How To Increase Direct Bookings For Your Hotel

Let’s travel back in time… back to before there was internet access literally everywhere. When it came to making bigger purchases, you often needed a third-party to make it happen. Whether it was a product, service, or experience, you either couldn’t go directly to the creator or manufacturer or it was too complicated to work with them. A third-party vendor, the middleman, was often the easier, more convenient way to get things done.

Jumping back to the present, we know the internet transformed many businesses into self-service models for consumers. Every business has their own website, making it easy to get what we need from them directly. A quick google search lets us find the best option for what we need in a pretty personalized manner. Who doesn’t appreciate these benefits?

However, one particular third-party category adapted to appeal to the internet-savvy customer - the online travel agency (OTA). At the height of their popularity, brick-and-mortar travel agencies were one-stop shops for travelers who needed to book flight reservations, hotel stays, car rentals, and other out-of-town services. The travel agents worked in-person with their clients, got to know them, and provided them with VIP service by offering travel options based on their preferences. Travel agents were especially appreciated when their clients weren’t familiar with the hotels and other services available in their destination cities.

image of a computer screen with the ThinkReservations calendar with article title text overlay: How To Increase Direct Bookings For Your Hotel or Inn

The internet changed the travel agency service model by providing consumers with the ability to see photos and read descriptions of the lodging opportunities along with the ability to book their reservations themselves. In the comfort of their homes. While wearing leggings. To adjust to this new normal of do-it-yourself online booking, OTAs debuted. Through OTAs, travelers have access to hundreds of hotels, flight reservations, and other travel necessities. Consumers can see photos and read reviews from properties in their destination city, decide on the one they prefer, and book their stay online through the OTA.

However, there’s a downside to hoteliers participating with OTAs on these group sites - the dreaded commission. The commission fees associated with OTA partnerships can be up to 30% per booking for hotel owners, which can be especially detrimental to small, independent hoteliers who don’t have a franchise to lean on. And some OTAs require annual membership fees from their partner hotels to appear on their OTA sites rather than (or in addition to) commissions paid to the OTA for selling the rooms.

Regardless of the fee structure, some other OTA-related concerns we often hear from property owners are the lenient cancellation policies, the lack of detailed information about guests, and the challenges with guest communication. There has to be another way!

When you offer online hotel booking directly on your website, you not only make the process of booking more convenient for your guests, but you also reap the benefits. These direct bookings mean you can accept reservations automatically without paying a commission fee to an online travel agency (OTA), like or Expedia. Ultimately, with secure hotel booking on your website, you can generate more bookings while increasing the amount of revenue earned per reservation.

Keep in mind we’re talking about a booking engine that shares real-time pricing and availability and results in a confirmed booking. This isn’t a reservation request, where they simply submit what they prefer and then wait for you to get back to them. Those days are over. Guests want immediate results and a confirmed reservation or they’ll just go somewhere else.

That being said, there are some features you want to look for when evaluating your booking engine options because, of course, they’re not all created equal!

Benefits of Direct Bookings

Besides saving commission and membership fees, there are additional benefits to the hotel when guests book directly. Whether they’re using your online booking engine or calling to speak with a member of your staff, we know you’ll see why it’s smart to encourage booking direct.

a set of graphics depicting a couple sitting at a table under an umbrella, a bottle of wine with a champagne glass, a bouquet of flowers, and a woman receiving a spa treatment with the quote: When guests book direct, you have the perfect opportunity to offer them additional items and services, which equal more revenue.

For starters, you’re able to make sure you receive all the information you need to provide your signature personalized hospitality experience. Being able to ask guests about special accommodations, dietary requirements, arrival time, and reason for their stay can help you tailor their stay.

Another benefit of having guests book directly is the opportunity to upsell. We’ll preface this by saying that upselling provides value to your bottom line AND your guests. You’re making it easier for them to have the perfect stay. Mention your spa services or your popular romance package during the reservation process, and you’ll see your average reservation value skyrocket. And since you have complete control over communicating with your guests, you can offer additional services in your pre-arrival messages, too.

Speaking of communication, you’ll receive your guests email address and phone number making it easy for you to reach them if needed. You’ll be able to ask them how they prefer to communicate and make sure you’re meeting their needs. Plus you’ll have the ability to add them to your marketing email list (with permission, of course), so you can stay in touch with them into the future.

With the Covid pandemic all but shutting down the travel and hospitality industries in 2020, small, independent hoteliers are looking for ways to get more direct bookings from guests. Let’s explore how to increase direct bookings for hotels, motels, B&Bs, and other lodging.

Make It Easy to Book With You

  • Integrate an online-booking software. Take advantage of your website traffic with a mobile-friendly online booking engine. Have clear call-to-action buttons throughout your site, so your potential guests are never left wondering what to do next. We like “Check Availability” for its high conversion rate, but feel free to experiment and see what works best for you. And once they’re on your booking engine, make sure it’s user-friendly so they can reserve a room in as few clicks as possible.

  • Incorporate booking with your social media accounts. You’re already regularly sharing with your audience how incredible your property is. You feature happy guests, stunning breakfast photos, and tourist highlights. Right?? Make sure to add a link leading to your booking engine on all your social media accounts where applicable.

  • Answer the phone with a live person. While we know the majority of travelers today prefer to book online, there are still those people that like to have a conversation. Maybe they’re not as tech savvy, or they’ve stayed with you before and want to make sure you’ve got all their info on file. Perhaps they have a question they can’t find an answer to on your website (if that’s the case, make sure to take note of it and add it to your site in the future!) If you can’t always answer the phone, make sure you have a detailed voicemail message directing people to your website to book. In our experience, if a potential guest can’t reach a live person they will move on to the next property.

a woman behind a hotel front desk on the phone with quote to the left: Sometimes a direct booking comes through over the phone. While it's more common for people to book online, there will probably always be those that prefer to call. Be prepared with a team of well-trained hospitality professionals.
  • Offer unique book-direct specials. Think about ways to make the decision to book direct a no-brainer. There’s a misconception that booking through an OTA will be cheaper, but we know smart property owners make sure to never sell an OTA booking for less than your book direct rate. And, if you’re following the rules outlined in your OTA agreements, you know you really should be charging the same room rate across channels. However, you can offer special deals, packages, and upsells only available through your website.

    The one thing we will say here is that you should never penalize a guest for booking through an OTA. That will likely lead to a poor experience for the guest and possibly for you. So, feel free to gently educate travelers on the benefits of booking direct, but don’t make them feel bad or treat them differently.

Update Your Website

Websites have come a long way, so make sure yours isn’t stuck in the past. If your hotel website looks the same as it did when you first started your business (and your business is more than a few years old), it’s time for a redesign.

  • Make sure your website is optimized. An optimized website will load quickly, enabling your quests to see all those professional photos of your rooms and amenities without a wait. Slow sites that don’t prioritize mobile are frustrating for guests. And forget about not having the ability to find answers to common questions or that online booking option. If they don’t already have loyalty to your business, they will be on to your competitor’s site in no time.

  • Add new photos. Speaking of professional photos, have your rooms been updated? Have you added a gorgeous new wine bar? How about the butterfly garden in spring? Bright, clear photos speak for themselves. Guests need to be able to imagine being at your property and if you are expecting that to happen with pixelated thumbnail-sized images from 8 years ago, think again. While professional photography is an investment, we think it’s one that will pay for itself pretty quickly.

    Be honest with yourself (or ask your best friend for some tough love). If your pictures need a serious redo, but you need to wait on hiring a pro, your smartphone can get you through the interim. Google is full of articles and YouTube videos that can guide you.

image of a computer on a desk appearing to have a website design company site on screen with text to the right: If your hotel website looks the same as it did when you first started your business (and your business is more than a few years old), it’s time for a redesign.
  • Update your information. If your pool is closed for repairs or your free, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is on hiatus, let your guests know in advance. It’s much better for your guests to know in advance rather than pack their bathing suits, only to be disappointed when they arrive. They might not complain to your desk clerk, but they probably will voice their displeasure on social media or in their Tripadvisor, which is far-reaching and more permanent.

    The same is true for updates that add value! If you’ve extended your dining options, renovated your guest bathrooms, or started offering free transportation from the airport, make sure you’re letting people know!

Be Easy to Find in Real Life

Direct bookings don’t occur only online or over the phone. You can get more direct bookings at your front desk, too. However, those walk-in bookings can’t take place at the desk if your patrons can’t locate your driveway or parking lot entrance. You might have navigated your hotel’s entrance a million times, but your visitors are probably arriving for the first time. Make your entrance easy to find.

  • Is there anything obstructing your entrance, either permanently (a tree or unrelated signage, maybe) or temporarily (road construction or a confusing detour)? If so, add an attention-grabbing, logoed banner flag at your driveway entrance so guests don’t miss their turn.

  • Speak to your local alderman or transportation department official and ask if some road signage can be added to assist your business. Keeping your guests happy is especially important to municipalities that rely on visitor and entertainment taxes, so play that card if you need to.

  • What message does your entrance sign convey? Your signage might be the first thing that a road-weary traveler sees. It makes your hotel’s first impression. If your signage is worn and shabby, what could that be saying about your rooms and service?

image of a hotel balcony with large lighted letters spelling out HOTEL with text below: Direct bookings don't always in advance. Make sure your property is easy to find for those guests looking to stop by, as well as those visiting for the first time.

Our suggestion, as with your photography, is to ask an honest friend or staff member to tell you the cold hard truth. It can be hard to see things through the eyes of someone that hasn’t been to your area hundreds of times before. Make sure the path to get to you is giving off a welcoming vibe.

Monitor Social Media

You know you should be actively posting on social media, but are you also aware of what others might be posting about your business? Your customers are likely posting real-time updates about their vacations for friends and family to see. Influencers might be blogging or live streaming from your lobby as you check them in.

Monitor social media for mentions of your hotel and respond appropriately. If a guest posts a photo of your room on Instagram and mentions that they love it, be sure to thank them in your response. On the other hand, if they post a photo on Facebook stating their room wasn’t made up upon their arrival, you’ll be able to address that in the best way possible. Social media followers might not recall how a less-than-ideal situation began but they will remember how you responded to it and made it right.

All that being said, there’s always room for more social proof. Encourage guests to share photos and stories about their stay and tag you. A happy guest’s word of mouth is your best marketing channel!

image of a woman sitting in a chair with her laptop, with graphics of social media icons floating next to her with text above: There's always room for more social proof - what your guests are saying about you out in the real world. Encourage them to leave reviews, tag you on social media, and share their experience with friends.

Improve Your Guests’ Experiences

Don’t simply read your guests’ reviews but act upon them, as well. For example, it’s one thing for the morning desk clerk to listen to the complaints of an out-going guest. After all, the unhappy customer is leaving town, and the clerk has a dozen more things to do that morning, so all will be forgotten shortly, right?

It was a rhetorical question, of course. We all know an unhappy customer will share their story of a bad experience with up to 15 more people. If your guests are repeatedly frustrated with an element of their stay, that situation needs to be remedied, whether your establishment gets called out on social media or not. It’s just good customer service.

Give your guests plenty of options to communicate their opinions with you.

  • Send your customers an email requesting feedback of their stay.

  • Include a hand-written note on your motel’s receipt asking for a review.

  • Have postage-paid postcards available at the front desk and in guest rooms.

To get more direct bookings, never underestimate the importance of customer service. Everyone likes to feel special and there are plenty of ways to treat your guests like VIPs. Research what makes your motel or hotel unique and customize that experience to your guests because that’s what sets you apart. OTAs might be fast and efficient but your personalized VIP service is not something that an OTA can provide.

How Can ThinkReservations Help?

Our team of hospitality professionals understands the delicate balance between hoping all of your rooms fill up with direct reservations and the reality that you might need some help from an OTA on occasion. We have an all-in-one property management system that includes a mobile-friendly booking engine that guides your guests through a clean, simple reservation process. You can easily share all the information they need to book the perfect stay right there, so once they make it to your booking engine, they have no reason to leave.

And if you do want to work with the OTAs, we’ve got you covered. Our fully integrated two-way channel manager gives you peace of mind knowing all of your availability and pricing is accurate in real-time, so you never need to worry about double-bookings or outdated rates. We even have tons of tips and tricks for maximizing your OTA relationships we’d love to share with you!

Give us a call today at 877-736-4195, ext. 1 or schedule your free demo. We can’t wait to talk with you!

We look forward to helping you discover new ways to grow your business!

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