Managing connections to the big OTA websites is fundamental to your business having a viable online profile and sustainable reach across the travel market. But if you want more revenue, lower variable costs, higher profit margin, more control of your ‘brand identity’ and customer interactions, you must actively drive direct bookings.

Balancing traditional channels like the big OTAs with alternatives, including your own website, is where Tourism Exchange Australia (TXA) will deliver for you.

In my last blog, I wrote about the potential of Google direct channels through TXA. Google direct is key, but the building blocks for direct bookings are inherent in how you market your business and build your online profile. Here are the things you need to do.

Review your website from your customer’s perspective.

Is your website intuitive, user-friendly and visually appealing? Your website is the digital window to your business. Does it capture the attention and motivate potential customers the moment they land on the homepage? If not, change it.  And, your website needs to be responsive, easy to navigate, motivate and provide a clear pathway to instantly complete bookings.

If your booking process is clunky or complex potential guests will abandon the process and go elsewhere. Simplify the ‘user journey’ by minimising the number of steps/clicks required to complete the booking. Clearly display room options, rates, and available dates, and incorporate a straightforward checkout process. If your booking system doesn’t do that, change booking systems.

A good website is not the end in itself. Now you need to actively market to bring consumers to your site. Here’s how:

Dive into social media to drive traffic to your website.

Create compelling content that showcases what your tourism business has to offer guests. Use Instagram, Facebook, and Tik Tok to motivate consumers to visit your site, promote deals and packages to your social media followers. The objective is to encourage direct interactions and bookings through ‘BOOK NOW’ buttons and links within your social media posts.

Highlight special promotions, discounts, or package deals that are only available on your website. Reinforce the benefit of them booking directly with you, whether it’s a personal ‘special touch’, complimentary add on, more flexible cancellation policy, or just making a personal connection. Crafted offerings can create a sense of urgency and value, encouraging visitors to take advantage of the benefits provided through direct bookings.

Use email to maintain a dialog with guests.  

This applies equally to engaging with past and potential customers. If you don’t have a CRM use Excel to create and build a ‘subscriber’ list (of all guests through whichever channel) and email special offers, updates, and ‘exclusive’ deals available to them when booked direct. Make sure you personalise your emails, segment your audience, and use compelling visuals and descriptions to capture their attention. A well-crafted email marketing strategy keeps you in their consideration set.

Work on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

It’s worth the effort to get your SEO optimised to ensure that your website ranks as high as possible in search engine results. Do some keyword research, optimise meta tags, and regularly update content to improve visibility. You can easily do this yourself. It will yield a result.

Offer your best rate on your own website.

Let potential guests experience that they are getting the best rates directly on your website. The smartest way to do this is to offer more ‘added value’ on your website through a competitive price with direct bonus ‘add ons’ only available on your website.

You can do the same thing to reward repeat bookings to retain/re-engage past guests.

Encourage and actively manage online reviews.

In terms of influencing a decision to book, or not, there is probably nothing more important than reviews. Talk to and email satisfied customers asking that they leave a review on your website, and on the OTA website through which they booked. If it is an OTA booking, ask if it is OK for you to use their review on your website too. Showcase these testimonials prominently on your website. It builds trust and credibility. Positive feedback from previous guests serves as social proof, instilling confidence in potential customers and increasing the likelihood of them choosing your website for direct bookings.

For the more sophisticated marketer, consider targeted Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. Tripadvisor and Google Ads can help you place your business in front of consumers actively searching for travel options. Craft compelling ad copy, select relevant keywords, and create visually appealing ads to capture and push potential guests to land on your website to book.

The back end of your website will most likely have the capability to re-engage visitors who have come your website but did not complete a booking. It’s called remarketing. Use email or messaging to remind them of your offerings, showcase deals, and encourage them to return to book directly. It’s a second chance to recapture their attention after they’ve shown initial interest.

Farming direct bookings is an art that requires skill. You can do it by extending your ‘reach’ using TXA to connect to OTAs and alternative channels and optimising your own website. By simplifying the booking experience using your very own TXA booking pages on Google and social media supported by targeted marketing strategies, you can build your business’s online profile and deliver a boost to your bottom line.