January 5, 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Hotel Booking Channels

The 6 hotel booking channels you need to create a profitable distribution strategy. Choosing the right hotel booking channels is a crucial aspect of your hospitality marketing strategy. But to decide the right channels to incorporate into your distribution plan, you must first learn about the different types of booking channels.

In today’s post, we’ll walk through the two different categories of hotel booking channels, the 6 different types, and we’ll wrap up with our top tips for creating a hyper-profitable hotel booking channel strategy for your business.

Let’s get started.

The Two Hotel Booking Channel Categories: Direct vs Indirect

Before we look at the types of booking channels, it’s important to understand the two categories of direct versus indirect hotel booking channels.

Direct Booking Channels

Direct bookings happen when your customer books directly from you. Direct bookings should be a major part of your hotel distribution strategy because direct bookings maximize your profit per guest.

Other channels may even be free, but consider the time investment it takes to list your hotel on a third-party site, and then the extra time and effort necessary to manage those channels. 

Indirect channels are equally crucial, but in one way or another, they will be paid: either with time or money.

Indirect Booking Channels

Indirect booking channels are all of the channels where you can be booked via a third-party vendor. Indirect booking channels include online travel agencies, global distribution systems, metasearch sites, and wholesalers.

While indirect booking channels almost always take a commission percentage from every sale, they have a huge advantage when compared to direct booking methods: 

Indirect booking channels are simultaneously booking channels and advertisements, and give your business more visibility online.

The best way to understand the importance of indirect booking channels is through reverse-engineering the sale. Think about it this way: when a guest wants to book a hotel room, where do they go?

Likely, either Google or their favorite third-party site (ex. Trivago, Kayak, Priceline, Expedia, Booking.com). 

To get those customers, your property will need to be on those sites!

Now, let’s look at the primary hotel booking channels that your customers will use to book their stays.

1. Direct Website Booking Channel

Every time a guest schedules their stay directly through your website, you’re making use of direct website bookings. As previously mentioned, direct bookings are the most profitable for your business, so you’ll want to really compel your audience to book directly with you! 

There are several ways to do this, but the easiest place to start is to make your website inviting, compelling, reflective of your brand, and easy to find.

Direct Website Booking Channel Tips

  • Make the booking process as seamless as possible on your website
  • Optimize your site for search engines by using relevant keywords, like “best hotel in (your city/state)” or “(city) bed and breakfasts”
  • Make your site look good! For a super-profitable, seamlessly easy option, use a plug & play solution such as Visitor’s Own Website 
  • Use videos! Interactive content like video will make it more likely that your visitor will stay for a bit to watch it, and a good video can sell a room on its own!
  • Check the loading speed of your images. Did you know that 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if the page doesn’t load within 3 seconds? Use image compressors like TinyPNG, and make sure your site is optimized for mobile visitors.
  • Consider leaving a coupon code in your rooms for repeat guests who book with you directly. This could be for a percentage off, a free room upgrade, or something else–just make sure the direct booking is still more profitable than a third-party booking post-coupon, or this strategy could go downhill fast!

2. Direct Phone Booking Channel

Where direct website bookings take place directly on your website, the direct phone booking channel takes place–you guessed it–over the phone!

If your target audience consists of guests who aren’t tech-savvy, or guests who will need extra assistance with their requests (think: travel agents, event planners, wedding planners, etc.), you’ll rely heavily on direct phone bookings for your business.

Like direct website bookings, direct phone bookings are great because they maximize your profit-per-guest. 

Direct Phone Booking Channel Tips

  • Make integrating your systems easy! Using Visitor's front desk system while taking direct phone bookings will effortlessly update your availability on all booking channels
  • Make your phone number easy to find and readily available
  • Consider having a special phone number with some sort of word or jingle to help you remember it. For example, your number may be 702-555-STAY
  • Make sure your staff is trained to handle phone bookings! You may want to have a specific script and remind your employees to maintain a certain tone with your customers
  • People hate being on hold, but nothing will irk your customers more than having to listen to grating on-hold music. Decrease hang-ups during holds by choosing better music

3. Online Travel Agency Booking Channels (OTA Bookings)

Many of the most popular websites used for booking hotel stays are online travel agencies, commonly abbreviated as OTAs in the hospitality industry. 

Further, many of the most popular OTAs are owned by the same company. The Expedia Group owns online travel agency giants Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, and more. Conveniently, the Expedia Group OTA sites are interconnected, so you can make a listing on one platform and distribute it to several platforms they own.

While online travel agencies are excellent for “getting eyes on” your business and generating more bookings, they’re less profitable per customer than direct methods. Further, many online travel agencies take not just a cut, but a significant cut of each sale–often somewhere between 10% to 25%.

Therefore, choosing online travel agencies that balance profit with value is a crucial part of your strategy.

Online Travel Agency Booking Channel Tips

  • Streamline your workflow and minimize errors by using a channel manager. With Visitor, you can sync bookings, pricing, and availability cross-channel from Visitor’s central calendar
  • Match your existing customers’ demographics to those of an online travel agency that you’re considering working with. The more they overlap, the more likely it is that this OTA is a valuable investment
  • Make sure that your images are appealing and clickable–especially to your target customer. Unsure if they’re good enough? Ask your audience directly! Market research is invaluable for hospitality entrepreneurs
  • Highlight your best amenities and benefits first (if they can be ordered)

4. Metasearch Site Booking Channels

Metasearch sites include platforms like Google Hotel Search and Tripadvisor, which are more like search engines than travel agencies. They’re similar to OTAs, but because they often focus on a PPC (pay-per-click) monetization model than taking a percentage, they’re often significantly more affordable than OTAs. They are also just as popular.

Needless to say, with the value provided, metasearch sites are a must for your hotel booking channel strategy. They’re a fantastic way to maximize your visibility and profit, and are often the first stop for someone looking to book a room.

Metasearch Site Booking Channel Tips

  • Pay extra attention to your competitors. This is important for every channel, but especially for metasearch sites, which are appealing to audiences focused on price (especially young people, who may not have as much disposable income)
  • Consider paying a professional conversion copywriter who specializes in hotel listings to write your ad copy. Your description is a fundamental asset for your business, and you’ll find success fastest when your foundation is rock-solid
  • Use Google Hotel Ads if it makes sense for your audience (it probably does). It’s necessary for many successful hotel booking channel strategies

5. Global Distribution System Booking Channels (GDS Bookings)

Whereas online travel agencies are considered B2C (business to consumer) booking channels, global distribution systems are B2B (business to business) booking channels. When you use an OTA, you’re selling directly to your consumer. Meanwhile, global distribution systems allow you to market to travel agents and agencies.

Therefore, your strategy and copy needs to shift to succeed. When marketing to your consumers, they’re more likely to make decisions without a ton of analysis. They’ll also generally prefer content that focuses on being engaging and entertaining, as well as shorter content.

Meanwhile, when you’re selling to travel agents, you really are pitching to another business. These agents’ reputations rely on choosing the right places to stay, so you’ll want to assure them that you’re trustworthy and your hotel exceeds their standards. You’ll generally want B2B content and copy to be longer, more informative, and more professional. 

Some of the most popular GDS’s include Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport (Travelport owns 2 popular GDS’s under its umbrella: Galileo and Worldspan).

Global Distribution System Booking Channel Tips

  • Focus on highlighting features and amenities that are less hedonistic and more utilitarian. For example, highlight cleanliness and safety by listing your certifications 
  • Use two different descriptions, one after the other: first, a short description that focuses on your hotel’s highlights and best features. Second, a longer description that focuses more on benefits, emotions, and words that invoke the right image of the experience you’re offering (sensory words are great for this!)
  • Amadeus has a checklist to help your optimize your GDS listing–you have to give your email, but it’s well worth it for such a fantastic resource.

6. Wholesaler Booking Channels

Wholesalers are a unique strategy in that you’re selling rooms to them so they can turn around and sell them to other channels, like OTAs and travel agents. They buy rooms in bulk from you at a discounted rate, thus turning a profit on their own efforts.

Unfortunately, the profit margins for hoteliers are usually slim in this exchange, which has led to a love-hate relationship between hoteliers and wholesalers. However, due to their power and prevalence, it will likely be necessary to include wholesalers in your strategy to some extent.

Wholesaler Booking Channel Tips

  • Work with ethical wholesalers who mirror your hospitality philosophy. Some wholesalers are just in it to make a few bucks, and couldn’t care less about the customer. This is not who you want to work with! Try to only work with wholesalers who you’re proud to have on your side
  • Use dynamic rates with wholesalers, to put you in the driver’s seat of the deal instead of the passenger’s seat
  • Trivago has a great piece all about wholesale distribution–give it a read!

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