The Dos & Dont’s of Online Distribution for Small Hotels

Small hotels are coming around to the fact that to compete in today’s market, you must sell your rooms online. Online distribution has evolved to become the key driver of bookings for hotels worldwide.

Here are some dos and dont’s you will need to know to master the online playing field.

DO…

Allow instant online bookings

Hotels of all sizes have had to adapt to the increasing demand for online bookings. Consider that a third of all spending on travel – to the tune of $145 billion – goes through online booking (source).

Guests like using booking engines because it’s more convenient for them. Instead of having to wait for you to be at your desk, they can quickly check your availability, book and confirm their stays.

It’s also easier for you, because you can literally accept bookings while you sleep! You don’t have to constantly be at your desk or checking your phone in order to sell out. Plus, your bank account will thank you for speeding up your cash flow.

Without a hotel booking engine on your website, your small property will find it difficult to compete in today’s crowded marketplace.

Partner with third party booking sites

Did you know that online travel agencies (OTAs) are the second most used channel in terms of hotel bookings, accounting for almost 20% of all bookings online?

Partnerships with OTAs can help hotels of all sizes gain a foothold into lucrative markets. Their big marketing budgets can make travelers far and wide aware of your small hotel – and even drive direct bookings to you!

Many independent hoteliers hesitate to list their rooms on OTAs because of the commissions they have to pay. Although some may argue that 15-35% of your booking rate is a high price to pay, think about it this way: would you rather be earning 65% of your room rate, or 0% if your room sits empty?

The majority of respondents would obviously rather earn money from their rooms, which is another important reason to include OTAs in your hotel’s distribution strategy.

Work on your online presence

Whether you run a bed and breakfast, guesthouse, motel, or inn, a strong online presence is something you simply cannot live without if you want to achieve your goal of maximising occupancy!

Invest in your small hotel website. To most people searching online, your website is your first impression. 90% of travelers are using the internet for their travel bookings (Gfk) and if your hotel is nowhere to be found online, then you don’t exist in their eyes.

Leverage review sites. For small hotels, building positive reviews is totally necessary in order to succeed. 49% of travelers won’t book a hotel without reviews (Statistic Brain).

Leverage social media sites (especially Facebook). Not only is Facebook undoubtedly the largest social network, it’s also very relevant to travel. In fact, 42% of stories shared to users’ Facebook timelines in 2012 were travel experiences, making it the top story being shared by users (Tnooz).

DON’T…

Update your rates and inventory on third party sites manually

Here’s what happens when you decide to manually manage rates and inventory across multiple websites: you spend hours doing it, and it’s not a one-off job.

In fact, each time a booking is made on one of your sales channels, you have to make sure your availability is reflected correctly on all of your booking sites.

What’s worse is sometimes you’re not quick enough. Things get really busy and you don’t get a chance to update everything until hours later. You end up with unhappy, double booked guests. You consider hiring an extra person just to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Instead, use a booking system with channel management features, giving you one place where you can update your rates and apply stop-sells at a click of a button. All your booking sites will display the right inventory without you having to adjust a thing! There’s no lag time in inventory updates, so double bookings are a thing of the past.

Forget to keep in touch

Your guests’ experience with you starts at the time of booking. To keep them engaged throughout the entire process, it’s imperative to touch base via email.

There are two kinds of emails in your typical process:

  • Pre-stay emails (confirmation, thank you, preparation for stay)
  • Post-stay guest emails (feedback request, special offer)

A consistent experience will increase guest satisfaction, reviews, and loyalty. Click here for more detailed tips on what to include in your emails.

Put all of your eggs in one basket

In your online distribution strategy, don’t rely too heavily on any one channel for bookings. Otherwise, external factors which are out of your control could jeopardise your revenue.

For example, you won’t have any bargaining power if one channel demands more commission, gets bought out, or goes bust. Or if it’s your own website you’re leaning on, a Google update may cause you to lose your ranking, affecting your occupancy rates.

To retain control over your inventory, it’s good to diversify your sources. For more tips on this topic, download our distribution ebook.

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