On the dating site Tinder, you have mere seconds to catch someone’s attention. Appearance matters most, so users strive to show off their very best photo. Swipe right for yes; swipe left for no. It’s as simple as that.
‘The Billboard Effect” — or the visibility a hotel gains from its placement on myriad online channels — is not much more complicated. Smart hoteliers know to put forward their best appearance to attract the most travelers, but understand the relationship is always risky and will most likely be complicated.
According to a 2017 report titled “The Billboard Effect: Still Alive and Well,” 65% of consumers who booked directly with brand.com first visited an intermediary site prior to purchase. In addition, Google found that over half of all travelers will visit a hotel’s website after seeing it on an OTA.
As in most cases, the more shelves your product is on the better, and hotels must leverage this visibility. But there are several steps hoteliers can take to keep travelers shopping on OTAs but booking on brand.com. Start by improving your booking experience through better engagement and personalization.
- Treat OTAs like dating sites. Match.com connects people with one another just like OTAs connect customers with hotels. As such, a hotel’s OTA profiles must be consistent and attractive. Don’t save your best images and content just for your website. Use them on OTAs as well.
- Engage visitors on your website. In a perfect world, every visitor to a hotel’s website would convert to a booking. But this isn’t a perfect world and if a visitor comes to a hotel’s website and leaves before taking action, the hotel has wasted a very valuable opportunity. To boost visitor engagement, hotels must offer interesting and relevant content. This can be done through a blog, videos, photos or through discounts offered by way of partnerships with local businesses. “The more time a guest spends on your website, the more familiar they become with your brand and the likelihood of a booking increases,” according to an article on SiteMinder.
- Retarget non-converting visitors. If a visitor does leave before booking, hotels can remarket or retarget with tailored offers and promotions according to the personal preferences of the visitor across sites like Facebook or Google.
- Optimize your site. Nothing will turn a potential guest back to an OTA faster than a bad user experience. It’s also important for guests to easily rediscover your website if they want to visit again, so invest in SEO. “Your site needs to be aesthetically pleasing with high quality images and clear font, load quickly, and be functional on all devices; especially mobile,” says SiteMinder.
- Reward loyal and direct bookers. Rate parity prevents hotels from undercutting your publicly available rate, but hotels can offer perks, like free breakfast, to direct or loyal bookers. In fact, many large hotel brands are offering lower nightly rates and other perks to loyalty members who book directly through their sites.
Because OTAs have the financial muscle to invest 30-40% of their revenues on marketing budgets, they dominate search related marketing channels, like Google AdWords. This gives them wide visibility. But hotels can and should make the most of this.