Commentary

Copy These 2 Subtle OTA Booking Secrets

Besides their massive global resources, online travel agencies (OTAs) rely on a potent and lethal asset to rein in millions of bookings each year: A powerhouse of stealth and strategic marketing tactics that push people to whip out their credit cards and book.

We’re all too familiar with the scenario: 

A traveler uses an OTA to research hotels. She finds your property and is instantly intrigued. She wants to know more, so she heads to your website and likes what she finds. She plugs in her dates, looks at your rates. She mulls it over, going back and forth between the OTA site and yours. Then, books the room with the OTA. 

Besides the obvious price difference, what makes her choose the OTA over you? It’s because OTAs are marketing geniuses, that’s why. They know how to push guests seamlessly through the booking process, giving them more and more reasons to book at every turn. 

The surprising part is that most of their marketing ploys are simple and small, but they pack a ton of persuasive power. The good news is their marketing secrets are easy to replicate on your own site. 

Here are some of the major takeaways:

1. OTAs Idiot-Proof The Booking Process

Admit it. Most hotel booking engines (yours included) are unsightly. They’re cluttered, confusing, and annoying to navigate through. Instead, OTAs are clued-in to user experience and they know how to make it super-simple and intuitive to make a purchase. 

OTA Secret: Once someone selects a hotel on an OTA, some of the onscreen features disappear. This intentional move lessens any buyer distractions and simplifies the process, making it obvious what the next steps are when booking a room. 

Lesson: Cut down the booking engine clutter, pronto. Don’t crowd the screen with multiple offers, promo codes, options, etc. Make the process seamless, pretty even. Customize it to retain as much of your branding colors, fonts, etc as possible. Then, have people – not your own staff members — test it out. Booking a room online should be so intuitive that even the most distracted buyer can do it. 

2. They Make People Nervous

OTAs know a thing or too about human emotion and how to cleverly use them to drive people to act. They expertly channel people’s FOMO (fear of missing out), which is that same feeling you get when you find out all of your co-workers went to lunch without you. When initiating a hotel search on Expedia, the first message you’ll see reads: “Hurry! Prices and inventory are limited.” Almost immediately, Expedia tells their customers that time is almost up. So, do it. Do it now. Limited amount of time and rooms drive people to purchase sooner than later.

OTA Secret: To tap into FOMO and push customers to book, they spread out messages throughout the site – from the search results to the booking page – that make people worry that unless they book now, they could be missing out on something good. Next to a hotel, they’ll emplace “Two Rooms Left!” This both creates a sense of urgency and validates that others have already chosen to stay at this property, making people even more confident in their decision. 

Lesson: Add copy to your hotel website design and booking engine that incites FOMO and stresses immediacy: 

  • Limited time only
  • Exclusive offer, ends soon
  • Available to the first 20 guests
  • While room availability lasts

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on June 22, 2015, in Marketing:Travel.
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