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Direct channel is the key to Guest Engagement

Here at GuestJoy, we love facts and evidence-based studies on what is happening in the hospitality industry. That’s why we try to provide our partners with articles that are backed by numbers. 

This time round, we’ve combined our data together with that of The Hotels Network (THN) to see how our tools work for hotels when they are coupled. 

THN’s direct channel growth platform helps hotels to attract, engage and convert guests throughout the user journey, while GuestJoy’s welcome emails and concierge platform inform the guests about the services of the hotel. Therefore, even if they do not order online they are familiar with the offers so they can easily enquire about it personally at the hotel.

Our hypothesis was that customers who book directly are more engaged with hotel messages, compared to those who book via OTAs. Essentially, that direct bookers are more likely to spend money at the hotel than OTA bookers. 

This case study was performed with the cooperation of the North Star Hotel, Dublin. We examined a years’ data – the activity of direct bookers online – including peak and low seasons.

Why should you pay attention to your direct channel?

In today’s digital world, the majority of hotel bookings are being made online. With so many options out there for guests to choose from, competing for customers online is harder than ever. 

Undeniably, a large number of those bookings are driven by the major OTAs, where a hotel is just a listing among many others; often completely watering down the distinct personality and diversity each hotel possesses. 

To overcome this obstacle, hotel brands need to build a strong direct channel. This channel is one of the most important platforms for hotels, as it not only helps to lower acquisition costs and increase ROI, but is also the place where you have free rein to personalise the user experience, convey relevant messages, display your brand personality, and establish meaningful relationships with guests. 

THN tools in action

Travellers booking online have their own interests, wants, and needs. Exposed to constant noise in the online world, users can easily skip by messages they deem irrelevant. With this in mind, North Star Hotel has been partnering with THN since 2018; not only to refine their direct booking experience, but also ensure they deliver the right message to the right people at the right time.

During the past year, North Star Hotel has been proactively working to build a strong direct channel in order to regain the direct relationship with guests. Let’s have a look at some of the most effective initiatives they have implemented:

Price Comparison with Price Match feature on the Booking Engine

The first step to increasing website conversion and guest engagement is to reassure visitors and provide them with a smooth booking experience. By including Price Match on the booking engine, North Star Hotel was not only able to create price transparency by showing they were offering the best available rate compared to OTAs, but also gave users an extra incentive to book by automatically matching rates in the case of price disparities. 

Another tool employed is the Save your search feature. With this function, those users interested in the property would be able to easily save their booking search, and receive a personalised email with the details and a link to return to the website and continue their booking when they were ready to do so. 

Smart Notes – Targeted Messaging

Personalisation is all about showing hyper-relevant content at critical moments to create an engaging user experience. With this in mind, North Star Hotel launched a series of Smart Notes for different types of visitors at various touch-points along the booking journey. 

Using geo-targeting rules, domestic travelers were presented with a Smart Note highlighting their complimentary parking. In parallel, those searching from their phones would be shown a mobile exclusive offer, providing an extra incentive to book right there and then. 

Another clever message was showcased on the restaurant page. Triggered after spending 60 seconds on the page, visitors were urged to make a table reservation with an enticing message displayed as a Smart Note. 

Exit Intent on the Booking Engine

Some visitors may not be convinced that the hotel is the right fit for their stay and opt to abandon their booking, but this may be simply because they didn’t realise everything the hotel has to offer. 

Aiming to retain bookers about to leave their site, North Star Hotel displayed an Exit Intent on their booking engine. This Exit Intent showcased the exclusive benefits of booking direct to users who were about to abandon the website, grabbing the attention of visitors and keeping them in the booking funnel. 

Welcome Layer – Black Friday Offer

At certain times of the year, such as Black Friday, guests expect to find great hotel deals and are actively searching for them. Aware of this fact, North Star Hotel created an exclusive Black Friday campaign: 30% off room rates. 

Drawing attention to the offer right from the moment the visitor landed on the website with a Welcome Layer, the property was able to offer guests what they were looking for. By adding a countdown clock to the message, they successfully created a sense of urgency to help nudge users towards making a booking.

Results 

Working with over 5,000 hotel clients worldwide, THN keeps a close eye on how different visitors react to different messages and tools. After running A/B tests over most of their properties, they have seen an average conversion uplift of 32% when comparing engaged vs unengaged online visitors.

Combining THN and GuestJoy findings, we can say that while the North Star had significantly more OTA guests, those who booked direct were more engaged overall. They opened the GuestJoy concierge page more frequently, spent more money, and submitted more feedback. 

Upsell email engagement

Almost twice as many direct bookers opened the GuestJoy mobile concierge page than OTA bookers, and additionally, they spent more time browsing the offers. About 28% of all OTA bookers opened the concierge while the percentage for direct bookers was nearly 67%. We know that both types of guests usually open the page more than once, but direct tends to be more active.

Orders

Direct bookers were 1.5x more likely to spend more on their stay by ordering something from the GuestJoy concierge. As they spent more time online browsing the hotel’s platform, they were more familiar with what the hotel had to offer, therefore were more inclined to buy those extras.. 

“1.5x more likely to order”

Provide feedback

While we didn’t see a significant difference in the scores given between direct and OTA guests, we did see a large difference in the number of online ratings submitted. 

Direct bookers were more than twice as likely to rate the hotel online via GuestJoy. However, it is important to keep in mind that OTA bookers might not rate the hotel via GuestJoy because they may have already submitted their rating via an OTA survey. 

But interestingly enough rating averages were consistent between two groups:

Conclusion

All in all, we see that guests who book directly do a lot more for a hotel than OTA guests, and of course, direct bookings also means no commission fees to third parties. With the help of GuestJoy, the North Star managed to gather more than a thousand reviews over the course of the year, including detailed written feedback from customers. 

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