Can display ads help direct booking?

With brand searches for hotels falling and OTAs on the rise, how do hotels protect direct bookings? Emma Blair explains how display advertising can help!

For any marketer working with hotels, Online Travel Agents (OTAs) are a big deal. The trickiest catch-22 in the sector, hotel brands are facing the difficult challenge of finding the sweet spot between gaining brand exposure and bookings through OTAs and protecting their stream of direct bookings.

With brand searches for hotels falling and OTAs taking an increasingly bigger portion of bookings thanks to their envious on and offline budgets, it’s display’s time to shine in terms of helping hotel brands combat against OTAs and encourage users to book direct.

Travel has overtaken consumer goods as the biggest spending sector on display advertising and at Equator, the hotel sector is a specialist area. Since much of the existing literature on OTA combat strategies doesn’t cover the wonders of display specifically, we’ve put together a list of some of our tried and tested strategies that have helped drive awareness, traffic, direct bookings and revenue as well as increasing brand search, prospect pools and social engagements for hotel brands.

Programmatic

Programmatic advertising has become a core part of marketing strategies for hotel brands due to its ability to identify and target in-market users with precision at scale at low costs with costs per booking (CPBs) as little as £5. With programmatic, hotel advertisers are able to place their ads on thousands of sites via prospecting and retargeting and are often able to get inventory on OTAs for a fraction of the cost - programmatic CPMs of between £1.50 and £3 compared to between £5 and £15 for direct ad buys on OTAs. To get even smarter, by adding OTA domains to programmatic whitelists, hotel advertisers can boost the amount of ad exposure they get on sites such as Hotels.com and Expedia. Not only does this drive brand awareness by getting the hotel’s message in front of a user who is evidently in-market for a hotel, it can actually divert traffic from the OTA to the hotel’s site, increasing the chance of a direct booking.

Facebook Dynamic Ads for Travel (DATs)

In May 2016, Facebook DATs were launched. An upgrade from its dynamic offering, these ads don’t only allow advertisers to retarget users with dynamic creative, but also incorporate elements specific to the hotel sector including star ratings, dynamic pricing and availability and contact info, meaning hotel brands can promote their whole portfolio at scale with ads tailored to each user. The potential to up-sell e.g. hotel restaurant reservations, to increase ABV is also an opportunity here, and with costs per click (CPCs) as low at £0.63, they offer a cost-effective method for hotel brands to grow their share of voice and drive traffic to site.

Book direct messaging

An essential on any creative that’s purpose is to drive direct bookings. By giving users clear reasons as to why booking direct offers them more value than going through an OTA, their likelihood to book via brand.com increases.

An interesting and particularly explicit example of a hotel brand that’s utilising display to push book direct messaging comes from Holiday Inn. The brand’s latest campaign really pushes book direct messaging by boldly calling out the higher prices users will pay if they book through OTAs including Booking.com and Hotels.com. Within the ad, the user can browse through the carousel which contains multiple hotel locations and offers which means the user has to do less of the hard work in their hotel search. While a more expensive campaign that requires a more complex technical set up, Holiday Inn’s use of display allows them to communicate their book direct messaging with impact at scale.

Always on presence

The approach to display is changing, particularly in the hotel sector, moving away from a campaign by campaign basis towards an ‘always on’ model. Display plays a unique role in prospecting new users for the brand and driving intent, so it makes sense for it to be a core part of a digital marketing strategy, especially to ensure a consistent and competitive SOV in an environment busy with OTAs.

Mobile presence

It’s well documented that mobile devices are key touchpoints in a user’s booking journey. While the number of hotel bookings made on mobile is increasing YoY, mobile devices continue to be a key tool in the research stage so it’s essential to have a display strategy that prospects and retargets users on mobile, even though there’s a good chance they’ll complete their booking via desktop.

Ads on OTAs

While it sounds a little like playing into the hands of OTAs, running ads on sites like Expedia and Travel Supermarket may be beneficial when used tactically, particularly for need hotels. For example, when a user conducts a search for hotels in Glasgow, hotel advertisers can serve an ad for their Glasgow property to drive awareness and intent.

The environment is tough for hotel brands just now. While OTAs are undoubtedly hugely valuable partners for many hotel brands, finding the healthy balance between OTA and direct bookings may be easier for the big players in the hotel sector like Hilton and Marriot who have the financial resources and technical capabilities. For the smaller hotel brands, finding that balance can be a greater challenge but with tactical and cost-efficient display as part of their digital strategy, the opportunities to drive direct bookings are significant.

By Emma Blair, Display Team Leader.

Read More

How the latest affiliate strategies drive performance for hotels.

The evolution of PPC trends and their impact on hotel brands.

How organic search changes have affected the hotel sector.