You Can Have My Parents

Account Director, Miles Hospitality
Published 9/29/16
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How to sell the direct booking and still leverage the reach of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)

You want my parents.

Every hotelier would want my parents.

They travel for pleasure… a lot. At least six times each year, often more. They leave in a car from Florida with no return date and are gone for weeks at a time. They drive because they enjoy the flexibility to stay an extra day here, or take a detour to explore something new over there. They are a DMO site’s dream.

They have been to every national park, almost every state, and have regions they love and loyally return to year after year. As I write this, they are spending a week in Maine showing my sister and her family their favorite places… restaurants, attractions, scenic drives…and, importantly, resorts. The same resorts they return to every year, where the staff know them by name. Next year, they want to take me and my family to their favorite places in Texas. Which is pretty much all of it.

My parents are fun people. Their enthusiasm is contagious, making others want to join them on their adventures. They are like travel promotion tumbleweeds, gaining friends along the way as they meander around the U.S. meeting strangers and sharing stories of the best places to visit. Often agreeing to join their new travel-loving companions in a few months to relive and share their good times in their favorite places.

They are Baby Boomers. My parents don’t post reviews online, or share travel photos on social media. But they do spread the word about travel experiences the old-fashioned way: Word of mouth. So you don’t have to be concerned about being blackmailed with the threat of a bad online review.  

They are the ideal hotel guest. They come with out-of-room spend in their wallets; they’ve never trashed a hotel room, stolen a towel, or disputed a mini bar charge. Please them, and you have a customer for generations. Disappoint, and they will blow on down the road to your competitor.

Hoteliers are salivating right now. And I haven’t even told you about my aunts and uncles.

How do you get this coveted demographic of multigenerational travelers with the freedom to travel year-round without giving up 20-30% to an OTA?

It’s simple. 

First, I mentioned they plan their stays on the road. It goes without saying that its essential to have a website that is adaptive, with a well-designed user experience across tablet and mobile devices. The M Moment passed a long time ago. More than half of hotel reservations are now made via mobile device.  

Every OTA has a seamless mobile reservation experience.  

To be competitive, it is critical that your site does as well. It cannot be understated how many dollars – which would have been booked direct – are given up to an OTA simply because it was too cumbersome to book on a mobile device through the resort’s website.

Second, tell them what you can do for them that the OTA can’t.  Then deliver on that promise.

What can you offer travelers that the online booking agencies can’t?  

The best answer to this is obviously a Best Rate Guarantee. But, accepting that that is not always possible based on your OTA agreements, determine what you can offer to all Direct Bookers:

     Best Rate on a direct booking package

     Free breakfast buffet 

     F&B credit

     Discount on tickets to a coveted area attraction

     Room upgrade based on availability

     Access to concierge suite

     Exclusive access to an amenity between certain hours   

Be creative here. There must be something you can extend to make it more attractive to book with you than through a disconnected third party. Find that something and advertise it, everywhere. Lead with it on your website, include it in all online and offline ads, in your email and social campaigns. Make it your mantra, your tagline, train your reservations agents to mention it. 

So that anytime your property is being considered, the value of booking directly is top of mind.  

OTAs can’t do this.

What all OTAs have in common is that they can only promise one thing… the best price on a hotel.

Not on your hotel…on a hotel.

That’s it. That’s all they’ve got to sell. Low rates. Everything else is yours to promise.

OTAs can’t offer ease of check-in, room upgrades or ocean views, late checkout, a bottle of wine waiting in the room.

OTAs give you broad reach. Use that to your advantage. Potential guests may get their first introduction to your resort through a city-wide search. But chances are, before they book through an online travel agency, they are going to want to learn more about your resort. That is where you have the advantage!

Seize it. Make sure that any time your property is investigated, potential guests are undeniably confronted with the message “THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD BOOK DIRECTLY WITH US”.

Concerned it will create complaints on-property when guests who didn’t book direct are denied the same treatment? Even better! Call it a loyalty program and train your staff to explain to that OTA booker how they, too, can book direct next time and be welcomed in to an exclusive loyalty club to enjoy the same benefits.  

Understand that people who book through OTAs aren’t loyal to your property.  

They were searching for the best rate.  

So rather than treating all guests equally, reward your most loyal – and valuable - customers.  

The hotel clerk who is savvy enough to discover my parents return to Texas every year and stay two weeks (you don’t even have to ask, just talk to her, my Mom will tell you)? That front desk agent would be wise to toss them a complimentary breakfast, or extend the offer to upgrade them to a larger room when they bring their grandkids back next year. An OTA can’t do this.

Let the OTAs have the low rate shoppers. You want my parents.

Do these things and you can have them. But only for a week.  

And for Heaven’s sake, please, don’t serve them bad coffee because everyone’s going to hear about it. Literally. In a phone call.

Camron will ask her parents what they look for in a resort, when they return from vacation. She is willing to bet their feedback is going to surprise you! Until then, for more great research-based insights into multigenerational travel marketing, download The State of the American Traveler – Generations Edition 2016.