Retailers, online or brick and mortar, have used one technique effectively to increase repeat sales that hotels can learn from. The concept is simple - offer incentives or coupons to existing customers for repeat business. Hotels can use the same technique to gain more direct bookings and make OTAs more of a referral partner like online shopping comparison sites.
This might be an over-generalization and there are obviously differences between retail and hotel industry. We look at some of these below.
Unlike retailers, hotels have a rate parity agreement with OTAs they don't want to violate, but it only covers publicly available rates. Websites like Hotwire offer unpublished rates without making them available online, so a coupon should work the same way and shouldn't be available online and hence doesn't violate parity agreements
An additional complication that hotels have in terms of sending out coupons is to make sure that the coupons cannot be transferred or republished on coupon sites, which then becomes a grey area in terms of it being a publicly available rate. Some delivery options are as follows.
One way is to tie the coupon to a loyalty program so you have to sign in to use the coupon. This makes it easy for the customer to use it since it's stored in a convenient location and no code is necessary.
If you have a mobile app, make sure users register themselves and tie the coupon to that specific instance of the app. The app also makes it easy for the customer to find and use the coupon and can also be built to remind customers of coupon expiry.
Another way is to tie it to the PMS profile at booking, so the coupon is only valid for a profile that already existed in the PMS. Hotels will have to add this feature to their booking engine or redirect coupon users to an engine that supports such a check and sits on top of the regular booking engine.
Retailers send coupons to as many people as they can and don't worry too much about whether the person or someone else used the coupon or if someone published a coupon code online. Hotels, however have to be careful due to rate parity reasons mentioned before. So, how can hotels have go beyond their existing customers and have a broad audience while making sure rate parity clauses are still met? Following are some segments that can be targeted.
Attendees of events at your hotel is one such segment even if they are not staying at your hotel using other touch points with the hotel. It's possible to physically hand out paper coupons to attendees, but is more likely to be lost. If the group has a mobile app or facility, hotels can partner with the group to push the coupons. For groups that don't have a mobile app, hotels can provide them one by partnering with companies like GroupRevMax Mobile App
to provide groups an app they can use for their marketing and hotels can use for coupons as well as future marketing.
Friends and Family
Hotels can also allow people to book for a certain number of their friends and relatives. By limiting the number of people, hotels eliminate the risk of the rate being public, but still broaden the audience by that multiple.
In conclusion, like referral sites work for online retailers, OTAs should ideally be just a referral site for the first time customer. Once a guest has stayed at your hotel, he/she should have an incentive to book your hotel direct on your website and a coupon gives them just that. They could still compare hotels on OTA sites and you might lose him if your compset is better in spite of the coupon, but if they decide to book your hotel, chances are they will book on your website and use the coupon. It's not as good as a direct reservation generated through reputation and digital marketing, but can be still better than paying OTA commissions.
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GroupRevMax allows hotels to convert group attendees to leisure travelers using their mobile app that hotels can provide free to group organizers and can then use as a marketing tool to enhance direct booking and customer loyalty. Click here
to learn more.