An important goal for both large hotel chains and smaller, individual hotels, is to encourage guests to book directly through their websites. Whilst advertising on 3rd party booking websites like Booking.com, Hotels.com and other Online Travel Agents (OTAs) is an excellent way of maximising the occupancy of your accommodation, direct bookings could help you:
- Cut the commission you pay to OTAs and on channel management
- Build a base of loyal customers
- Enhance your brand’s image
Therefore, hotels should aim for their official experience to eclipse, or at least compare favourably to, the 3rd party booking experience.
Remember, many visitors will come to your website to get a better feel for your hotel, and also possibly to find out if you are offering the same price on your website as the booking agent is offering. This is a great opportunity for you to secure direct bookings through your site, and so your homepage and website as a whole needs to be geared towards conversion.
1. Keep Your Homepage as Simple as Possible with a Clear Call to Action
If you could get visitors to do one thing from your homepage, what would this be? As you are hoping to encourage direct bookings, you need to include a prominent availability or reservation box. By keeping the rest of the page simple, you will further draw the user’s attention to the calls to action. You may also want to include a short but enticing introduction to your hotel. Take a look at the Four Seasons Paris’ homepage below, as an example:
2. Include a Booking Phone Number in Prominent Positions on Your Website
One advantage of a guest booking directly through a hotel website is that they receive a more personalised service. For example, they can call and ask for a specific room, or enquire about special rates or discounts. Make sure your potential guests can contact you easily by including your number on the homepage, but also on other pages. You should even place it on your booking screen, just in case your guest gets to the booking stage and suddenly realises that they would prefer to call!
3. Promote Your USPs
A user browsing your site is a great opportunity for you to get across why your hotel is special. You can draw attention to the sort of things that the booking websites cannot. Montagu Place is a boutique hotel in London, and their homepage makes sure to get across how “different” they are, with their unusual room types and quirky approach:
They also include a strong promise on their homepage, further persuading the visitor to book with them “…Montagu Place is cosy, intimate, and provides exceptional levels of quality and service – making it one of the finest London boutique hotels around”.
4. Use High-Quality Enticing Images
As you can see from the examples above, it is good practice for a hotel website to use high quality, high resolution images that are evocative of your brand, and give the potential guest a sense of what your hotel is like. Potential guests want to know what they are going to get if they book with you – so include pictures of the exterior of the hotel, the communal areas, the bedrooms, or anything else that will allow them to get a feel for what you are offering. For instance, the images the Four Seasons use on all of their websites demonstrates the exceptional, 5 star quality of their brand.
5. Include Trust Signals
Here are some of the main trust signals that it is important to include on your website. They could feature on the homepage as well as the booking page to reaffirm trust in the user, encouraging them to follow through with their reservation:
- Integration of reviews, certificates of excellence/star ratings
- Official site/best price guarantees
6. Make the Booking Process as Easy as Possible
This may seem obvious, but if your booking process is not as quick and easy as the 3rd party websites, then your guests are going to go back to them rather than book direct with you. Ensure that your booking page is on a secure URL, only take details from your guests that are absolutely essential to the reservation process, and don’t force them to create an account before booking.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Persuasive
During the booking process, look for ways of providing simple persuasive nudges to encourage the user to complete their booking. If you have no booking or credit card fee, highlight this! This persuasive approach is illustrated perfectly by Booking.com, and though you might not want to implement this as heavily as they do, it is definitely worth trying to elicit an emotional response from the user during booking. For example, you might gently hint that they are going to miss out on this fantastic offer unless they make their booking RIGHT NOW. You could also include these kinds of messages at the room selection stage.
8. Draw Attention to Special Offers
Special offers are another great way to get direct bookings on your website, especially if you are offering something unique that the user cannot find elsewhere. Special offers could be included as a top level category in your main navigation. Or better still, on your homepage in the form of an eye-catching banner or button.
So that sums up a range of user experience and design tips that will help to drive bookings through your hotel’s website. Some of these tips are pretty relevant for other kinds of booking website – and websites generally – in particular ensuring that your homepage has a clear call to action, and that you utilise relevant trust signals throughout your website.