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7 Ways to Inspire Direct Bookings Without Breaking OTA Rules

Debiprasad Sarangi
Debiprasad Sarangi

2Hotel operators love online travel agencies (OTAs) for filling up rooms that would have remained vacant, but they also despise them for stealing business that might have paid full price. Websites such as Hotwire and Expedia charge sizable fees for bookings and require rate parity (mandates that hotels not advertise rooms for less than what’s on the OTA), but more and more customers are moving to exclusively booking through these sites. So what is a hotel manager to do?

Thankfully, there are ways hotels can entice travelers back to their own websites, phone lines and front desks. Here’s a few our experts found.

Offer Deals to Facebook Fans

Rate parity limitations only apply to rates that you advertise publicly, or that anyone on the Internet can see. You can still offer deals to a limited audience, which includes your Facebook following. Here’s an example from an Atlanta hotel that includes a discount code:



According to the marketing agency that helped launch this promotion, the hotel received nearly $2,000 in revenue directly from this campaign (compared to the typical $100 or less from social media).

Send Timely Blog Posts with Offers to an Email List

Your blog is a great avenue for both reminding potential customers why that moment is a great time to travel and for pitching them on deals relevant to whatever event or season might be happening. You can send these articles to your email list, as well as optimize them with keywords that have high search traffic. This latter strategy can drive more organic traffic to your website. For example, “SXSW hotels” receives 170 searches per month, so Austin-area hotels could write blogs optimized for that keyword so they rank when people search for that term in Google.  Here’s an example of a blog post advertising Spring time events in the area around The Sanctuary Beach Resort in Monterey Bay:



Put Your Best Foot Forward to Keep Them Onsite

Many customers assume when they book on OTAs, they will get the “less desirable rooms.” So you need to show them what your best rooms look like immediately. This could convince them it’s worth caving on the amount they would have saved on the OTA. Make sure that your most attractive rooms, views and balconies (if you have them) are front and center (like on your homepage). These images need to be professionally taken, and show all of the perks of your most attractive rooms – soaking tubs, incredible views, large windows. Here’s an example from the Driskill Hotel in Austin. You can clearly see the city scape views from the window:

The Driskill Austin


Offer Pop-Up Deals to Site Visitors

Another way to immediately grab your website visitor’s attention and keep them onsite is with pop-up deals. I don’t mean the annoying, flashing pop-ups for unsavory products that we remember from the early days of the Internet. I mean an offer specifically for your hotel that offers a deal and invites them to “book now.” Here’s an example from the Napa River in California. This screen pops up immediately when you visit their website:

Napa River Inn Deal


Make It Stupid-Easy To Book Online

Remember when we used phones for talking? Most customers will do anything to avoid calling you, sitting on hold and dictating their information to a front desk agent. For this reason, you need to make sure the online booking experience is seamless.My company answers questions from hotel automation buyers all day, so we know exactly how these systems can streamline your web-based booking process. Here’s a great example from HotelLogix client, the Kertanegara guest house in Indonesia:

Kertanegara guest house screenshot


Make Loyal Customers Feel Special with Snail Mail

For many industries, direct marketing through snail mail has gone the way of the dinosaurs. But many hotel marketers say for hotel loyalty programs they still provide a significant return. This could be because postcards make you think about travel, and when they’re combined with a deal, it could be just the thing they need to get the ball rolling on their next trip. These postcards can also be hung up on a bulletin board or fridge as a constant reminder. Here’s an example postcard from the Sebastian Vail:

Sebastian-Hotel-Vail-Postcard-1 Sebastian-Hotel-Vail-Postcard-2






Demonstrate That You’re Committed To Service On TripAdvisor

In addition to checking your website, OTA shoppers often go to sites like TripAdvisor to check out your reviews. This is also another chance to entice travelers to come back to your site rather than to the OTA. Hotel operators should respond to as many comments as they can. For example, if someone comments on how nice the spa was, a hotel could respond by thanking the customer for their feedback and informing them of a new spa package they’re currently offering with bookings through their website. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value. Here’s an example from the Hotel 100 in Seattle:

Seattle Hotel Tripadvisor Review


These are just a few strategies our experts discovered. How do you drive more direct bookings? Chime into the conversation with a comment here.

This is a Guest Post contributed by Alan S. Horowitz.

Ashley Verrill is an analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM,, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.