Many months ago I wrote a blog about the value of a “Go Direct” strategy for your hotel, and specifically your Guest Service/Reservation Agents. I do not know how many of you actually have put this type of procedure into place, but my hope is that every property has at least conducted some sort of training with GSRs on this topic. If you want to reread the previously written blog, simply go to the snapshot screen of “The Roomer Mill” and look for the photo of Johnny Depp.
There has been a great deal of hullaballoo in the media about usurping third parties and getting guests to come directly to your website or call your front desk directly to book their reservations. Third party sites certainly don’t want to lose that type of business, and as you will see in Mr. Mogelonsky’s article copied below, he echoes this fact and further notes that the more we as hoteliers try to get consumers to by pass third party sites and come to us direct, that they will continue to come up with strategies to combat our tactics.
While a bit negative, I don’t believe we should totally abandon our strategies. I think the value premise of this article is that we need to keep our pedal to the metal and continue to push our strategies – no matter if in the short run they are going unheard because in the long run, the consumer IS going to come directly to us to book.
We as hoteliers must continue to tell our customers why they should book with us. Educating (without preaching) the “Best Rate Guaranteed” benefits (loyalty points, room upgrades, last room availability, etc.) must be conveyed. I have highly advocated that we have a strategy in place at the front desk where every traveller is recognized and thanked regardless of their booking method.
How hard would it be for our GSR to look at the reservation at check in and casually say, “Mr. Smith, I see that you booked your reservation through our valued travel partner, Expedia. Thank you!”
To be totally effective, the GSR must then follow up this sincere thank you by “educating” the customer on the value of booking direct in a non-confrontational and pleasant manner: “As a token of our appreciation, we’d like you to enjoy a snack from our market (or something you might have tucked away behind the front desk).” At that point, the customer should also be given a small tag (business card size) that states the same idea: Thank you! AND the reasons why the guest should book direct (points, upgrades, etc.) AND the name address and phone number. The last thing the GSR should state is, “we know guests have choices when it comes to making their travel choices. The next time you are in the area, I hope you will call us or access our website direct to book your stay. We guarantee we will always have the lowest available rate posted and you will enjoy all of the accompanying benefits that you are not receiving when you book through our third party partners.”
Unless the guest presses it further, that is it….. move on with the check in.
Training our agents and PRACTICING this strategy is imperative so that these types of conversations are natural and not forced! Create cheat sheets – tape these 3 statements to your front desk – anything! This takes time to make it a comfortable conversation. Won’t you try this today?
Happy booking direct!
THE HOTEL MOGEL BY LARRY MOGELONSKY
LARRY MOGELONSKY, FOUNDER, LMA COMMUNICATIONS INC., TORONTO
Educating guests on BAR
Do your guests know what “BAR” stands for? Not likely. Unless they have worked or are presently working in the hotel industry, chances are correctly expanding that acronym out to “best available rate” isn’t snap-your-fingers knowledge, nor is its implied meaning.
In its simplest terms, BAR ensures that the low prices for nightly room rates on third-party suppliers will be matched by the hotel when the consumer contacts the hotel with “parity” in mind. This BAR, also known as best rate guarantee, is adeptly used by revenue managers worldwide to incentivize guests to make their reservations directly through the brand.com booking engine as opposed to the OTAs. I’m preaching to the choir on the definition.
However, BAR should also be a primary tool put forward by your sales team and marketers, not just something stowed away in the aft section of your website. The advantages to booking through your brand.com are undeniable, and educating guests on many of these straightforward benefits may make them unwavering converts to the “book direct” ideology.
Part of the problem is that hoteliers are often somewhat nearsighted. Scratch that — all humans are nearsighted. It’s all too easy to assume that when a hotel manager uses the words “best rate guarantee” others will instantly share in their understanding of the term. This is not so. As anecdotal as it may be, I’m constantly running into hospitality outsiders who are oblivious to this hidden gem of knowledge, and they are ecstatic to be enlightened. Here’s how I boil it down for them:
“Take any guestroom price you discover online. Go to the hotel website or call their reservation hotline and ask for parity. Not only will the price be matched, but by booking directly with the hotel, you’re also entitled to loyalty points, room upgrades, amenity vouchers, F&B coupons and tons more.”
The most common responses are various forms of “Whoa!” There’s evidence to support that a wide cross-section are gradually realizing this pseudo-loophole. In the April 2013 PhoCusWright Consumer Travel Report, the migration away from the OTAs is already happening in full swing. Whether BAR awareness is the primary force is open for debate; I believe it is one chief factor alongside the points and perks.
On the other hand, just as prices are used to differentiate your product across various channels, I do not believe that the ideal goal of attaining 100% of online reservations through your brand.com is feasible in the short term. No doubt the OTAs will find new and creative ways to reverse this recent decline; they all have very fluid designs, they allow consumers to simultaneously book flights or car rentals and they have some of the best advertising budgets a brand could ask for. In short, the battle continues.
Let’s jump right to the education part of things, as “enlightened” guests are far more likely to peruse your brand.com site prior to locking in an official reservation on one website or another. Whether that site is yours is still up for grabs.
The website is the obvious place to start; having an indexed page that lists the specifics of your BAR policy is a must. This way, guests can do the appropriate research at their own convenience. But it’s clearly not enough. A catchy graphic on the homepage may be necessary in addition to a few well-timed e-newsletters.
The front desk also can play an integral role in information dissemination. Pamphlets, brochures and one-pagers that explain how the system works should be visible and readily available for the plucking. Your front desk clerks must be trained on BAR so they can answer questions and politely shoehorn it into conversation as well. A quick prompt — “How did you book with us?” — can get the ball rolling here.
There are so many other points worth mentioning here — the tone your website conveys, the user-friendliness of your site and special non-public rates that circumnavigate rate-parity rules — but getting the message across face-to-face still has astounding results. Cement it into your managers and your line staff that BAR is a good point of discussion with guests and how more and more will flock to you directly for all future business.