What is a hotel direct booking?

A hotel direct booking is a  booking that a customer makes directly with the hotel, rather than via a middleman such as a travel agent or online travel agency (OTA) platform like Booking.com, Expedia or Airbnb.

While in the past hotel direct bookings were often made over the phone and paid for on arrival, today the overwhelming majority are taken and paid for through the hotel’s own website. 

Direct booking functionality is seamlessly integrated with some websites (such as Little Hotelier’s website builder + booking engine), and must be added as a plugin with others (such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace and other generic website builders.)

A hotel that takes direct bookings has the opportunity to reduce OTA commission fees – which are usually 15-25% of the booking price. The hotel can also choose to lower their price, while still making the same or more money, to make their direct booking option more appealing.

Why direct bookings are essential for small hotels

There’s no doubt that online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch sites form a key revenue stream for most accommodation providers. But the fact remains that these third-parties take a sizable cut of your potential profits.

Direct bookings, meanwhile, allow you to keep that profit,f offer customers a more competitive price, or both. 

Allowing your guests to book directly with your hotel is simply good business. The question isn’t if you should accept direct bookings, but how.

What are the key driving factors for hotel direct booking?

To drive more direct bookings to your hotel, you first need to understand what motivates your travellers to book with you. By understanding these influences, you can then craft your online presence in a way that aligns with them.

There are five main factors to consider:

1. Different guests have different expectations

Depending on the purpose for the trip, your guests have different expectations and priorities for their experience.

Leisure travellers, for example, want to make sure that your property is in a central location and is in proximity to the best attractions in the area. Business travellers, on the other hand, are more focused on the price of the room and its convenient location to transport. 

2. Travellers value social proof

Both business and leisure travellers are heavily motivated by social proof when booking a place to stay for their next trip. They’re not only reading the online reviews previous guests have left on your Facebook page, Google My Business, and TripAdvisor profile, but they’re also checking your responses to these reviews. 

What do other guests love about your hotel? What do they hate? How does your business respond to a poor experience? How do you resolve problems positively? These are all questions that potential guests will be asking and they’ll find their answers one way or another in these public reviews.

The takeaway is that active engagement on these channels is crucial for encouraging bookings with your hotel – and that’s engagement from your guests as well as from your business. When someone leaves a comment, publishes a review, or asks a question, you should have a procedure for giving a measured, positive response. 

Remember! You’re not just responding to the person who wrote that review. You have an audience of all your future guests who may be reading in the future too. By being active, you’re encouraging not just the original poster to return as a guest, but also every visitor to your page from there on out. Powerful stuff.

No response at all can be just as bad as a poorly worded one, so take some time to jump onto Facebook, TripAdvisor, Google Business, or any other platform that your hotel is represented on, and write back to your fans – and your detractors – to prove that you take their feedback seriously. 

For example, Facebook is one of the best ways your properties can encourage direct bookings, given it’s the top online channel for destination discovery for leisure travellers aged 18-34.

With so many prospective guests on the platform, it makes sense to try to win their booking there. You can do this with call-to-action buttons. Facebook allows businesses to include these action buttons on their Facebook page and customise them to suit their purpose. For example, a hair salon might have ‘Call Now’, a construction company ‘Get Quote’, or a food service ‘Start Order’. And a hotel? Why not “Book Now!” that links through to your website or booking page.

There are a couple of reasons it’s a great idea to use these “calls to action” (CTA) on your Facebook page:

  • Adding CTAs to your Facebook page can increase click-through rate by 285%
  • More than 90% of visitors who read your headline also read your CTA copy

It’s a good idea to have as much detail about your business on your page as possible, to increase the chances of a click.

3. Your amenities set you apart

Often it’s the amenities you offer that will set your property apart from the competition.

Leisure travellers want luxurious extras such as an included breakfast, free in-room Wi-Fi and optional packages.

4. Rewards are the key to a customer’s heart

An increasing number of travellers search for businesses that offer a unique and personalised rewards program. Your B&B should have a rewards program that offers instant recognition, as well as the opportunity to earn larger, more valuable rewards. Not only will this encourage guests to book with you now, but it also will help you establish loyalty among your guests.

5. Metasearch

A metasearch engine is essentially a search engine that sifts through content on other websites that are on the internet and shows the combined results, all in one place. Some common metasearch engines are Google Hotel Ads, Tripadvisor, Trivago and Webjet, to name a few.

Metasearch engines allow smaller properties to be on the same playing field with larger hotels or chains.

Direct bookings are increased significantly with metasearch engines. Information about the small property is presented directly from the hotel’s website as a part of the customer’s search results.

Guests tend to see direct bookings as more reliable, which means there is a better chance that a guest will book directly.

To succeed with metasearch sites, they need to be managed regularly and not forgotten.

Want more ways to win direct bookings to your small hotel? Download our free infographic on winning hotel direct bookings.

What are the challenges to hotel direct booking?

When you were just starting out, a booking was a booking – you didn’t care where it came from. But as your accommodation business grows, you realise that while third party bookings are valuable, they are also expensive! As a small accommodation provider, how can you increase your share of direct online bookings versus your other paid channels?

1. Third party sites are increasing their market share

Online travel agencies (OTAs) are investing a ton of money into capturing guests, and it’s paying off.

  • Many independent hotels will see a 10:90 split in favour of OTAs within the next 3 years (HeBS Digital)
  • In Europe, almost 50% of all hotel bookings come from online channels, with the dominant OTAs (Priceline, Expedia, and HRS) owning 90% of the online travel space in that region (eRevMax)
  • 45% of European travellers use metasearch sites to compare rates, and 43% read reviews before making a booking decision (eRevMax)

And now, metasearch sites are following suit – posing a greater challenge for small accommodation providers.

TripAdvisor, Google, and now Trivago are beginning to offer direct bookings through their website. The ‘stickier’ these websites are, the more travellers will choose to use them over your small hotel website.

What can you do about the increasing market share of third party sites?

Start to invest in your own website, because it is imperative that you work on improving your online booking process. The ease of booking directly with you needs to match if not be smoother than booking with OTAs.

Make sure it’s easy to understand what rooms are available and at what rate (don’t overwhelm with too many choices), and that it looks and feels secure to make a booking with you.

2. You probably don’t have a clear strategy to improve direct bookings

Small accommodation providers are pressed for time as it is – you’re busy trying to get everything done as opposed to thinking about how you can do more for your distribution strategy.

There’s simply not enough time or resources to think of ways to improve, so you don’t formalise the effort to increase direct bookings.

What can you do about not having a clear strategy to increase hotel bookings?

Create a clear-cut strategy to get more direct bookings. Some quick things you can do:

  • Have a web page on your site dedicated to explaining why guests should book directly.
  • Create a promotion for past guests incentivising them to book directly next time (entice them with a discount code).
  • Match any lower rate for the hotel found elsewhere.

3. You probably haven’t invested in the technology needed to help

How do you foster guest loyalty? How do you gain their trust so that they consistently recommend your hotel to friends, family, and even strangers through online reviews?

Besides offering superior customer service, you need a tool in place to help you bring those guests back!

After all, it will be difficult to keep in touch with each guest and provide a consistent experience, without some way of automating your communications.

What can you do about not investing in must-have technology?

Make sure you can store your guests’ data. Guests expect to be personally remembered, especially after booking a stay at a bed and breakfast. That’s why storing your guests’ data in multiple spreadsheets is not a good long term strategy if you want to foster loyalty. You need to be able to search your database and access their information instantly, when you need it. Your hotel booking engine should be cloud-based and have a customer database built into it, giving you immediate access to all the guest information you need. That way, when a repeat guest gives you a call to make a booking, you can easily search for them on your database and reserve their favourite room.

Keep in touch before and after. Part of the guest experience is how you engage with them before and after their stay. Typically this is done via email. For example, you can send them a booking confirmation, a reminder before their stay, some tips for what they can do during their stay, and a feedback request following their stay. Modern hotel booking engines let you schedule and personalise these emails, applying your brand’s colours to each template, and making sure each recipient gets a personal greeting. Each guest receives a consistent experience – whether it’s online or in person – from start to finish.

Ways to increase your hotel direct bookings

The next question is how to increase direct bookings for hotels.

The answer will change depending on your unique situation – the type of property you run, the guests you attract, and the booking channels you make use of. Nevertheless, there are a number of strategies for increasing direct bookings that can apply to all hotels.

Here are our most effective ways to increase hotel direct bookings:

1. Combat customer friction 

Customer friction is any aspect of a customer’s interaction that has a negative impact on their experience. 

Common causes of friction that can impact direct bookings include:

  • Making the guest switch communication channels to resolve something
  • Informing the customer of a problem without a solution ready
  • Technical difficulties

Removing friction is the fastest way to increase direct bookings to your hotel or B&B. 

Consider the following:

  • Process: A common bug-bear for travellers is how long it takes to finalise a trip once they’ve made a decision. The more options and less time they have to spend during the booking process, the better.
  • Technology: Nothing will reduce a guest’s trust or patience with you more than experiencing a problem with your technology, most commonly your website. Invest in a smart and simple hotel website builder that you can launch instantly and be customised to your needs.
  • Ecosystem: Saving time and keeping customers in the loop should be a priority when running your hotel or B&B. Using an integrated and automated front-desk system will alleviate all the stress and hassle out of booking and post-booking stages.
  • Knowledge: Again, your website and social media play a major role in making sure guests have accurate and realistic information about your property. You also need to be active on managing online reviews and ensuring your guest’s peers are receiving a true picture of your accommodation.

2. A responsive hotel direct booking website

A top-notch direct booking website is crucial for modern hotels, as most guests now book their stays online. The challenge is 40% of bookings do not occur during the first visit to your website! Your website must provide a convincing and consistent experience to secure more direct bookings.

To ensure your website is up to the task, it should incorporate several essential features:

  • Clear and intuitive navigation: Guests should be able to effortlessly navigate your website and find the information they’re looking for without any frustration. Include a call-to-action button to click, like “Book Now & Save”, nice and high on your website (such as in the banner). This will prompt a sense of urgency on your website and encourage more books. Just make sure it works well on both desktop and mobile versions. 
  • Mobile-optimised layout: As more and more travellers use mobile devices to book accommodations, having a responsive, mobile-friendly design is a must. Tnooz reports that 25% of bookings are now mobile, and 50% more travellers complete the booking if the website is mobile-optimised. For instructions on how to mobile-optimise your website, click here.
  • Quick and simple checkout process: Streamlining the booking process reduces the likelihood of potential guests abandoning their reservations midway. Small hotels, bed and breakfasts, inns and guesthouses should welcome bookings from any distribution channel, but if the guest is already on your site, direct them toward a transaction.
  • Easy contact options: Providing multiple ways for guests to reach your hotel (e.g., phone, email, chat) enhances customer service and trust. 
  • Transparent pricing: Clearly displaying rates and any additional fees helps prevent surprises and fosters a sense of trust with potential guests.
  • Comprehensive information: Your website should include all the details guests might need before booking, such as room amenities, hotel services, and nearby attractions.

The great news is that creating a hotel direct booking website that includes all these features has never been more accessible. Tools like Little Hotelier’s website builder make it easy for you to design a stunning, hotel-specific website without any coding knowledge. With its array of pre-designed templates and built-in direct booking functionality, you can create a highly effective direct booking website yourself!

And the best part? You can try it now for free for 30 days. In as little as an hour, you could have your own direct booking website ready for launch and start enjoying the 43% increase in revenue that our users have experienced since switching to our direct booking system.

3. High quality photo gallery

Consider using a DSLR camera. A top-notch photo gallery can significantly boost direct bookings for a hotel. Here’s how:

  • First impressions count: Eye-catching, beautiful photos grab potential guests’ attention, making them want to learn more about your hotel and eventually book directly with you.
  • Show off your property: A well-put-together photo gallery lets you highlight your hotel’s cool features, amenities, and overall vibe. By showing off the best bits of your place, you can make it more attractive to potential guests and nudge them towards direct bookings.
  • Build trust: Crisp, professional-looking photos give off a trustworthy and reliable vibe. They show that you care about your property and your guests’ experience, which can make potential guests feel more confident about booking directly.
  • Better user experience: A good-looking and easy-to-browse photo gallery improves the overall experience on your website. This can encourage potential guests to stick around and explore your site more, increasing the chances of them booking directly.
  • Manage guest expectations: High-quality photos help paint a clear picture of what your property is like, so guests know what to expect when they arrive. Happy guests are more likely to leave glowing reviews, which can lead to even more direct bookings down the line.

In a nutshell, an impressive photo gallery plays a key role in catching potential guests’ eyes, building trust, and showing off your hotel’s best features, all of which can lead to more direct bookings.

But how do you make a great photo gallery and start enjoying these benefits? Here are a few tips to create a memorable visual experience:

  • Take photos that encourage guests to imagine themselves curling up in bed, getting pampered, and receiving a hot breakfast.
  • Optimise your images for the web, so that the pages load quickly. Make sure the file sizes aren’t too large, without sacrificing image quality.
  • Place all your best images at the top of the gallery.

4. Driving traffic to your hotel website

In order to increase direct hotel bookings through your site, you need to ensure potential guests are getting to your site. No visitors = no bookings. But how do you open the website visitor floodgates?

One of the best ways to drive direct traffic to your hotel website is through search engine optimisation (SEO). Google “hotel [YOUR CITY]”. Does your property come up as a search result? If not, you’re missing out on thousands of potential website visitors/guests. 

Ranking highly in Google search results is vital if you want travellers to be landing on your hotel website and converting to direct bookings. Search engine optimisation; the practice of making your website more ‘Google-friendly’, is a great way to achieve this. 

By understanding the keywords people use when they search and creating fresh, accurate and useful content, you’ll boost your website’s ranking in search results and help drive more direct bookings. Learn more in our guide to hotel SEO basics.

Beyond SEO, a few other ways to drive traffic to your hotel website include:

  • Adding a website link to your social profiles and posting about your website from time to time.
  • Filling out your Google Business Profile, including a link to your website.
  • Promote your site using digital ads.
  • Send out emails to your customer database offering website-only offers.

5. Build your customer database

Many small hotel owners feel that it’s difficult to retain control of their database because they may not always have access to their guests’ contact details before they arrive.

Making sure you capture guest emails once they’re at your property is a quick-win that’s easy to do. All you need is to ask for their email address upon check-in or check-out. Once you have these details, it’s easy to send them special offers and promotions. 

And if you have a cloud-based booking engine, you can gain immediate access to all the guest information you need. This will enable you to give repeat bookers their favourite room, personalise emails and better analyse your business.

6. Enhance your direct offering 

Rate parity rules can make it difficult to incentivise direct bookings, but there are creative ways to get around this.

For example, you can:

  • Package your rooms to make them more appealing (you can add elements like free Wi-Fi, early check-in, free breakfast, and late checkout).
  • Offer a more personal experience (for example, let them choose what’s in their minibar).
  • Lower your rates to Facebook fans and Twitter followers.
  • Include room upgrades. In a past research report, we surveyed travellers to find that nearly half (48%) would be convinced to book direct for a free room upgrade. It could simply be a room with a better view or a larger bed.
  • Free meals and drinks. No matter the reason for the trip, travellers want to experience good food during their stay. In the same report, 55% of travellers said they would book direct for free meals and drinks at your property.
  • Gift cards. If you need more evidence that food was important to travellers, our report also showed that 45% of travellers would prefer a gift card for a local restaurant over other types, such as for events or a theme park.Want even more tips on how to drive direct bookings through your hotel website? 

7. Focus on customer loyalty

Remember those emails that you collected? Put them to good use! Repeat customers are extremely valuable because they turn into advocates who refer their friends and family to you.

Offer your best customers the most luxurious perks, such as free room upgrades or free spa treatments.

Even something as simple as letting a guest choose what’s in their minibar will put them in a positive frame of mind and let them know you are providing them the freedom of choice they desire. 

Offering exclusive deals and promotions to those who join will hold your hotel in good stead for repeat direct bookings in the future. 

8. Encourage guest reviews

You want guests to feel like one of many who have chosen rightly to stay at your property – and without genuine reviews from other travellers, your hotel lacks credibility!

In fact,

  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 49% of travellers won’t book a hotel without reviews.
  • 93% of global travellers say their booking decisions are impacted by online reviews.

At the end of each guests’ stay, send an email asking for an online review. Online review sites are one of the most powerful ways to promote your brand online, particularly if you frequently receive positive feedback, so be sure to remain active on the most popular review sites. 

9. Sweeten the deal with extras

It’s a universal truth: everyone loves a freebie. A hotelier can use this fact to make direct booking a more alluring option to customers.

When a guest is deciding whether to book direct or through an OTA, serve them up a special offer, something to sweeten the deal. The great thing about offering free extras is that the perceived value of the freebie is often far above its true cost – it may not cost you much, but it can mean the world to a guest.

Examples of freebies include:

  • Shuttle services
  • Welcome gifts (wines, cheeses, meals)
  • Tours/activities
  • Room upgrades
  • Vouchers for local businesses/attractions

10. Make sure you have a secure, easy-to-use online booking system

An online booking engine with a payment gateway is essential to drive direct bookings. The majority of travellers today prefer to book their stays online, which means that you will lose a significant number of bookings without an effective online booking engine. If your online booking engine is slow or confusing, or if you require that guests email you instead of accepting direct bookings, you could lose out on hotel reservations. Allow guests to reserve their own room by incorporating a fast, user-friendly booking engine on your small hotel website.

When it comes to implementing a booking and payment system, make sure to:

  • Focus on security: Display your PCI DSS compliance badge to show that your website is up to the latest security standards around online payments.
  • Keep it simple: Allow travellers to put in their details and pay all on the one page.
  • Offer currency options: Allow travellers to check prices in the currency of their choice.

Your guests want the convenience of being able to check your availability and lock in a booking, all without any intervention from you.

The key features of a hotel booking engine are:

  • A visual calendar
  • Secure online payment
  • Accessible guest data
  • Automated emails
  • Advanced reports
  • Integration with online sales channels

If you would like to find the best hotel booking engine for your small hotel, download our interactive buyer’s guide.

11. Experiment with different marketing tactics 

There are a number of tactics you can employ to give travellers the extra nudge they need to book, including:

  • Retargeting to capture bookings that weren’t completed on the first visit to your website
  • Incentives and extras offered exclusively through your hotel website
  • Focusing on the unique selling points of your property over larger brands, such as your location, theme or proximity to key attractions
  • Using pop-ups or calls-to-action to remind visitors of the benefits of booking direct while they browse your website.

Here’s a fun one – make use of the sports season! Every year, millions of people watch their favourite athletes run, jump, kick, pass, swim, vault, shoot, dodge, and score (and more!) at local and international stadiums. Many of them stay in local accommodation – and your business can stand out from the rest with some smart marketing.

When you have travelling fans staying with you, remind staff to be friendly and go the extra step of making sure guests have what they need to enjoy themselves. If you impress a sports fan while they’re in your city, they’ll be likely to come back next time they’re in town and tell all their friends about their winning experience.

Try these other five tactics:

  • Run sport-related promos: You have a special package for bridesmaids and couples, so why not sports fans? Entice travellers to stay at your hotel with perks like free in-room TV (so they can watch pre- and post-game footage), a voucher for Lyft or Uber to the game, or a pre-game gift certificate for your restaurant or bar. If you can afford it, purchase tickets to top games, then include two tickets in your promo packages.
  • Create SEO-friendly content: The easiest way to get more website bookings during the sport season is to use SEO to help fans looking for a hotel near the stadium find your property. Create blog and social media posts with keywords like “hotel near (local stadium)” or “(local team) hotel package.” Add keywords to web copy describing your football package.
  • Increase your marketing spend: Digital ads, retargeting, and content marketing can all lure new customers to your website. Set aside money to spend on content promoting your sports deals, then track how these ads perform.
  • Be active on social media: Always be active on social media to engage directly with your target audience. When you’re trying to get more sports-related traffic, start sharing news related to your team. This helps connect your brand with your guests. Sharing relevant content using team-specific hashtags will boost your discoverability among sports fans who use social media to follow their team or plan football vacations.
  • Incorporate an intuitive online booking engine: If your online booking engine is slow or confusing, or if you require that guests email you instead of accepting direct bookings, you could lose out on event-related reservations. Allow guests to reserve their own room by incorporating a fast, user-friendly booking engine on your small hotel website. 

Boost Your Hotel Direct Bookings with Little Hotelier

In order to take direct bookings through your website – and enjoy all the benefits, from guest experience to increased profit, of doing so – you’ll need the right tech. And in Little Hotelier’s direct booking engine, you get exactly that. No matter whether you use WordPress, Wix, Squarespace or Little Hotelier’s website builder, our booking engine is simple to integrate, even easier to use, and can increase your revenue by the (not so) small matter of 43%.

  • Optimise room rates: Our booking engine allows you to set a number of rate plans for every room, granting maximum flexibility and revenue.
  • Automatically upsell: Allow guests to choose their own extras, upgrades and high-end packages, adding value to the booking without you needing to lift a finger.
  • Drive bookings with promos: Send first-time guests or loyal customers special offers and discount codes, which they can key in themselves during the direct booking process, to increase reservations during low season.
  • Get social: Easily connect all of your social media channels with your booking engine to get more guests than ever booking directly with you.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).