airport do not enter

Make your hostel website like the airport

When you get off a flight at your final destination and make your way towards the airport’s exit, you always pass a certain point where you’re no longer in the secure area of the airport. If you left something behind, you’re out of luck, because at this point, you cannot return to where you came from. Wouldn’t it be great if your hostel’s website could work like that? A backpacker arrives at your website after using an OTA to get there, and after looking around they don’t go back. Instead, they just book directly. Cornell School of Hotel Management named this the Billboard Effect and found that 65% of guests who book directly, first visited an OTA. Unfortunately, unlike at the airport, there is no security guard to prevent a potential guest from re-entering the OTA’s website, but you can give them every incentive not to.

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Your website should be inviting

First thing’s first, make sure you don’t lose a potential direct booking right at the door. If your website loads slowly, they’ll leave before your website has a chance to say “Welcome.” Google finds “As page load time goes from one second to five seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%.”

Besides speed, there’s also being mobile friendly. More than half of web traffic worldwide is on a mobile device. If you’ve ever walked through a hostel before, you can imagine that the rate of using mobile devices to surf the web is even higher for prospective hostel bookers than for the general population. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, that will also quickly send them back to the OTA.

backpackers on phones

The Centre for Hostel Booking Research

Make it user-friendly

Once they’re on your website and it’s loaded, make sure it's easy for viewers to get the information they want. Overview, photos, facilities, location, reviews, prices, policies; everything should be easy to find. If your website doesn’t answer their questions, they’ll head back to the OTA for the answers.

Also, just because your guests can speak enough English to travel abroad doesn’t mean your website shouldn’t be in other languages. It’s natural to feel more comfortable using your first language when making a purchasing decision. The OTAs provide that comfort and clarity so your website should too.

Stay a while

Your hostel’s website should encourage visitors to stay longer, both in your hostel and on your website. Articles, photos, and videos showing all of the fun things there are to see and do in your town, descriptions for all your activities, biographies on all your staff members; this isn’t useless fluff; this is content that can keep viewers on your website instead of going back to the OTAs.

Your OTA listing is like a brochure. You don’t have that much space so lead with your best photos and your most essential information. Your website can be like a magazine. The reader may decide to buy just from the photo and the articles mentioned on the cover, but if they want to flip through, skim your articles, read it cover to cover, then they can!

We are living in the information age and there are plenty of travelers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, who want to fully immerse themselves in the destination, watching videos, checking out the website, seeing your social media posts, before deciding to buy. Having a fully comprehensive website will also help your search engine rankings.

Always Be Closing

First, your website must accept direct bookings. It’s simply unacceptable in 2018 to ask potential guests to fill out an online inquiry form and then wait for your response to inform them whether or not you have the availability to confirm their booking. If your website doesn't have a booking engine, do not pass go, do not collect a direct booking, go directly to Booking.com and pay commission.

monopoly jail card

OTAs dragging your hostel by the ankles


Once a prospective guest has decided your hostel is the winner, your web presence should give them a booking ASAP. Here’s how it should work:

  1. Guests on your social media pages should have a clear path to your booking engine, whether that’s a link in your Twitter or Instagram bio, or even better, a booking widget built straight into your facebook page.
  2. If a guest is on your website, your booking button is on every page. Bonus points if you use a booking widget, which accepts a guest’s check in and check out dates from every page, making the process even more streamlined.
  3. They’re redirected to the booking engine, which shows them the available rooms and they make a selection.
  4. They input their personal information, their payment details, and press done.

If you’re not sure what a booking button or an embedded widget is because your hostel has an email address for direct bookings, or even worse, a contact form, then don’t bother finishing this article. You need a booking engine first.

Any extra steps increase the friction between a potential guest and a confirmed booking. Requesting extra information adds friction too. For example, if a hostel’s booking engine requires a passport number, then any prospective guest who doesn’t have their passport number memorized or has their passport handy might reconsider.

Lastly, your booking site should use a secure protocol. No one wants to risk having their credit card details compromised, especially while traveling, so ensure your reservation engine uses the proper security measures. Insecure websites also get dinged by Google's search algorithms.

Offer an added perk for booking directly.

​​First, is rate parity required in your country? If you’re allowed to set your price lower on your website than your price on the OTA, then you should do it, and advertise widely that travelers get the best rate on your website. You could pass all your savings onto the traveler, or you could split the difference. If a commission normally costs you $6, why not offer a price on your website that’s $3 cheaper than your OTA price?  Plenty of backpackers will change their behavior to save $3.

In many countries, the OTAs’ contracts state that the price on your website has to equal the price on the OTA’s. First, I’ve heard stories of hostels keeping lower prices on their website without any consequences from the OTAs. The owner explained that an OTA threatened to take his profile down if he didn’t keep rate parity, but in the end, they left his hostel alone. I’m not advocating for this approach since they’d clearly be within their rights to remove your profile.

Second, even if you can’t offer a perk of a lower price, maybe you can offer another sort of extra amenity. Examples:

  • Direct bookers get a free beer upon check-in
  • Direct bookers get an extra 500 MB of free wi-fi
  • Direct bookers get a free towel rental
obama thumbs up beer

"Free beer if I book directly?"

Obviously the more attractive the offer, the more likely it is to influence decisions, but until you run a test you never know how little perks might influence customer behavior. It’s definitely worth looking at your OTA contracts and seeing what you’re allowed to do to persuade more potential guests to book directly.

SUMMARY

We’ve covered a variety of elements that each help your website compete against the OTAs. To sum it up, your hostel's website needs to:

  • Load fast
  • Respond to different devices
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Offer support for multiple languages
  • Answer all your guests' questions
  • Engage viewers with interesting, informative content
  • Enable guests to quickly, easily, and securely make a reservation
  • Offer them an incentive for booking directly

None of these strategies is powerful enough to make or break your website, but each one will send you more traffic, keep customers on your site longer, and persuade them that instead of heading back to the OTA's website, they should book on yours.

About the Author Byron Bunda

Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!

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