Today, chances are the majority of resort or hotel guests aren’t calling up the property or stopping by the front desk to book a room.
Instead, the majority of guests today are using online distribution channels, whether via search engines like Google, online travel agencies like Booking and Expedia, a booking engine on your website, global distribution systems, or even social media channels, to find a place to stay.
Zeroing In On Your Hotel Distribution Strategy
A 2017 survey of U.S. adults planning a spring vacation showed that the majority, 88 percent, preferred to use an online channel to book a resort or hotel, versus an offline one (12 percent).
The advent of better mobile technology through smartphones, and last-minute booking platforms, too, has made it easier than ever for travelers to book a room online.
And if more travelers today prefer to book online, resorts and hotels should make sure that the various online distribution channels they have are the most visually appealing and effective in converting searches or browses into actual bookings.
A Resort or Hotel’s Own Website
The most effective distribution channel for any hospitality brand is to have its customers book rooms using its proprietary channels, especially the website. But getting people to (1) find the resort or hotel's website and (2) to book directly, can also be a challenge, especially if the property is independent, and not affiliated with a major hotel brand such as Marriott, Hilton, or InterContinental Hotels Group.
One way, however, to maximize this distribution channel is to ensure that your resort or hotel’s website design itself is rich with visual content, especially user-generated content that includes reviews and photos. User-generated reviews and visuals keep potential customers engaged and they also add social proof.
Hotel X, for example has done a great job of positioning itself as a destination itself, rather than a stop along the way. Whether it’s the two massive libraries, the art gallery, the rooftop pool, the sky bar, its 10X athletic club, or the Toronto skyline itself, the property has curated a gallery on its homepage that appeals to every demographic.
Hotels that want to get more direct bookings via their own websites should analyze their current conversion rates and then look for additional ways to improve and boost them.
Online Travel Agencies
The relationship between online travel agencies — third-party sites like Booking.com or Expedia that aggregate thousands of resort and hotel listings to make it easy for customers to search for and book a room — could be best described as love-hate.
The hospitality industry loves online travel agents for helping them fill empty rooms, but they hate having to pay them often hefty commission rates that can be as high as 30 percent per booking.
Still, online travel agencies are an incredibly important online distribution channel for resorts and hotels, especially independents, because they have tons of exposure thanks to their robust marketing investments, and user-friendly interfaces that are also primed for mobile bookings.
With this channel, hotels can still find ways to maximize visuals and to get bookings, however, by showcasing high-resolution visuals of their own that display amenities and guest rooms. Having those brand-owned visuals on a third-party site is key, as is repurposing high-performing user-generated content from a hotel’s own website. The combination of both user-generated and brand-owned visuals can make a hotel’s listing on an online travel agency site stand out from the rest.
Global Distribution Systems
Often overlooked by non-travel industry insiders, but vitally important to the worldwide travel industry, is the global distribution system, or GDS. The GDS is a massive network that uses real-time inventory to enable transactions across the entire spectrum of the travel industry, from airlines and hotels to car rentals and travel agencies.
Travel agencies, in particular, have relied on the GDS for decades to provide travel services for their clients, making it a very important channel for resorts and hotels that are getting bookings via travel advisors or corporate travel agencies who book resort or hotel rooms for business travelers.
However, as with using an online travel agency as a third-party distribution platform, using a GDS is now without its costs, too. Depending on which of the four major GDS (Amadeus, Travelport, Sabre, and TravelSky) a resort or hotel decides to use, there are set-up fees and transaction fees a hotel must pay for each booking. For hotels, generally, the GDS takes a 20 percent commission for each booking.
And as they would with an online travel agency, hotels using the GDS should also take care to apply their best proprietary and user-generated visuals on this platform, paying close attention to the volume and variety of content that they have so that their partners — the agents and agencies — can also support their own marketing needs, too.
Maximizing Your Hotel Marketing Channels
Whatever online distribution channel a resort or hotel is using to get bookings, from an online travel agency to a GDS or its own website, the power of exceptional visual content is immeasurable. It’s what attracts a potential guest to take a longer look at that resort or hotel, and in many ways, it can persuade them to book, especially if the content is coming from a previous hotel visitor or guest in the form of a photo or a review.
But for a hospitality brand that wants to maximize its revenues the most and up its bookings, the best online distribution channel to focus on is its own website to increase the number of direct bookings. Having a direct relationship with guests is invaluable, and using tools to enhance and perpetually refresh the visual content of that website could make or break that direct booking.
Image by: @Prometey Sánchez Noskov