Direct Booking Summit interview

WebHotelier had the chance to interview Charlie Osmond, from Triptease, the organizers behind the Direct Booking Summit. The industry is coming together for the definitive discussion of this year’s hot topic: direct bookings. Here is what he had to say.

Why are you calling 2016 the year of direct?

Every editor, hotelier and consultant I speak to is raving about direct. And it’s not just talk. You only have to skim through Tnooz or Skift to see how often direct bookings are in the headlines - it’s a lot. Marriott upgraded its #itpaystobookdirect campaign with Marriott Rewards Member Rates, Hilton launched its epic Stop Clicking Around ad campaign whilst Hyatt, Choice and Wyndham have all introduced similar incentives in the name of direct booking.

When you look at the reality, frankly I think it would be mad to not call 2016 the year of direct.

Why are you hosting a Summit?

This event is not just a conference, but rather a call-to-arms. We all know the big hotel groups are taking action, but what about the rest of the industry? How should they be working to increase direct bookings? What’s working and what’s not?

Our goal is to build momentum for the shift to direct. To facilitate a conversation between hoteliers and to share best practice. This will help hotels improve guest experience and increase direct bookings as a result.

We’re proud to say that the Direct Booking Summit is the very first of its kind and it’s sure to be a place where like-minded hoteliers can come together and work out how to better their businesses.

Who is coming?

We started our planning by getting top class speakers. We have Google’s Hotel Ads Business Leader Satyan Joshi, TripAdvisor’s Senior Sales Director Adrian Hands and Skyscanner’s Director of Hotels. Lennert de Jong from CitizenM and Kempinksi’s Riko van Santen will be talking specifics about how to boost direct bookings.

As for our audience, we can guarantee a crowd of top delegates from the likes of IHG, Four Seasons, Pestana and Accor, as well as execs from Apex, the Ritz London and Hilton - the interest has been overwhelming and we’re really pleased so many hospitality folk want to join our mission.

How do you think the OTAs will react?

This is not an anti-OTA conference. OTAs deliver tremendous value to consumers. We love OTAs when they are delivering incremental revenue to hotels. But there are clear dangers in over-reliance on the OTA channel and many hoteliers talk of undue pressure from some players. Healthy levels of direct bookings are essential to ensure fair play and they also offer the ability to deliver improved guest experiences. We’re here to help hotels worldwide increase their profitability and improve their relationships with guests.

I hope OTAs don’t see this in any way hostile and respect hoteliers for proactively readdressing the distribution balance. However, as we’ve seen before it’s hard to know what will happen next in this ever evolving chess game.

Are hotels being punished?

We have seen evidence of hotels being punished or threatened for their efforts to increase direct bookings. There is cause for concern. The retaliation is understandable as the OTAs know, all things being equal, consumers prefer to book direct. If hotels can improve their online experience, they will get more direct bookers.

We’ve witnessed OTA-dimming (where a property has imagery and other assets removed from the OTa search results). This is harming the OTAs booking experience and is unsustainable as more groups and independents make an effort to drive direct.

Will direct booking discounts work?

I believe they already are working in hotels’ favour yes. As we’ve seen, particularly over the last few months, big brands are offering discounted rates for guests who book direct. You only have to look at Hilton’s Stop Clicking Around ad campaign to see the results. Launching in February, it’s just under 4 months into its campaign and Hilton’s loyalty programme Hilton HHonors has seen nearly a 90% increase in enrollments. This huge growth in membership is clearly thanks to its broadcast as guests know that they can get the best rates by booking direct.

Generally, the public think that the cheapest rates are through OTAs, but with hotels shouting about their discounted rates, we’ll be seeing a definite shift in how people book online. This is not going to be an overnight change. For some hotels the reduction in OTA-bookings may outweigh the increase in direct in the short term, but two years from now, I think the consumer misperception will have been addressed and hotels will be reaping the rewards.

What is your advice to small hotels that want more direct bookings?

Clearly I’d start by saying ‘come to the Direct booking Summit’ so that you can hear what’s working for other hoteliers. For example, we just blogged about our interview with Daniel Wishnia, GCH Hotel Group’s Director of Digital Promotion and e-Commerce, who gave us a few tips on what small hotels could do. Unlike the big guns, it’s definitely more difficult when you don’t have a big budget to splash on a PR stunt or worldwide ad campaign, but there’s certainly still tweaks that can be made that will inevitably help drive more direct bookings.

If you’re a small hotel group and you haven’t yet gone digital - quite simply go digital. Start by setting up your stand-alone website(s) for each hotel, then ensure that you’ve made this responsive to any tech tool including mobile and smart TV. Your website is not efficient at all unless it’s well exposed so really think about SEO and pushing your profile further up search engine rankings so it’s the very first thing a user sees. Functionality is also key and one of Daniel’s valuable quotes was “You need to understand the customer journey”.

The main aim is to create a competitive website so, above all else, ensure it’s visually attractive, easy to navigate and incorporates clear messaging, pricing and of course a bold booking platform. In effect, you need to think like a customer and always consider how to make the booking process as simple and easy as possible. Search online for more ideas on how to do this or operate some user testing.