2016 – Brexit v Direct Bookings
This summer has largely been dominated by the Brexit vote and the various predictions of boom or bust that the media have put out as a consequence. According to the national press, hotels and guest houses have been enjoying a financial bonanza with visitor numbers from overseas up and UK nationals choosing to holiday at home – so how have we faired in the aftermath of this momentous national decision?
Our summer figures, if anything, have been slightly down this year, but this may well be down to the experimental change in tactics that we employed. Our ambition, as many of you will know by now, has been to work hard to increase the number of guests who book direct and so reduce our reliance on Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s). Our online booking system, which runs through our website, is created by a fantastic company called FreetoBook, but as good as they are we still have to drive traffic to our website in order for people to book there.
The experiment we tried was to give our system a slight advantage by not giving any rooms to any OTA’s for July and August until the end of May. As a consequence our takings in July & August were down by 12%. When we look at the figures more in-depth and examine where our bookings came from we saw a big change which gives us a little confidence going forward. In July & August 2015 24.5% of our bookings were through OTA’s. This figure was significantly reduced this July & August to 17.8%. By contrast bookings through our website went from 12.7% in 2015 to 18.9% this July & August and they therefore exceeded the OTA’s for the first time ever.
The reduction in OTA bookings meant that we paid significantly less in commission fees this year than last but even with that we still returned lower figures than in previous years. By leaving it late to put our room allocation on to the OTA’s we obviously did not give ourselves enough exposure and the experiment has shown us quite clearly that as much progress as we think we are making we are still heavily reliant on OTA’s to fill our rooms.
The challenge remaining for us therefore, as a small B&B, is how to get the message out there to potential new customers that booking direct will save them money without breaking the rules set by the OTA’s as to what we can and can’t do. It may be that because of the advertising budgets and powers of the OTA’s that we have to accept that they are the best way to find new customers and that our job is to do such a good job in looking after them and in talking to them that the next time they visit they will book direct. By continuing to build up the numbers of guests who re-visit us year after year (and sometimes several times a year) and by continuing to engage with our guests through mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and our Newsletter we hope that we will continue to see the numbers of guests who book direct increase.
For others in our industry this summer may have been all about Brexit and its affects, but for us the bigger challenge has been connecting with our guests and building relationships that we hope will see them not just returning to us but returning direct to us. Full analysis of all of our figures over the past 3 years shows that we are making progress towards achieving that aim but there is still a long way to go and a lot of work for us to do.