‘Direct bookers are better in bed:’ hotels huddle at the Direct Booking Summit

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I recently took the stage with a panel of hoteliers (and one hotelier-turned-vendor) to discuss direct booking strategies for hotels. The panel kicked off a two-day event hosted by Triptease called the Direct Booking Summit. The tongue-in-cheek event had a slogan that ‘direct bookers are better in bed,’ and the focus on direct booking brought together a variety of different people — with one notable exception: OTAs. By creating a safe space for discussing the relationships hotels have with their various channel partners, the Triptease organizers hoped for a frank and candid discussion.

And that’s indeed what happened. There were plenty of moments where hoteliers brought strong knowledge to stage, and didn’t hesitate to share with their fellow attendees. I’m kind of a conference geek: I enjoy learning and listening to the topics that bring a community together to discuss. Exploring these topics offer a view into a particular segment of the industry, shedding light on daily challenges that might not always be apparent to those outside of the day-to-day operations.

Here are three key trends that were constant refrains throughout the direct booking strategies panel, as well as in discussions I had over the two days.

Evolution of wholesale

Channel management is a challenge for all hoteliers. It’s not always straightforward to ensure rate parity, especially when certain rates can be distributed to retail partners through wholesalers. This is an issue recently raised by Priceline’s Glenn Fogel at the TravelDaily conference in Shanghai, and it was emphasized throughout the summit.

One of my panelists, Derek Brewster, is the Director of Revenue Management at Lotte New York Palace. He called this constant effort as “a whack-a-mole situation.” With the proliferation of sales channels, Brewster said, “we need to consider how we drive wholesale business into the hotel. It’s causing a lot of parity issues.”

The consensus seems to be a rigorous accounting of all rates on a regular basis. While it’s never going to be perfect, paying attention to the numbers every day is the most effective way to catch any inconsistencies. After all, you can’t address what you don’t measure. So if rate parity violations are not visible, then there’s no way to correct them. It’s not necessarily about calling out any bad actors; rather, it’s about ensuring that the many connected systems are working as they should — and that your hotel’s rates are correct on each channel they appear on.

Member pricing

The emergence of member pricing has been a straight show into the bow of the OTA business. The idea is simple and straightforward: loyalty program members enjoy better rates by booking directly with the hotel. It’s a classic win-win. The hotel effectively creates a “new” perk of being a loyalty program member, which ingratiates the guest and encourage program participation, while simultaneously benefiting from eliminating commissions associated with third-party bookings.

Brewster, from the Lotte New York Palace, has invested in an in-house reservations team. This has allowed the hotel to ensure quality service for all direct bookers. This helps balance one of the OTAs strongest value propositions: 24/7 support in multiple languages for their customers. For loyal customers, this also reinforces the hotel’s investment in those who book direct.

It’s not always enough to just promise a better rate to book direct — the guest also wants to be assured that someone is there for them should they need some support.

Stringent criteria for partners

While this might seem obvious to some, this is one of the foundational aspects of good business: vetting potential partners and vendors. It’s a constant issue for all business owners and managers. This becomes especially critical in an ecosystem like a hotel’s, where there are dozens of tech programs that need to play well together. This extends to any vendors providing support, like digital marketing, who must be able to tie into systems quickly and provide rapid insights in a real-time world.

Daniel Tennant, the GM of the Hotel on Rivington, says that “transparency matters.” He continued, sharing an experience that emphasizes the type of educational collaboration that works best for him:

“We looked for a partner that was almost educational in approach. ‘This is what we do, and why.’ There was a lot of noise and cloudiness in digital marketing and they used that to their advantage, saying ‘Leave this with us and we’ll take care of it.’ Given our new approach, it’s hard to get away with that anymore.”

Derek Brewster, from the Lotte New York Palace, sees this transparency as the turning point in his team’s transition to a data-driven, real-time approach:

“For us, it’s about transparency into real-time conversions. You need to make sure that you are aligned with partners, and that they add value. Whether tech or service partners., you need to demand excellence. Don’t accept the status-quo.

Arm yourself with transparency into the analytics and use the tools that are available. Stay relevant, drive things forward, and become an expert in the emerging tools nad trends. We now strive to be knowledgeable in real-time, and not wait for the knowledge to just be delivered to us.”

The Summit heads to Barcelona on October 18 and 19. For those tnooz readers in EMEA, use code MEDIA20 for 20% off your registration.

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