How to use online travel agents for YOUR benefit (not theirs)
Over the past few years, online travel agents have become a large player in running a B&B, and why that is, is another conversation.
In this article however, I want to help you to understand how you can make better use of them.
Let’s start with your listing on Booking dot com.:
I took a peek and was disappointed to find that almost everyone looks and sounds the same
First, who is this for? Couples, families, dogs? Be specific and call them out, then sell them on your proposition.
Here’s an example:
“Our enclosed, sunny south-facing garden is perfect for your dog to run and your children to roam, while you hook up on the free wifi and enjoy a glass of something cool under the shade of the large oak tree”
Let’s do the second one:
“Your next intimate getaway to Stratford, beautifully refurbished 4 star rooms and just a short stroll to the town centre for a glass of something bubbly before settling into your seat at the RSC for the show”
Do you see the difference?
Everyone talks about “features” – it’s 10 minutes from X and has a gold star award etc. etc. You need to talk about “benefits” and inspire people to click further with inspiring copy that draws them in and helps them to see themselves staying with you. You’ll have a much better chance of a booking.
Referring to the previous picture, take note of this part:
“Last booked 8 hours ago on our site”
This could be a subtle way to telling people you have a website they can check out – try it and see if it works! This is something interesting I saw on a couple of listings.
Next, let’s click through to a listing:
You could use that data to revise the copy on your website.
For example, if this is your guests’ favourite part of Stratford, again you can use this intel to match that language on your website.
Photography and Images
If you can’t run to a professional photographer (and I encourage you to prioritise this at some point) then your smartphone will take good photos, providing you think about the light and the setting beforehand.
Take pictures on your phone in landscape not portrait, so you don’t get the black lines down the side.
Always have the interior lights on, bedside lights on, to flood the room with as much light as possible when doing it yourself.
This also goes for your website too – good quality images are essential, with or without a professional photographer, and they need to be updated regularly for Google to notice you.
Now let’s go to AirBnB.
Like them or not, Airbnb is a much better platform to showcase yourself, and your personality, as they allow you to add a photo of yourself. This is crucial to build trust and connection with potential guests and Airbnb do this very well.
This is a great example of highlighting the quirkiness of your property so you’re NOT looking and sounding like everyone else.
I just love that horse picture, don’t you?
Your images are paramount again on Airbnb, so make sure you have good quality ones that really do tell a story.
Lead Generation and Repeat Customers
Think of the OTAs as your “lead generation” partner, then you can shift the way you perceive them, from something you resent and even hate, to something you can use. Lead generation in the online world means the practice of attracting a customer for the first time.
Online travel agents can do this very well, because you pay them to do it in the form of the commissions.
However, once that guest has become a customer, it’s now up to you to keep them as a customer, so you’re not constantly paying for the next one and the next one and the next one forever.
Your job then is make sure that you get those guests’ details (name and email address at a very minimum) as soon as you can after the guest has booked. This won’t be easy because the OTAs don’t want you to do this.
They want to keep those precious details for themselves, because they understand the power of owning a database, and so must you.
They’re in the business of making money, no matter how. They have to do this because they have shareholders, who’ve invested money in their business, and want a return on their investments. They’re constantly under pressure to make more and more money, so they’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
So to make more money, they need more bookings, so they’ll want you to reduce your prices, because in their world, reduced prices means more bookings. But that might not be right for you, so be careful.
However, there is a little trick you can use.
Reducing Room Rates – Benefits and Drawbacks
By lowering your room rates via your channel manager by just £1, will alert booking dot com that you have “an offer”, and they’ll promote that offer, albeit for just £1 off. Don’t tell them I told you this trick!
The truth about reducing your prices by larger amounts on a regular basis, is that you’ll start attracting a different type of guest, who may not match your product or the experience you’re offering. This will damage your brand, both in the eyes of those who do appreciate what you offer and are prepared to pay for it, and in the way you see yourself.
If you’ve ever done a promotion with Groupon for example, you’ll know that the people your offer attracts, aren’t generally the ones who would stay with you, because the only reason they’re coming is because of your reduced prices. Those people can’t afford your normal prices, so they would never book with you, and are very unlikely to come back either, so why would you waste your time and energy with that anyway?
The online travel agents want total control of your business, so they can make more money. Resist that if you can. You don’t need to list ALL your rooms, ALL of the time. Can you list just one or two rooms, solely for online exposure?
In some countries, you can put your prices up on those platforms, which makes it more attractive for your ideal guests to book directly with you, while covering the commissions you’re paying.
Your cancellation policies must be the same as on your website.
I’ve heard from clients that booking dot com aren’t allowed to violate your cancellation terms, but they will try. I’ve heard stories of them calling up hosts asking for permission for guests to cancel. Just say no (if it doesn’t suit you) and they’ll back down.
Whatever you do with the online travel agents, make sure that you’re calling the shots, not them. Be proud of what you offer and resist the urge to discount your prices as a matter of course.
In the long run, you’ll be much better off both financially and emotionally.
And of course, your job is to become so good at marketing and promoting your business, that you don’t need them anyway. But until that day comes, I hope these tips will help you.
Remember, this is YOUR business.
- Focus on your selling proposition – less on features, more on benefits
- Go through your data on Booking.com and highlight your prominent statistics
- Use AirBnB to showcase yourself and your personality
- Highlight the quirkiness of your property to stand out against other B&Bs
- Promote “experiences” with AirBnB
- Use high quality images, professional photography if possible
- Use the reducing room rates trick on booking dot com
- Make sure your cancellation policies are the same as on your website
About the Author:
Yvonne Halling is the founder of BedandBreakfastCoach.com and the creator of Bed and Breakfast Business Transformation Program where clients typically increase their business by between 23% and 600% in one season, while working less, paying less commissions and having more fun.
The side effects of this are unexpected outburst of joy and laughter, peace of mind and certainty of income, despite these challenging times.
Along with her team, she helps clients to implement key business principles that are very much missing from the small hospitality landscape, which is why online travel agents such as booking dot com and Airbnb have pretty much taken over.
Yvonne believes that hospitality businesses are the hub of local communities, attracting new money by way of guests, and which couldn’t have come by any other means.
Returning the power to the owners, encouraging direct bookings via their websites, not third parties and restoring owners to their rightful place at the heart of their communities, along with educating and inspiring them on how to run their businesses on their terms in the 21st century using the internet, is Yvonne’s mission.