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 around, 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. 

Engagement can convert to revenue

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 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 to 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:

A little sneak-peak into THN’s features

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. 

These pop-ups can earn you more revenue

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 travellers 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. 

Earn extra revenue by upselling

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 directly to users who were about to abandon the website, grabbing the attention of visitors and keeping them in the booking funnel. 

Welcome layer on the hotel website

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 directly 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 tend to be more active.

GuestJoy’s upsell email engagement

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. 

It’s better to ask for direct feedback

But interestingly enough rating averages were consistent between two groups:

Avg rating does not differ

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. 

The idea of the Worst Hotel ever struck us when we were brainstorming about how to better show our customers how they get the most out of their upselling and guest communication. So we invented The Worst Hotel, to illustrate how can these be done the worst, with all the possible mistakes, so you can learn from other hotel’s mistakes.

The Worst is a three-star hotel, but they surely don’t deserve any of that. When you booked, you did not receive any information. On the website there is something about a restaurant and in-room massages, which you’d love to buy, but no information about how to purchase it.

There are cockroaches in the room, hair in the sink and the glass in your bathroom has lipstick stains.

If you’d like to have breakfast, it costs extra, but there are no vegan options (OMG) and the coffee tastes like at a gas station. But when you go down to the reception to complain about all this, you find it empty. After ringing the bell, a rude and grumpy staff member will show up, claiming nothing that you have experienced is The Worst’s fault.

So what could this hotel do better? Besides the obvious things, like hiring a cleaning lady, and a competent receptionist they could also start upselling and communicating with the guest properly. Let’s start with the first form of guest communication, the pre-stay email. The Worst hotel decided to do the following:

what NOT to do when communicating with hotel guests

The first thing you probably notice is that it’s a big block of text in tiny letters. It’s 2020, people do not read anymore. Especially not these emails. The Worst Hotel should only include the most important information in the email trying to keep it as short as possible.

What else is bad?

1.) Too much contact information, the guests can anyways reach you because they probably received a booking confirmation, or by answering to this email, or you could have a cool footer where you include your reception phone number and an email address.

2.) Your guests are most definitely already knowledgeable about this because when they decided to book your hotel these weighed in their options.

3.) This is a perfect example upselling done wrong. Instead of having a separate ”site’ where you explain your services in detail with the exact price and some pictures, The Worst just decided to drop this bit of info. Probably nobody will be enticed to buy the massages if they are marketed like this.

Keep it short, your guests only want to recieve a warm welcome with the necessary information and not War & Peace

4.) All the information here could easily be put on the website, only certain guests need to know this and they will ask. Secondly, maybe don’t patronize your guests and assume they don’t know how to behave.

5.) This is information the guest does not need to know pre-arrival and even if they are interested in, they can search for it very easily on their smartphone. This takes up a lot of space and makes the letter longer than necessary.

6.) Upselling! this all could be on the Worst’s upselling page as an offer. The information would look better in the booking confirmation mail.

7.) It’s obvious, everyone always has an ID on them, because we all legally obliged to.

Now, how about the Worst’s upselling?

You receive a letter that shows some offers like this:

Do these seem appealing to you?

Not too shabby, you think. There is a restaurant and a beverage room service. However, there is no link to the restaurant’s website, nor any explanation on what they serve. You just see a plain photo of the actual place, not the food that you will be getting. How disappointing…

Because you are travelling with your partner the champagne delivered to your room seems interesting, it would be such a nice surprise for them, but it’s so plain… could the hotel also add some bonbons? Or maybe a small cake?

Umm… they look the same for me, and probably for your guests too

It would be so nice to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel! How much will it be? Nobody knows and just to see an estimate would make you feel a lot better about ordering it.

Also, there are two taxi offers, which one to take? Oh, yeah, they are for different number of people. Why have two offers though when you can just have one, and set the price to increase by the number of people? Or select different type of cars?

Hotel guests are people, and people dont read anymore

A Sauna offer, wonderful! It’s a great option to relax, as the advertisers at the Worst have said it about 3-4 times in the above text. It also tells you a lot of extra information that you already know – therefore, it’s useless and takes up a lot of space. If you had the energy and time to actually read this offer you would learn such obvious pieces of information as there are chairs to relax at the sauna area, and that it is open during normal hours (who goes to the sauna at 4 a.m? maybe some crazy Estonians). But it’s 2020, and nobody really reads these long texts anymore.

Include information that makes the offer seem valuable and is needed for booking.

While the last offer does not actually require the guests to pay The Worst did not lose much due to the sloppy advertisement, however, with a spa option for payment, it could have been a dealbreaker for some.

What should The Worst do?

Some key takeaways for them would be to think about when is the information needed and when is it unnecessary. Overloading guests with text will just encourage them to skip reading it, and even missing the crucial bits.

What to do when information is needed?
Consider when is it appropriate to present it to your guests and in what format. Do they need to know it months/weeks before their arrival? Or is it enough to tell them a couple of days before? Then think about the format: should it be in an email (booking confirmation or pre-stay)? Or is it better if its simply on your website and those who are interested in it can look for it?

We live in a world where we are overloaded with information at such a fast pace that it is getting harder to process it all. Sticking to just the essentials is key here.

If you need tips on how to communicate with your guests better, read some of our articles:
Common mistakes with upselling
Ultimate and Revolutionary upselling tricks
How to communicate with Booking.com emails

You can’t avoid OTAs if you are a hotelier and would like to maximize the potential of your property, and as you probably figured some of them do not provide you with the real email of the guest. This is not a big deal anymore, Booking.com changed to masked emails in 2015.

However, a lot of hoteliers are still confused about whether these emails function properly and whether they can target customers with personalized offers if the customer has a masked email.

What is a masked email and why is it masked?

A masked email is a combination of the Guest’s first and last name, ending with @guest.booking.com.
It is masked for a variety of reasons, the first one being security. Masked emails are safer, they do not allow third-party misconduct or spam and viruses to reach the guest. Booking.com stores all guest communication and hotels can access it in very serious (legal) situations, but only if it is really unavoidable.

Can GuestJoy communicate with these email addresses?

Yes! While they do not allow you to see the guest’s real email, they are totally functioning. You will be able to contact your guests for up to 2 months via their masked email.

Why is it important that you use masked emails?

OTA’s are a significant part of your reservations, some hotels get up to 60% of their guests from them. Given that we can reach your guests via masked emails there is no need to exclude Booking.com or Expedia guests from the upselling and rating of your property.
Of course, we would rather have guests book directly, but it is not always possible. Make sure you reach the OTA customers too and target them with specific offers and services to increase your revenue. Furthermore, with a discount code in your post-stay email, you can encourage them to return to your hotel and have them book directly on your website or join your loyalty programme!

What to do if you are a small property and you ONLY have Booking.com emails?

For properties that have fewer than 20-30 rooms, we have an app in BookingSuite with a 30-day free trial. Given that we are fully integrated with BookingSuite the setup is quick and easy and you can launch yourself within 30 minutes.
Don’t worry, if you get stuck we provide free online support in 10 different languages.

What to do when you would like to have the real email address of a guest?

The only thing you can do here is to ask the guest either personally at the reception, or via an email (remember, booking.com ones are valid for 2 months) to provide you with their real email. You can ask them to sign up for your newsletter or offer a direct booking discount. If they do not consent personally to this, unfortunately, there is nothing much you can do about it.