7 best tips to enhance and optimise your OTA profiles in the new normal
Whether you’re already using online travel agents (OTAs) to market your property or are just starting out, you want to make sure you’ve got the right configurations to maximise booking potential. In the current climate, it’s essential for properties to optimise their profiles on online booking websites to encourage more guests to book.
Here are seven tips from OTA providers, including Airbnb, Agoda, Booking.com and Michael Paul Holidays to help you enhance your listing and meet guest’s evolving needs.
1. Put guests at ease by highlighting your COVID-safe measures
Following the arrival and subsequent impact of COVID-19, guests’ travelling needs have dramatically changed. “Guests are concerned about health and hygiene during their trip and are precautious,” says Reece Evans, the area manager for connectivity at Booking.com. “To avoid risk, they rely heavily on heath and safety-related information, checking any regulations when planning their trips.” In a recent study by Booking.com, 79% of travellers say they’ll be happy to take more precautions due to coronavirus when setting off on their travels. While planning their trips, 59% will avoid certain destinations if it means avoiding crowds, and 70% will also expect tourist attractions to adapt to social distancing rules.
Updating your property listing is a crucial step that lets guests know exactly how you're addressing their cleanliness concerns. “We strongly recommend you review and update your services and amenities on booking channels,” recommends Mathieu Verhaeghe, regional connectivity partnerships lead for Agoda. “Travellers are looking for a safe and hygienic environment when selecting a property. Review and prepare a checklist of standardised cleanliness and hygiene measures you can easily incorporate into your operations in order to reassure future guests."
In a recent survey by Airbnb, guests said that concerns about cleanliness were the biggest barrier to booking a place to stay. “While we won’t allow you to claim that your listing is coronavirus-free, you can share details in your listing description about your cleaning methods,” says Caroline Robbins, connectivity partnerships manager for Airbnb. Caroline also recommends that hosts message their guests to provide extra details about their cleaning routine, as well as leaving cleaning supplies in the property. This helps guests feel more comfortable before they check-in and throughout their stay.
Key action points:
- Update listing - review services and amenities on property listing
- Message guests to provide extra details about cleaning routines
2. Introduce flexible booking policies
Many OTAs have noticed the increased demand for flexible bookings and are strongly encouraging properties to consider offering a flexible booking and cancellation policy.
According to Caroline, the share of bookings with this type of policy has been going up since March. “Those who are thinking about travelling are understandably wanting more flexibility to rebook or cancel reservations,” she says. “If you have a strict policy in place, you can switch to a flexible or moderate one by changing your settings on your Listings page. You can always go back to your strict cancellation policy as needed.”
“Guests want to be able to quickly adapt their travel plans,” says Reece. “They want full transparency about your cancellation policy and the precautions you’re taking to keep guests safe.” Three-quarters (74%) of travellers recently surveyed by Booking.com said they want travel booking platforms to increase transparency about cancellation policies, refund processes and trip insurance options. Flexibility will also be a priority, with 46% of travellers saying they’ll consider refundable accommodation as a must-have, and 36% will want the flexibility to change the check-in dates without being charged.
Sometimes, a booking can’t go ahead for other reasons - in response to this, Michael Paul Holidays are assisting their clients in an effort to ease the burden of travel cancellations caused by COVID. “We’ve rolled out a COVID protection fund so that in the final analysis, if the holiday cannot take place the resort, guest and the agency all get paid,” says Michael Paul, the director of Michael Paul Holidays.
Key action points:
- Offer a flexible booking and cancellation policy to align with guest behaviour
3. Maximise visibility to secure future bookings
In their Recovery Toolkit, Booking.com offers a number of useful tips for properties on the road to domestic recovery. With a rise in guest demand, now is a critical time to update your profile, rank higher and increase your conversion. “Help your properties add inventory and rates to make them available in our search pages,” says Reece. “Free up restricted inventory by removing the applied minimum length of stay restriction on ‘unbookable’ dates to maximise visibility on Booking.com.”
Reece also recommends looking ahead to the future to capitalise on the domestic demand. “Some properties are not available beyond a certain date which means they cannot be seen or booked by potential customers,” he says. “Properties should add more availability for future days to capture demand in markets where guest demand is starting to pick up again.”
Agoda is also helping its customers focus on visibility by encouraging properties to optimise their rate channels and discounts to trigger new bookings. “Properties can provide better visibility to frequent travellers by fine-tuning their distribution strategy,” says Mathieu. “You can also stimulate domestic tourism by targeting travellers residing within 250km of your property.”
Key action points:
- Free up restricted inventory
- Optimise rate channels and discounts
- Fine-tune distribution reach
4. Convert researchers into customers with incentives and quality content
“Last minute bookings are now the norm as guests hedge their bets against a lockdown at a resort or a lockdown at their home,” says Michael. He recommends that OTAs work very closely with their property owners to build/rebuild strong relationships with them.
According to Airbnb, the percentage of last-minute bookings has doubled since the emergence of COVID-19. “Take advantage of this trend by ensuring that your “Advance Notice” reservation preferences are set to the minimum notice you’re comfortable with,” says Caroline. “You can set it for 1-, 2-, or 3-days’ notice.”
Booking.com has noticed the surge in last-minute bookings particularly in the Americas, with 80% of customers researching via the mobile app and 50% searching and booking on the platform from their mobile device. Shortening the booking funnel with last-minute and mobile deals is a good way to target these on-the-go travellers and encourage them to follow through with their booking.
Showcasing high-quality and up-to-date content is another way to attract bookings. According to Agoda’s tips for success, good content can help increase conversion rates by at least 50%.
An enticing listing attracts guests and covers everything they’re looking for in the new normal, such as privacy. “We’ve noticed some hosts are starting to think strategically about how to adapt to the shifting landscape,” says Caroline. “Be sure to point out any features about your space that make it easier to isolate, like having a private entrance or being free from neighbours. If you offer exclusive amenities for your space—like a pool, hot tub or garden—be clear that there isn’t shared access,” she adds. Caroline also recommends offering self-check-in and check-out to encourage social distancing, and avoiding routine maintenance during the guest’s stay to limit person-to-person contact.
Key action points:
- Showcase high-quality and up-to-date content
- Think about last-minute tactics
- Highlight features with increased isolation space
- Offer self-check-in service
5. Satisfy guest’s travelling needs
Some people’s reasons for travelling have changed in response to this shifting landscape; for example, remote workers may travel for a change of scenery. Make sure your listing meets their needs by calling out key features. “Remote workers will need fast and reliable WiFi,” says Caroline. “If certain areas of your space have a weak signal, wifi boosters and extenders can improve their performance. Because WiFi is critical to remote workers, your listing is at risk of a bad review if a guest has problems with the internet. Also include content and images in your listing for laptop-friendly workspaces and good lighting.”
Booking.com have launched a Work-Friendly Programme to make it easier for business travellers and remote workers to find suitable properties. “The programme is an effective way to promote properties to business travellers and remote workers at no additional cost,” says Reece. Once you meet Booking.com’s business amenity requirements, your property listing will earn a badge and appear in searches for work-friendly properties.
For those bringing their furry friends on a staycation, Caroline recommends accommodating to their needs as well as the humans, by providing pet bowls, furniture covers, towels and extra cleaning supplies, as well as updating the house rules regarding pets. “Be sure to include recommendations for dog parks, local veterinarians and pet stores too,” says Caroline.
Key action points:
- Cater for remote workers
- Consider pet-friendly options
6. Provide an unforgettable experience
Complement the demand for domestic travel with a curated guidebook recommending local hotspots for guests to visit during their stay. “Guidebooks let you create a personal guide for your area, with recommendations all in one place,” says Caroline. “Strong recommendations come from personal knowledge and experience. Review your guidebook to add new suggestions and remove places that might have closed, particularly due to COVID-19.”
In Booking.com’s European market recovery segment, demand in Europe is mostly for domestic/leisure travel and drive-to destinations, particularly in regional areas with the latest trends showing nature destinations as highly attractive to travellers. “Guests in Europe are looking for locations where they can relax, enjoy the scenery and limit social interactions,” says Reece. A guidebook with recommended travel spots that encompass these needs will attract guests and enhance their overall experience.
Key action points:
- Introduce curated guidebooks and recommendations updated for COVID normal
7. Maintain strong communication
It’s important to communicate with guests at every point of their travel journey, from enquiry through to post-stay. “Good communication sets the stage for a positive guest experience, and communication can make guests more comfortable when travelling during COVID-19,” says Caroline. This includes being responsive when guests send an enquiry, thanking guests for booking and asking necessary questions about their stay, giving clear travel directions and check-in information prior to arrival and sending a thank you message post-stay. “It’s a good idea to review your guests right away as well—this prompts them to write you a review in return, while the details about what made their stay great are still fresh in mind,” adds Caroline.
On the topic of reviews, Agoda encourages clients to respond to comments left by previous guests. “Agoda enables you to reply directly to reviews because we believe that two-way conversations yield the best learnings,” says Mathieu. “Your reviews are not only critical in helping guests make decisions about where to stay but the best way for you to learn about your guests, your property and your business.”
Key action points:
Be responsive and offer clear information before and after the stay
For those that use OTAs, harnessing these external booking partners is a great way to extend your reach and increase your occupancy. By actioning these tips and enhancing your property listing, you’re much better placed to drive bookings and deliver the best possible guest experience.
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