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    OTAs, Direct Bookings and Why You Need Both

    It’s no secret that the best technology is usually something that makes our lives easier. Want to watch a specific TV show but don’t want to wait? No problem — you can binge watch it on Netflix. Want to order a cab but don’t have the energy to stand on the street? Say no more — download a rideshare app. Want to buy a shirt but hate trying things on? Save the hassle and do your shopping online. You get the point.

    Major OTAs like Airbnb, Booking.com and HomeAway offer a similar convenience when it comes to finding a place to stay on vacation. It’s never been easier to go online and book whatever accommodation best suits your needs with just a few clicks and an email confirmation. Considering the amount of traffic to these sites, it’s no surprise that OTAs are also a property manager’s dream — they’re quick to set up, easy to use and very secure. However, as the old saying goes, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially when it comes to marketing your business.

    Although every property manager should make sure their listings have a presence across a range of different OTAs, it’s fairly common that they use that as the primary booking source and don’t create a space for direct bookings on their own website. A direction booking source should not be used instead of OTAs, but it is an essential addition to them.

    There are a few simple reasons for this, but the most obvious is fees. OTAs can take anywhere between 15 to 25 percent commission from your bookings for using their platform, whereas direct bookings (via your own website) hand you 100 percent of the revenue. This is actually a win-win for both sides as guests will also avoid additional fees that come with booking via an OTA. Without these fees, hosts and property managers can afford to be much more competitive with their prices and generate more revenue through increased bookings.

    More than this, it allows you to use tools like Google Remarketing to target potential guests for your own properties directly to your own website. Use those tools and start sending coupons, promo activities and details of special events to guests that visited your website or previously stayed at your property — get them coming back for more. What about an affiliate program? Having your own website is crucial if you want to drive traffic through affiliates and influencers.

    OTAs like Airbnb, Booking and Expedia all have very strong brands. This is great for them, but less so for you. How do you get a guest to remember your company if they booked through an OTA? What you need is a branded booking website, which uses all of the tools mentioned above to strengthen your own name and not the OTA’s.

    Furthermore, a booking website lists properties in its own marketplace, so your listings are not in competition with millions of others on the same channel or platform. However, just having a booking website isn’t enough as there are a few small but crucial things to keep in mind.

    The 6 Pillars of a High Performing Vacation Rental Website

    Consistency

    If your listing is titled as “Four-Bedroom Duplex with Rooftop View in the Heart of Soho” on Airbnb, then it should be the same on your own website. This goes for all your listings. When a potential guest sees a listing on their favorite OTA, they might do a Google search of the title, and you’ll want them to find exactly what they’re looking for.

    More than this, however, consistency is key to maintaining your company’s identity. If your listings are described differently on a variety of channels, it suggests a lack of cohesion. Remember, when you’re competing in a saturated market, image is everything and a professional, consistent marketing strategy won’t go unnoticed by guests considering booking a stay at one of your listings. More than this, they’ll come to recognize your brand.

    SEO Optimization

    This brings us to another important aspect of any successful booking website: search engine optimization (SEO). We hear a lot about SEO these days, but it essentially boils down to potential guests being able to find your website or listings via a search engine such as Google. Is your site optimized? Does it have enough relevant keywords to bring the right kind of traffic? Is it structured properly?

    Take, for example, meta-titles, the very first thing that a user sees when they search for something via a search engine. The meta-title should include the name of the “product” you are offering, such as “Luxury Apartment”, or “Vacation Rental”, and of course, the location. This way, when your potential guests look for a “Vacation Rental in Paris,” they’ll find your Parisian property with the help of your relevant title.

    A sometimes forgotten factor that also affects SEO is mobile and social optimization. How is your booking displayed on smartphones, Facebook and WhatsApp? Your website must be responsive to different platforms.

    Integrated Channels

    Organization is key in every aspect of your business, and although your website is an alternative to taking bookings through an OTA, it doesn’t exist within a vacuum.

    Making your own website is great, but if your listings are still on OTAs — as they should be — then you must also remember to integrate your channels and calendars, otherwise, you’ll be knee-deep in double-bookings before you know it.

    The more listings you have, the greater the chance for mistakes to spiral out of control if your booking website is not linked up to calendars on the OTAs you’re using. And a double-booking is a good way to make sure a guest never thinks about using your company again.

    Design

    If it wasn’t obvious, your website should look sharp as well. In fact, as the first impression guests will have of your business, it’s probably one of the most important factors in a high-converting booking website. Nothing scares away potential guests more than an ugly website that looks like no one’s bothered to invest any time in it.

    A ‘bad’ website can mean a lot of things, but the basics are fairly universal, whatever business you are in; pay particular attention to silly typos, grammar and low-resolution images, which are all extremely off-putting.

    Make sure to think about not only the visual aspect of your website but also the flow and purpose. Smooth navigation is vital if you want guests to have a good experience and easily find what they need. Don’t overload visitors with piles of text, testimonials and videos. Keep your homepage clean and concise, creating additional sections that can be navigated to if there’s a need. You want guests to make a booking, so make it easy for them — show what you are offering, why it is great and how they can book.

    Tracking

    Once you’ve taken care of the basics and your website is generating some traffic, then it’s very important to use some kind of tracking solution to identify where the visits are coming from. By understanding what platforms are the most or least successful, you’ll know where to increase or reduce efforts to bring in more visitors. It’s equally important to monitor the behavior of those that arrive through Google Analytics and cookie tracking so you know what kind of content to show them.

    Using analytics tools, not only can you garner information about the channels that drive traffic to your booking website, but you can also measure specific metrics that you need to improve. How many visitors enter your website and abandon it? How much time do they spend on each page? What properties really attract them?

    Without measuring your website’s performance, you’ll never know how to make it better.

    Content

    The purpose of your website might be to get bookings, but it still needs to bring visitors and you’ll need more than just a few listings on your page to do that. If you know who your audience is, then you should also know what they are looking for. Use your website to remove all doubt from the equation. What is the local transport situation? Where can guests eat in the area? Are there any attractions worth seeing? What can people do when they stay at your listing?

    You need to sell the experience, not just the listing. If questions are left unanswered — even before they are asked — then you’re losing out on potential guests.

    Creating content for your website on all these different aspects, not just a passing mention in the listing description, helps to maintain a flow of relevant traffic because you’re being helpful and informative to your guests as they’re going through the decision-making process.

    What Are You Waiting For?

    As overwhelming as all this can seem, you’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose by starting to implement these changes now. Property managers have a lot of tools at their disposal to market their listings, but not enough are effectively using something that, if done right, can continually generate revenue for the business.

    A good website is where potential guests can find out who you really are and what your company is all about. It has your brand, your tone of voice and hopefully, your personality too. Simply put, your website is a sales pitch, one of the most important you have, and all roads lead to it. Use your website to convince guests that they want to stay at your listing, not just because the property looks good, but because you’ve shown them that they can trust you and feel confident in their choice. You won’t be meeting your potential guests in person to sell your story and ultimately, that’s why a top-notch website is so crucial — bring guests in and seal the deal then and there.

    About Matthew Barnes

    Matthew Barnes is the head of content at Guesty, a cloud-based platform designed to simplify the complex operations of property management companies. He has been working in online content for the past six years and is always looking for new and interesting ways to engage a growing audience in a crowded space. If you'd like to get in touch, Matthew can usually be found checking his emails at matthew.barnes@guesty.com.

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