, we knew we had to completely change our focus. Our brand is well-known internationally but not domestically, so we had to find ways to reach a completely new domestic audience."

Rather than lamenting their situation, Brian and his team looked to what was unique about their properties, and turned potential weaknesses into strengths.

"We realized that in many ways, there was no better time to visit London, Amsterdam or Paris - the streets were empty, the crowds and queues were gone, but museums and shops were still open. You could get the best of both worlds.

"We knew we had to flip the story and make these locations attractive places to visit. So we repositioned the hotels as 'urban resorts'. We targeted families with things like cinema nights, cake decorating classes, kids clubs, and so on."

We knew we had to flip the story and make these locations attractive places to visit. So we repositioned the hotels as 'urban resorts'. (Brian Gore, The Set Hotels)

The Set made use of lookalike audiences and social media advertising to focus their offers on the right audience, and embedded messages across their website and booking engine that added extra incentives for visitors to complete their booking.

Want to try something similar at your hotel? Take a leaf out of The Set's book: they've launched a 'Re-Set in London' campaign for the new year, encouraging guests to treat themselves with a complimentary upgrade and attractive discount.

Collating on-property activities like wine tasting, cinema clubs and architecture tours into a single 'Urban Resort programme' has helped to transform consumer perception of properties like Hotel Café Royal during this period. Where they might used to have been considered as simply bases from which to explore the city, they can now be perceived as self-contained luxury idylls with a full programme of events and activities to keep guests occupied.

Consider if there's something similar you could try at your hotel. Do you already offer extras and activities? Do you have the facilities to be able to host socially-distanced movie nights? What about fun activities for kids, like building blanket forts?

Rather than scattering the information across different places, try synthesizing it into a cohesive program of events. Guests travelling right now, particularly to locations in partial or full lockdown, will want to know that they won't just be cooped up in a room with nothing to do.

CREATE YOUR OWN CAMPAIGN

Follow the instructions below to create your own suite of resort-style staycation offer messages using Targeted Messages. Click the arrows at the bottom to advance the slide.

Your guests' priorities are not what they were - make sure you're keeping up.

Eight months of enforced restrictions has inevitably led to lasting behavioral changes amongst your guests. We've all heard by now that cleanliness has caught up to price in terms of impact on decision-making, and that mobile has leapfrogged desktop as the search and booking platform of choice in many regions.

Chances are, you've long been emphasizing your hotel's hygiene and cleanliness standards on your website (here are some additional resources if you want a refresher on best practice in this area). That's a great start. But are you also accommodating guests' increased preference for shopping online? Or highlighting how well-set-up your property is for home working (with high-speed internet, etc)?

Over the coming months, many hotels are likely to be accommodating a diverse mix of guest types side-by-side: from cautiously returning overseas leisure travellers, to ahead-of-the-curve business guests, to people who need to quarantine, to locals looking for a pleasant space to work from home, to last-minute impulse staycationers. Think carefully about what you can do to accommodate each of those guests now in a way that will build valuable goodwill for the future.

"One thing we've focused on is positioning our apartments as somewhere that quarantining is welcomed," shares Cheval Collection's Robert Speirs.

"We stock the rooms with groceries, handle deliveries - everything. Sometimes our front offices look more like Amazon sorting rooms than hotel lobbies! If they want gym equipment, we try to provide that too. People want to carry on their lives as normally as possible while they're quarantining, so it's important that we do our best to make that possible."

We stock the rooms with groceries, handle deliveries - everything. Sometimes our front offices look more like Amazon sorting rooms than hotel lobbies! (Robert Speirs, Cheval Collection)

While aparthotels are obviously more naturally suited to accommodating long-stay quarantining guests, there is plenty that hotels can do to reassure guests that their newfound needs will be met.

Consider a message similar to Cheval's above, which clearly lays out every room's amenities without burying these important selling points in dense chunks of text. You might want to highlight your property's high-speed internet, plentiful supplies of hand sanitizer, or front-office service that brings deliveries straight to the guest's door.

If you're using the Triptease Platform, you can upload your own custom graphic as a Targeted Message, or build a text-only version (using bullet points to separate each item).

Make sure you're targeting the right audience with the right message - and the right rate.

If you've struggled with setting your rates this year, you're not alone. How do you stay competitive without bringing down the future value of your product? When should you hold your rates and when should you drop them? Unfortunately, there are no right answers - although with things hopefully trending back upwards in the coming months, revenue management may begin to return to something resembling normality soon.

On the flip side, this is in many ways the perfect time to test out offers on new segments. When you're navigating the unknown, there are fewer rules you have to follow. You could try offering staggered discounts by booking lead time (like the below example from Hotel Belvedere in Switzerland), or change your rate depending on device - like Cheval has done.

"We could see that a significant proportion of the bookings that were still coming in were short lead time bookings made on mobile," explains Robert. "So we worked with our booking engine to introduce mobile-only rates for short lead times."

"It's been gratifying to see just how well our audience has been responding to the different messages we've been putting out through the direct channel. OTAs are really not playing a big role for us right now. We've seen Booking.com fall away as a significant player for us in recent months."

OTAs are really not playing a big role for us right now. We've seen Booking.com fall away as a significant player for us in recent months. (Robert Speirs, Cheval Collection)

It's worth remembering the above in your dealings with OTAs over the coming weeks and months. Chances are, you've been encouraged to provide Booking.com or Expedia with a mobile-only rate in return for higher booking volumes - a tactic that's fine, suggests YOTEL's Joe Pettigrew, as long as you are offering the same on your direct channel. If you can't provide the same rate direct, you should steer clear of giving preferential deals to indirect channels.

If you don't have the ability to offer device-specific rates, you could consider creating a discount code that only displays to mobile traffic. Simply set up a Targeted Message through the Triptease Platform and make sure you have device targeting applied.

Looking for more advice on marketing to new audiences? Join us at the North America-focused Direct Booking Masterclass taking place next week on the 7th, 9th and 11th of December. We'll be joined by speakers like Calvin Anderson, Roy Madhok and Lil Newman - it's not one to miss. You can book your spot here, or get in touch at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Lily McIlwain

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    About Triptease

    Triptease is a SaaS startup building industry-leading software for the hotel industry. The company was co-founded in 2015 by Charlie Osmond, Alasdair Snow and Alexandra Zubko and has offices in London, New York, Barcelona and Singapore. Triptease's most recent funding was led by British Growth Fund alongside Notion Capital and Episode 1.

    The Triptease Platform is built to help hotels take back control of their distribution and increase their direct revenue. The platform identifies a hotel's most valuable guests then works across the entire customer journey - from acquisition to conversion - to make sure they book directly at the hotel.

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