Using OTA conversion best practices to improve hotel direct bookings

Why have OTAs become so successful in recent years? One of the biggest reasons is down to their mastery of the conversion process. This hasn’t happened by chance.

OTA investment in e-commerce research is huge. In the case of Expedia, last year they ran 1,750 A/B tests and spent an eye-watering $750 million on technology.

Through this kind of intensive investment and relentless experimentation, OTAs have tapped into the secrets of conversion and tailored their websites into highly refined tools to drive bookings.

But here’s the good news for hotels: the “secret” conversion tactics OTAs spend millions of dollars uncovering—they’re not actually so secret. Even better news, all hotels can replicate these tactics without investing significant amounts of their own time and energy.

The following guide reveals three distinct methods OTAs are using to drive conversions, providing a blueprint for hotels to boost direct bookings through their own online channels.

Usability and user experience

OTAs have come to realize that when customers can quickly find the information they’re looking for, they’re more likely to book. As such, they’ve designed their sites to be clutter-free, easy to navigate, and full of the most critical information required to make a booking decision.

OTAs have also learned that above all, customers want to see lots of quality images with big photos of rooms, amenities, and social spaces. That’s why sites like Booking.com, Expedia, and Hotels.com (among many others) place imagery at the heart of their user experience.  When you click on a hotel on their site, the first thing you see is an attention-grabbing image of the property with an extensive gallery.

Booking.com images
Example of Booking.com images

Booking.com, for example, makes a point of providing lots of images of hotel rooms, with multiple angles and a mixture of close-ups and wide shots to provide the most complete perspective possible.

In addition to great visuals, customers also want specific details about a hotel that images alone can’t provide. Typically, this might involve them seeking answers to questions like, “How big are the beds?” or “Does the hotel have free Wi-Fi?” or “Are local bars and restaurants within walking distance?”

OTAs make these details simple to find. The example below from Hotels.com shows how at a quick glance, a potential customer can scan through a whole page of bulleted information.

As customers move through the booking flow, OTAs then make sure they present the most critical content in one view, eliminating the need for clicking around at a vital stage.

Expedia.com showcases how simple this can look. Essential room details, the cancellation policy and total price are all displayed in a logical sequence that deals with the most likely questions and objections that might impact decision-making.

Example of Expedia room listing
Example of Expedia room listing

This whole page is concise, easy to scan, and naturally leads the eye from left to right towards that prominent call to action button – “Reserve”, efficiently whisking users towards the checkout.

Social proof

Social proof plays a huge part in the booking process. In a study of reviews in the travel planning process, a whopping 95% of respondents said they read reviews before booking. And leisure travelers reported spending an average of 30 minutes consulting reviews before booking a hotel room.

People conduct this kind of research for a simple reason: they want confirmation from others that they’re making a good decision. OTAs have become highly adept at providing this reassurance by featuring reviews throughout the booking process.

In the example below, Hotels.com include a series of review stats along with a “Loved by guests” symbol, leaving customers in no doubt about this property’s popularity.

Hotels.com social proof
Hotels.com social proof

Hotels can replicate these same tactics by featuring awards, testimonials, and guest reviews throughout their own sites. Given the monumental sway of TripAdvisor reviews, having a TripAdvisor widget on your site is one of the best ways to provide social proof.

But while ratings and reviews are powerful tools of persuasion, they’re not the only way to add social proof. Booking.com are a prime example of how OTAs constantly use recent browsing and booking figures to reinforce a hotel’s popularity.

Booking.com social proof
Booking.com social proof

The prompts highlighted above are now becoming ever more varied as OTAs look to engineer new ways to add social proof into the conversion process.

Fast and easy checkout

When customers reach the checkout, it’s easy to assume the hard work has been done. They’ve found the room they want and they’re all set to book. But a recent survey by SalesCycle casts doubt on that assumption, revealing that a huge 81% of travelers abandon online bookings.

To address this issue, it’s important to make the checkout process fast and simple. Just like the OTAs do, make sure you only have one clear call to action. Too many distractions open up the opportunity for travelers to abandon their booking.

Booking forms should also be short. Asking lots of unnecessary questions is a major source of customer frustration, so only request essential details. The amount of clicks and pages within the booking process should also be minimal; the less navigation needed the better.

Eliminating obstacles is certainly a key component of the checkout process. But this is also the time to add reassurance. Before customers reach for the credit card, they want to know their booking is safe, secure, and that they’re getting the best price. OTAs go out of their way to address all of these points, and they’re especially focused on assuring customers about price. That’s why their best rate guarantees don’t just feature on one page, they feature throughout the booking flow.

OTAs are also extremely adept at creating urgency to boost conversions, and this mentality applies to the checkout process, illustrated here by Expedia.

expedia-urgency-at-checkout
Expedia urgency at checkout

When a confirmed booking is just one click away, Expedia give customers one final nudge to secure their room before somebody else gets there before them.

Applying the tactics of OTAs

At a distance, it’s easy to assume the dominance of OTAs in bookings is one based on limitless budgets and relentless testing. But close up, this seemingly unassailable advantage suddenly appears far less intimidating.

Far from being cloaked in mystery, the OTA model of conversion can be broken down into discrete elements, and here’s the important part—that model of conversion is entirely replicable.

More than that, replicating many of these OTA methods requires relatively little investment of time or money. So in fact, by piggybacking on millions of dollars of research and insight, hotels can tap into the secrets of conversion and begin driving direct bookings their own way.


Interested in learning more about how to lessen your dependency on OTAs? Join our webinar on Oct. 26, 2016 hosted by Travel Tripper, StayNTouch, and TrustYou.

Break Away from the OTA webinar

Nate Lane

Nate Lane

Nate Lane is a senior global director of business development, product development, and agency operations with 10+ years of experience driving growth and innovation as an "intrapreneur." He's an avid mountain biker, a coffee and craft beer enthusiast, and a proud family man. Contact him at nate.lane@pegs.com.

One thought on “Using OTA conversion best practices to improve hotel direct bookings

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