When I attend lodging industry conferences it seems that hoteliers everywhere are talking about the growing costs of customer acquisition and how important it is to secure direct bookings. Yet when I conduct training workshops for front desk and reservations staff, it seems few are talking about this subject with those who are in the best position to actually do something about it.

To illustrate this point I’ll share a recent observation. While standing at the front desk waiting to meet the GM for dinner, a phone conversation caught my attention when I heard a front desk agent ask “What website are you looking at sir?” It became obvious that he was fielding a call from someone shopping at an OTA and trying to match-up room types he saw there with the more extensive images he was seeing at the hotel’s own website. By the way, it was a slow night at the desk and there was another front desk colleague who was idle at the time.

From my position at the side of the desk I was able to watch as this polite young hotelier then visited the OTA website and patiently coached the caller through on how to locate the room he wanted.

Later when I told the GM about this she was a bit shocked, but I actually was not surprised at all. When I conduct training for front desk and reservations agents I always ask if they know why it is important to encourage guests to book directly and how much it costs in commissions and fees. Rarely do my participants have the answer; some even report thinking they are not supposed to sell against these OTA’s.

What would happen if I called your hotel and said I was looking online at Expedia or Booking and just double checking a rate?

When our KTN mystery shoppers make calls like this the most common response we hear is “Yes, that’s the same rate I’m showing.” Our team then says “Okay, should I book that with you, or…?” followed by a pause; the most frequent answer is “Whichever you prefer is fine.”
Personally, I believe this is because too many distribution and revenue leaders seem are so obsessed with online bookings that they have completely forgotten the role of real conversations. Surely, online channels are extremely important and worthy of attention, but that does not mean we should forget about voice and in-person engagement.

To keep your attention, let’s do the math… Let’s take an ADR of $129 and an ALS if 1.5 nights, giving us a booking value of $193.50. Based on an “average” OTA fee of 15%, it would cost $29.05 in acquisition fees, which flows straight to the bottom line and not out the door to a third party. Most hoteliers would be amazed how frequently channel conversion opportunities present themselves if they were to challenge their staff and measure the results.

When our KTN team listens-in to real call recordings as part of our third-party call assessment service, we frequently hear evidence of callers shopping online while on the phone. These “channel conversion” opportunity calls are disguised as simple questions such as “Hi, I’m just checking a rate…” or “Can you tell me if the Premium Room has a direct view of…?”

Beyond phone calls, the front desk team can also convert known regular guests to booking directly next time by simply engaging them in conversations at registration and especially at departure.  Here are some tips for implementing a channel conversion training program at your hotel:

  • Share this article and discuss this topic at your next front desk or reservations meeting.
  • Take your team through the exercise of calculating the potential savings to the bottom-line based on your transient ADR and ALS. Ask them to estimate how many of the calls mentioned above they receive daily. Ask how many “regulars” they know personally who book through third parties.
  • Then ask them to help the hotel keep this revenue in-house. Let them know that when this “currency” flows outside the building to an OTA, that OTA does not take any of the operating costs such as payroll and only money right off the top!
  • Share some sample language the staff can use and have them practice saying it in their own words. Examples:

“While I have you on the line, let me go ahead and secure this reservation for you right now so I can lock in the rate and put in that request.”

“Ms. Flores, before I send you on your way today, may I book your next stay right now? I know we’re already getting reservations for next

month, so I want to make sure we have you taken care of!”

  • Consider a small incentive. Even a $1 or 1% commission on each direct booking will help motivate frontline employees, especially if managers celebrate and recognize the staff members when paying out this reward. This is far less than any OTA commission or booking fee.
  • Post your phone number prominently on your website, especially when it displays on mobile devices.
  • If you have in-house reservations staff, indicate so on your website with a call-out button right next to the phone number that reads “Call In-House Reservations.”