GDS guide for hotels | hotel booking systems

Three letters which have remained something of a mystery for many hoteliers: 'GDS'.

They stand for ‘Global Distribution System’, which is a huge network dedicated to providing travel industry professionals with a wide choice of hotels and travel packages.

Until very recently, the GDS has quite rightly been the domain of large hotels and big chains. We say ‘quite rightly’ because it was cumbersome, expensive and required an inordinate amount of someone’s time if it was to be used effectively.

Thankfully, things have changed. Thanks to PMS platforms like Welcome Anywhere finally making the GDS accessible and manageable for smaller operators, everyone can benefit from this brilliant guest finder tool. So without further ado, here's a quick GDS guide for hotels.

So… how does the GDS work?

Connect PMS and channel manager to GDS | hotel software uk

Good question!

There are countless travel industry professionals out there whose responsibility it is to find their clients the best possible hotel rates and travel arrangements.

These agents use tools like the GDS to make their lives easier and their clients happier. And guess what - if your hotel’s rates and availability can be found on the GDS, you’re in with a shout of winning plenty of new business.

By connecting your PMS and channel manager to the GDS, you can advertise your hotel to this massive network and gain access to a market you simply won’t find on any OTA.

Should my independent hotel sign up to the GDS?

GDS increases hotel brand awareness | management system for hotels london

Not long ago, we’d have said “tread with caution” when asked this question, but not any more. The GDS is no longer a tool solely for the big boys of the industry.

The aforementioned travel agents are primed and motivated to find great room rates and decent hotels for their clients, and they could become some of your most loyal customers.

The GDS is brilliant for increasing brand awareness about your hotel, too. It contains market segments that may otherwise never have discovered your property, and the fees for making that happen are pretty reasonable when compared with the marketing budget black hole that is Google Adwords.

Not convinced? Here are 4 reasons you need the GDS!

Okay, the GDS does still have a bit of an image problem within the independent hotel market, and you probably need a little more to go on if you’re to spread your wings wider online.

So, here are four reasons the GDS should be in your hotel’s marketing plans:

  1. You’ll get more bookings. You want that, right? 2017 was a record year for bookings made via the GDS, and if you’re not on that network, you’re missing out.
  2. Your revenue will rise. More bookings = increased revenue. Simple. And, remember - if you’re worried about the profitability of those bookings due to commission fees, the GDS is more affordable than you might think, and there’s always a profit in a room sale if you price it right.
  3. You’ll discover new markets. We’ve mentioned this a few times but it bears repeating: the GDS puts your hotel in front of a brand new audience. New audiences open up so many opportunities for hotels to expand on their offering, widen their customer base and increase awareness of the brand.
  4. Travel agents will become some of your best friends. We all need friends in this industry, and with travel agents under significant pressure to find great hotels and reasonable room prices, the discovery of your property will put a great big smile on their face.

And finally…

With over 100,000 travel websites, agents and portals out there, the GDS can’t be handled manually. Make sure you have a PMS and channel manager that will connect to the network and automate the delivery of rates, availability and confirmed bookings!

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Welcome Anywhere has over 30 years of experience in helping independent hoteliers deliver guests an unforgettable experience with its simple property management system that controls your daily activities. The best part -  it’s all cloud hosted! We develop scalable solutions for your property such as PMS, a Booking Engine and Channel Manager. Our team has a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry and we serve you to better serve your guests.

 

Call us today at + 44 (0) 33 0100 1090, or email us at sales@welcomeanywhere.com. We will be happy to walk you through Welcome Anywhere’s all-in-one solution for your property management needs.

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5 tips for maximising direct bookings in 2020 | hotel software uk

Hosted by TripTease, the Direct Booking Summit is now in its second year and is the first event of its kind devoted to helping hoteliers increase the number of direct bookings they receive.

The fact direct booking now has its own summit is a clear indication of how big a challenge it is for hoteliers (particularly independents) to drive bookings through their own websites as opposed to the commission-based alternatives.

The good news? If you’re an independent hotelier, there are five things you can do in 2020 to maximise your direct bookings - and they’re easier than you might think!

1. A blatantly-obvious online booking button

new website design for your hotel | hotel management software uk

We’ve offered this tip so many times in the past, but there’s no harm in reiterating it.

When you have a new website designed for your hotel, it’s easy to get lost in everything but the most important element - the call-to-action (CTA).

For a hotel, that’s the ‘book now’ button, courtesy of modern online hotel booking systems. If yours can’t be found immediately (i.e. without scrolling, or pinching to zoom on your phone [see tip 5]), you’re missing out on direct bookings - simple.

2. Nail the user experience

hotel industry tips | management systems for hotels london

A beautiful website isn’t necessarily a functional website or one that’s a pleasure to use.

Given the visual nature of this industry, we’ve seen far too many hotel websites where there has been too much time spent on the design, leaving the user experience to chance.

You need beautiful, original imagery and video if you’re to engage potential guests, but you also need to make it easy for them to navigate. Here’s our user experience golden rules:

  • Make it easy to book (see tip 1)
  • Put all of the important information within the upper-third of each page
  • Create a simple, clear menu

That’s it. Easy, right?

3. Make security a priority

5 tips for maximising your hotel's direct bookings in 2020 | hotel booking systems

Understandably, there’s a lot of nervousness about data protection and cybercrime these days, and your hotel website needs to give its visitors the confidence to hang around.

You can do this by investing in a PCI-compliant online booking system for their credit card payments, and by ensuring that you have an ‘https’ security certificate for the website. The latter displays the little padlock icon in most browsers and is an industry-standard form of security.

These little things will add credibility to your brand and encourage people to hang around long enough to book.

4. Rate parity

rate parity to maximise direct bookings | hotel upselling

If you’re advertising rates higher or lower on your website compared to the OTAs, you’ll be both breaking their rules and confusing guests.

Sound odd? Not really. Guests want transparent pricing, and finding multiple prices for the same room at the same hotel across multiple websites including your own doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Why are they different?

If you have price parity across all of your online channels, the choice of booking method for the guest will usually come down to whichever website they land on when they’re at the buying stage of the customer journey. If yours keeps them engaged and makes it easy to book, why would they head back to an OTA?

5. Mobile compatibility

5 tips for maximising direct bookings in 2020 | hotel booking systems

Test your hotel website on your mobile phone.

Most of the people who visit your website will do so on their smartphone. And that means everything should auto-adjust to fit any screen size, while keeping that all important CTA (re-read tip 1!) front-and-centre.

Whats the experience like? Painful?

You’re missing out on direct bookings!

Wrapping up

You’ll never achieve 100% direct bookings for your hotel. If you do, we’d love to hear from you.

But you won’t - sorry.

That doesn’t matter though, because by using our tips above, you’ll significantly increase the portion that originate from your own website and in turn establish a brand that people want to return to again and again.

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Welcome Anywhere has over 30 years of experience in helping independent hoteliers deliver guests an unforgettable experience with its simple property management system that controls your daily activities. The best part -  it’s all cloud hosted! We develop scalable solutions for your property such as PMS, a Booking Engine and Channel Manager. Our team has a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry and we serve you to better serve your guests.

Call us today at + 44 (0) 33 0100 1090, or email us at sales@welcomeanywhere.com. We will be happy to walk you through Welcome Anywhere’s all-in-one solution for your property management needs.

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Choosing The Right OTA For Your Independent Hotel | Hotel Booking Systems

Whether you’re new to the hotel industry or have been part of it for decades, you’ll doubtless share one opinion on online travel agencies (OTAs).

No, no - not that one…

This one: there are so many of them. There’s the biggies, of course, but the number of smaller, niche OTAs has simply exploded in recent years.

This presents something of a problem for savvy hoteliers who want to maximise their presence online; how do you choose the right OTAs for your hotel?

As it turns out, it comes down to four simple factors. But first…

It’s about quality - not quantity

Spreading your wings wide online and having a presence on several OTAs has always been good practice, but that can lead to OTA overload if you get too carried away.

Your agency strategy should be one that focuses on quality rather than quantity. Even with the best channel manager in the world linked up and ready to go, you’re still giving yourself rather too much work if you sign up to every OTA under the sun.

Instead, it’s better to seek out the OTAs that best fit your hotel’s ethos, target market and, obviously, which are the most cost effective.

Here’s how to find them:

1. Check the audience

Choosing The Right OTA For Your Independent Hotel | Hotel Software UK

If you list your rooms and rates on an OTA that targets an audience you’d never target yourself your hotel might begin filling with customers who’s demands, tastes and expectations simply can’t be fulfilled.

For instance, if you cater mainly for couples seeking short breaks in kid-free environments, listing your hotel on a family-oriented OTA is probably going to result in some rather uncomfortable guest clashes.

Before you sign up to any OTA, find out exactly what type of audience they’re targeting by either asking them directly or scouring their website (the clues will be there).

2. Suss out the price

OTA market | management systems for hotels london

Every booking sent via an OTA comes at a price - that will never change. However, to avoid getting too grumpy over commission, you need to look at it more positively.

Which commission rates are going to deliver the best bang for your buck? If the OTA appears to target your perfect market, or is likely to bring in some high-spending guests, a slightly higher commission rate is probably a price worth paying.

Oh, and the commission rate should reflect something else you get, too…

3. …the features!

OTA Shopping | Hotel Booking Systems

Not all OTAs are made the same; some offer specific rate management and listing features that you won’t find elsewhere - and some of those features may not be compatible with your marketing plan at all.

One of the key things to check during your OTA shopping trip is compatibility with your PMS and channel manager. Without that, an OTA is next to useless, because you’ll end up in double-booking hell and with a huge amount of work that should be undertaken by software. So you'll have to ensure your hotel booking systems comply with consumer expectations.

OTAs spend a lot of time and money creating new features that hoteliers can take advantage of - just make sure they’re features you’re likely to use.

4. The guest experience

Guest Experience | hotel upselling

Time to put your guest hat on.

What’s the OTA like when it comes to booking a room? Is the booking process accessible, intuitive and likely to resonate with your audience?

A great feature set, cost effective commission rate and perfect audience is nothing if the OTA is a pig to use - tough but true.

Wrapping up

Happy OTA hunting! Take your time, but use the four factors above to narrow down your search to the most relevant websites for your hotel.

Been there and done it? What’s your OTA strategy? Have we missed something? If so, tell us in the comments section, below.

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Welcome Anywhere has over 30 years of experience in helping independent hoteliers deliver guests an unforgettable experience with its simple property management system that controls your daily activities. The best part -  it’s all cloud hosted! We develop scalable solutions for your property such as PMS, a Booking Engine and Channel Manager. Our team has a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry and we serve you to better serve your guests.

 

Call us today at + 44 (0) 33 0100 1090, or email us at sales@welcomeanywhere.com. We will be happy to walk you through Welcome Anywhere’s all-in-one solution for your property management needs.

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Regardless of how you might feel about the significant interest placed on millennials by seemingly every media outlet, the biggest generation in existence is definitely in the driving seat when it comes to the economy.This year they’ll outnumber baby boomers, so it’s important for businesses across all industries to cater to their needs in order to attract millennial customers.

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Some hotels try hard to be unique so that guests are more likely to come knocking, but the biggest influence on booking numbers will often be location, location, location. This doesn’t mean that all your other marketing efforts are in vain; it just makes it important to emphasise that your hotel is the gateway to an amazing destination.

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Online travel agencies aren’t going anywhere - let’s get that particular fact out of the way immediately. That means savvy hoteliers will continue to pay commission for the new bookings generated by sites such as Booking.com.

But that’s not a bad thing. You see, if you’re running one of the latest channel managers for hotels, you’ll benefit from a set of tools that make online distribution a cinch.

Such tools provide you with something rather invaluable: more time to work on your direct booking strategy. And, with that in mind, here’s four direct booking strategies you should be working into your 2019 hotel marketing plan:

1. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly

How often do you encounter websites that don’t work properly on your smartphone? You have to pinch to zoom and read text and, nine times out of ten, you’ll hit the wrong link as you try and navigate the site.

In a 2017 survey by Google, 89% of people confirmed they’re more likely to recommend a brand after a positive mobile browsing experience. How compatible is your hotel’s website with smaller screens? If it’s a frustrating experience, make 2019 the year you go fully mobile-first with your web presence.

2. Reach out to existing guests

The guest email addresses you collect could hold the key to a significant uplift in return bookings.

With an email marketing platform such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor, you can finally make use of those email addresses in 2019 by sending tempting offers to stay with you again. And, if your PMS allows you to filter and export specific sets of customers (by business or leisure and demographical data, for instance), you can send highly relevant emails to people who are most likely to engage with them.

Oh, and the good, old-fashioned telephone and snail mail aren’t bad ways to reconnect with old guests, either!

3. Build a rate strategy from past performance

Providing you have a PMS that offers deep analytical data on your guests’ past staying habits, you should be able to create a rate strategy for 2019 that’s influenced by past performance.

Look for your most popular rates by booking channel and try and identify those which were most often booked directly. You clearly got something right, whether it was the inclusion of some free extras for booking direct or the name you chose for the package.

The more you study last year’s performance, the more you’ll be able to spot direct booking trends that will help inform the hotel’s rate strategy for 2019.

4. Find something unique about your hotel - and promote the hell out of it

Every independent hotel is unique. For some, that uniqueness is obvious (the presence of giraffes as dinner guests, for instance), while for others, it’s a little more subtle - but equally compelling.

Whether your property is supposedly haunted by a ghost, once played host to a celebrity or played a minor supporting role in an episode of Dr Who, make a big noise about it next year.

Booking via OTAs is a relatively soulless experience, simply because every hotel is listed in a near-identical fashion. When people reach your hotel’s own website, they want to be drawn into your world, and one of the best ways to achieve that level of engagement is to highlight the one thing that makes your property unique.

Don’t be shy - shout loud and proud about whatever it is that makes your hotel special and have some fun with it; create a special menu or stay package based on the unique element.

Wrapping up

You have the time to undertake the direct booking strategies above, even if it feels like the clock is forever ticking against you.

The trick lies in making your direct booking strategy a vital task that’s present on every day’s to-do list. Find the time, and you’ll find more guests who are willing to come straight to your website rather than book via OTAs. It’s that simple.

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The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has taken online travel agents (OTAs) to task in the past week over how hotel rooms are displayed to customers, according to BBC News.

This news arrives in the wake of claims that some of the leading sites which offer booking capabilities are misleading consumers when it comes to the availability of rooms.

An investigation by the CMA into this issue is ongoing and, thus far, the sites which are suffering the regulator’s scrutiny have not been singled out. Complaints raised by investigators relate to the fact that rooms are apparently sometimes ordered according to the level of commission that hotels pay OTAs. This (it's assumed) means that the rank a room achieves isn’t always related to its quality or suitability, making results less relevant for guests.

There are also other concerns being aired, covering everything from the transparency of the way discounts are handled to the ‘hidden’ fees that only come to light further into the booking journey.

This is a hot topic for the CMA and the industry at large, since it estimates that around 70 per cent of consumers who compare hotel rooms online do so via an OTA.

Of course, it could be argued that OTAs have also done a vast amount to help consumers get better prices for hotel rooms, while also empowering providers of accommodation with a means of boosting their visibility, introducing new business and increasing bookings.

The latest findings of this investigation are a timely reminder that OTAs now face increasing pressure to operate fairly and that the same goals should apply to independent hotels. This all relates to the guest experience, after all - and that's what really matters.

Putting guests first

The most important thing to remember when navigating the choppy waters of online booking is that customers need to be thought of above all else and beyond any issues you might have with OTAs.

For example, if you plough all of your efforts into perfecting your listings with popular OTAs, while neglecting your hotel’s website, then winning those all-important direct bookings will be much harder.

Of course, you can’t rely on direct bookings and shun OTAs altogether, since they’re crucial to alerting customers to your hotel’s existence in the first place, such is their dominance on Google and continual investment in what many would argue is the best online booking experience.

Essentially you need to strike a balance between a well-honed OTA presence and a compelling on-site experience for people who want to book with your hotel directly.

A big part of this is about building trust and making sure that guests don’t necessarily need to book a room with you through an OTA to get the best deal. Loyalty programs for guests who regularly stay with you can help here, but most of all you need to focus on delivering rate parity across every platform on which you advertise rooms.

This is tough with the level of competitiveness that exists on OTAs, as well as the unavoidable costs of commission. Thankfully, with regulators cracking down on anti-competitive practices, the ability to combine an OTA presence with successful direct booking strategies will potentially become easier for independent hotels.

Wrapping up

OTAs are here to stay and still offer significant value as marketing channels for hotels, so independent operators must learn to leverage them as best they can, whilst optimising direct booking and keeping on the right side of regulators.

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Hotels have something of a mixed relationship with online travel agencies (OTAs), resulting in some independents taking a cautious approach to embracing the services they offer.

In spite of this, it’s impossible to ignore the influence OTAs wield in the modern marketplace.

Online travel agencies are growing quicker in terms of booking numbers than any other part of the market at the moment, with their harnessing of mobile technology and  focus on delivering the best possible booking experience key to their success.

So how can independent hotels learn to leverage OTAs effectively and work with them, rather than feeling stifled by their ubiquity?

Commission complications

The commission charged by OTAs for bookings they handle can bite at first, but if it’s tempting guests through the door, then independent hotels should see this as a worthwhile investment.

The problem comes when people decide to book with you again using the same OTA, since the commission will still apply, and you’ll effectively be paying for guaranteed repeat business.

Ouch.

The obvious solution to this is to incentivise direct bookings and streamline this process so that your bottom line isn’t taking a hit for no reason.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but there are some ways to get the best of both worlds through OTAs and direct booking.

Dig into the data

Modern consumers are used to a personalised experience when they shop online, whether they’re buying groceries or booking a hotel room.

Using the data gathered from your hotel PMS, you can tailor the direct booking experience you offer so that it matches the needs of individual guests.

Factor in things like the rooms chosen, the payment methods used and the discounts that customers have enjoyed in the past.

If in doubt, check out the major OTAs to see how they create a bespoke booking experience and mirror their strategies for the best results. It’s ok to ‘copy’ now and again!

Optimise your OTA presence

Even if you eventually want to get more guests booking directly with your independent hotel, OTAs are still an effective portal for engaging with new customers.

Because of this unavoidable fact, you need to be sensible about how you manage your OTA presence.

First up, you should ensure that the way your hotel is listed on any OTA platforms is clear, concise and yet information-rich. Don’t do a rush job, either; take time to perfect your listing and the customers should come flocking.

The same considered approach should be taken when setting room rates, especially at quieter times of the year.

It’s tempting to blast through the initial set-up and then ignore your OTA presence from that point onwards, but regular tweaking will be the best way to win bookings and swallow the commission a little less painfully.

If the OTA you use features the option to add extra services to a booking, such as car rental or air travel, you might also want to include this as part of your listing.

Wrapping up

Building a good relationship with OTAs is a balancing act; something that should complement your direct booking service rather than being seen as in opposition to it.

With careful planning and an open mind, you can make use of a range of digital services to improve your independent hotel’s presence.

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It’s summer, which means most hoteliers are simply too busy to concern themselves with refining their distribution strategy.

That’s understandable, but if you can squeeze an extra hour or so out of your day to pay closer attention to your channel manager, you’ll be able to maximise you occupancy - and do so profitably.

Channel managers are now part and parcel of most hotel booking systems, and while it might be tempting to set yours up initially and then leave it to its own devices, you’ll quickly find yourself cursing the hotel’s inability to match its competitors’ occupancy levels.

To be competitive in this market, you need a proactive channel management strategy - it’s that simple.

In this blog, we’re going to look at four ways hoteliers can use their channel managers more effectively.

1. Make sure it’s integrated

Are you using a separate channel manager and hotel booking system without any link between the two?

Bit of an effort that, eh?

There’s a way around this, which is to ensure you opt for a channel manager that integrates with your hotel booking system. And when we say ‘integrates’, we mean a full, two-way link between both platforms.

Such solutions ensure your availability and rates are correct, no matter where they appear online but, more importantly, rid you of the frustration that comes with updating multiple systems. You’ll also avoid overbooking and benefit from a very happy team behind the front desk.

2. Work to increase the number of OTAs you use

We’ve often said that you need to spread your wings far and wide online when it comes to channel management, and that remains true today.

It may feel like you’re giving everything away to third parties by signing up with as many OTAs as possible, but if your hotel is missing from a website on which your main competitor resides, you’re giving up far too easily.

Surely you want to fight for those bookings too?

The more channels you add, the more you get to explore the industry and find new ways of attracting guests. You may even find new markets you hadn’t considered before or discover that overseas visitors are particularly fond of your independent hotel.

Never consider your distribution network complete; new OTAs arrive regularly.

3. Tailor tariffs for different demographics

Once you have a good number of OTAs on board, you can start sussing out the types of guest they attract.

If certain websites are favoured by millennials or baby boomers, you can tailor your tariffs to attract those types of guest. Conduct your own research by finding out what kind of extras and price points float the boats of these people.

If you simply offer the same style of tariff across every OTA, you may be alienating significant portions of your customer base.

4. Don’t neglect your own website

It’s easy to forget that one of the most important websites within your channel manager is your own.

Treat it like an OTA, albeit one that you know like the back of your hand. Be careful not to break the rules of your OTA agreements, but, equally, have some fun.

Try offering package that include additional, ‘freebie’ extras that can’t be found on OTAs. Modern guests will do an awful lot of research before they decide to book, which means they’ll inevitably stumble across your website at some stage.

Give them a reason to book direct.

Wrapping up

We’ve got you thinking, haven’t we?

Grab that extra hour and log into your channel manager. Those buttons, switches and toggles will all still be there, waiting for your input.

Don’t leave your occupancy to chance.

Image credit

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There’s no getting away from it - if you mention the acronym ‘OTA’ to most hoteliers, they’ll either wince, roll their eyes or suggest the conversation heads elsewhere.

The fact remains, however, that 76% of UK consumers booked their holidays online during 2016. That’s a huge number of people heading to the web in order to find hotel accommodation, and there’s a high chance the first website they land on will be an online travel agency.

This blog assumes you understand the value of an OTA listing for your hotel but haven’t taken the time to maximise the effectiveness of your profile.

Thankfully, optimising your hotel’s presence on the major OTAs is relatively straightforward and can be summed up in four steps any hotelier can undertake:

1. Think SEO

Effective search engine optimisation (SEO) ensures your website can be easily found on Google by the visitors you would consider valuable. The same goes for hotel listings on OTAs; to be found by the right type of guest, you need to employ some SEO tactics.

All OTAs feature some form of ranking system and most will give you plenty of advice on how to ensure your hotel climbs the search result pages. Pay attention to these instructions, and follow SEO best practises.

In the main, that means utilising plenty of keywords, but there’s a lot more you can do, too. We’d recommend a quick hunt through the Moz blog for inspiration. Although it gets a bit techy at times, their advice is invaluable.

2. Use only the best, highest-resolution images

To be honest, we could leave this tip at that, but it’s worth reiterating; don’t use photos of your hotel and its rooms that you’ve taken with your iPhone (no matter how many times Apple tells you it’s the ‘only camera you need’). Get in a pro snapper in to take photos of your property that show it off in its best possible light.

Lastly, if the OTA allows you to include videos on your profile - get someone in to produce an introductory piece for your hotel. Why? Because studies show that videos on website landing pages increase conversion rates by a whopping 80%!

3. Make friends with your OTA marketing manager

You know the person who rings you every so often to talk about your OTA listing? The one you always turn away because you’re too busy?

Yeah… we’re sorry to say you need to make friends with that person.

And, no, you’ll be glad to hear that doesn’t involve taking them out for a pint or inviting them to your first born’s christening - just a desire to hear them out whenever they get in touch.

You needn’t worry, either, because your marketing manager will no doubt be very nice indeed and their job is to help you get the most out of your presence on the OTA.

Remember: you’re paying the company for whom this person works significantly to do a job for you - so let them do it!

4. Finish off that profile… go on!

Think about the number of times you’ve searched for accommodation for your own getaway only to be frustrated by the number of hotels that have incomplete profiles on travel agency websites.

Annoying, isn’t it?

Don’t be that hotel. Make the last task for today that of fully completing your OTA profiles, right down to the very last field.

Final thoughts

Getting your hotel up and running on an OTA isn’t a ‘fire-and-forget’ routine; it’s something you need to spend a great deal of time on initially, and then continue to update as your business grows.

Many people will head for your hotel’s own website after finding the property on an OTA. It’s therefore vital that you make the best possible first impression if you’re to gain that direct booking via you own online booking system.

Image credit

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