Booking.com is a powerhouse among the online travel directories. With an app available in 40+ languages, nearly 30 million worldwide listings and over 1.5 million rooms reserved per day, it’s easy to understand why all hotels should have a listing there. Nonetheless, using the hefty advantages that Booking.com makes available requires some strategy. Here is a comprehensive guide for how to optimize your hotel listing for Booking.com.
#1 Recognize the basics of search
Booking.com uses a few major points to determine a user’s search results: search history, specific market dynamics, as well as the general performance of property listings and how closely these connect with that user’s specific search (for example, available dates or filtered amenities). The general rule of thumb is that more bookings means a higher ranking, in which those bookings are generated from more views.
The specifics of how Booking.com calculates search results are not publicly available and are continually updated over time. Machine learning is used to update their algorithm to show users the best possible results. It is a wide combination of factors that determine whether or not your listing is shown, but mainly it’s based on a summary of your visibility performance.
#2 Visibility performance
Visibility performance is defined as your property’s performance across the five steps of the customer journey (more on this below). This includes information such as:
- Search results views: number of times users were shown your listing.
- Property views: number of times a user looked specifically at your listing.
- Bookings: number of confirmed reservations.
- Popularity: number of times your listing is shown in search results versus the total number of properties in your area.
All of this information can be viewed on your Visibility Dashboard found in the Analytics section of your Booking.com profile. These metrics can be compared across 30, 90 and 365 days, as well as compared with time periods from the previous year.
Total visibility performance is determined based on the following KPIs (key performance indicators):
- Conversion rate: percentage of bookings compared with page views.
- Average daily rate (ADR): average income per room per occupied room in a certain time period (also compared with market average).
- Cancellation rate: percentage of cancelled bookings over the previous 90 days.
- Property page score: how appealing and valuable your content is for potential guests (images, descriptions, amenities, room details, breakfast, etc.).
- Price quality score: compares prices on other booking platforms with Booking.com (if applicable).
- Review score: average of total guest reviews.
Many hotels use a revenue management strategy, and these KPIs are necessary to understand how to optimize your revenue streams. Visibility performance should be closely monitored as a part of any revenue management strategy that focuses on getting the most bookings at the best prices at the right times.
#3 Understand the typical customer journey
All sales strategies should take the time to understand the process that the user goes through in order to make a purchase. Consequently, user journeys on Booking.com often take place in five stages:
- Exploration: the user starts their search and selects relevant filters.
- Comparison: the user finds matches for those filters and compares them.
- Booking: the user determines the best match and makes a reservation.
- Experiencing: interaction with the property from the point of booking through their departure.
- Evaluating: the guest reviews their satisfaction level with the property.
The key takeaway from this knowledge is that your listing needs to be visible across all five stages in order to have the best possible conversion rate. A good conversion rates means you have achieved optimal visibility performance. The next sections will provide some examples for how to improve visibility and other KPIs across the customer journey.
#4 Be available in advance
The less blocked out dates you have, the better chance you can get a booking – even as much as a year in advance. There are many travelers who make their plans far in advance so it’s an opportunity not to miss them to have availability and pricing already determined for the upcoming year. If you’re worried about determining rates that far in advance, you can copy your current rates as a start and then do further research to update them as needed. Overall, the more available you are, the more bookings you will get – which goes the same over short time periods as well.
#5 Carefully determine rates
The price is one of the most important factors for whether a user decides to make a reservation or not. When you have rooms with different rates and pricing options, you appeal to a wider audience. Booking.com generally uses three different types or rates:
- Flexible rate: a reservation that can be cancelled with a 100% refund up to a certain date.
- Non-refundable rate: once a booking is confirmed, the rate can’t be refunded. Usually this rate is applicable when booked between 24 to 48 hours in advance.
- Non-refundable early bird rate: once a booking is confirmed, the rate can’t be refunded, but is often available up to 21 days in advance. This rate can be used to lessen cancellations.
There are additional factors to consider when setting rates such as different types of rooms, amenities available and amount of guests. Breakfast in particular is a factor that can change when a user books or not. Give them the freedom to choose by offering pricing with and without breakfast.
To save on some of the manual labor of setting this up, Booking.com has a “Rate Plan” that can be used across multiple listings and updated as needed. The “Analytics” section of your Booking.com profile also includes a section called the “Price Performance Dashboard” which provides an overview on rates as well as determines your Price Quality Score.
Another useful tool Booking.com offers is Rate Intelligence, which is a free tool that helps you decide on prices based on market demand and your competitive value in comparison with your area. This is a good starting point for new listings, which can then be adjusted accordingly over time.
#6 Keep your policies flexible
One of the main reasons customers user a directory like Booking.com is because there are many listings that offer free cancellations. Users love this option because they feel empowered in their freedom of choice. As a result, keeping your policies flexible increases your competitiveness. More flexible cancellation policies means that your listings will get more views and could be the deciding factor between a competitor who is less flexible.
Flexible policies also include which types of guests you allow. You could, for example, allow pets on the property or reserve certain rooms for smokers and non-smokers. The wider audience that you appeal to, the more bookings you will get.
#7 Reviews, reviews, reviews
This point truly can’t be expressed enough. Reviews are of the utmost importance for the hospitality industry, but for hotels especially. As mentioned above, your Review Score is a factor in your visibility performance, so collect as many as possible. Even bad reviews can be used to your advantage when you respond to them and find a solution that satisfies the customer. Users are definitely looking at reviews when considering whether to book or not, so the more good reviews you have, the clearer your value is conveyed. Reviews are so important to Booking.com that users can even filter reviews by type so they can check previous guest’s opinions on the smallest of details.
Some helpful tips for responding to reviews are:
- Use personalized messages that refer to the customer by name.
- Use concise messages that get to the point.
- Write genuine and original responses.
- Offer a solution to a guest who has left a negative review.
- Don’t write reviews based on emotions and always maintain a professional tone (particularly when you’re upset by a negative review).
- Respond to reviews within 24 hours or less.
- Reward customers who leave positive reviews, which incentivizes others to do the same.
Collecting reviews also isn’t too difficult. Booking.com knows how important is it for your business to collect reviews so they have streamlined the process through their directory. If a user has the Booking.com app installed, the guest will receive a post-departure push notification to leave a review, as well as a follow-up email.
If you want to collect further reviews, you can:
- Ask customers directly at check out.
- Leave a how-to in a guest manual.
- Send your own follow-up email.
- Encourage reviews through discounts or referral programs.
#8 The Genius Programme
The Genius Programme was created so that frequent users could be matched with Genius Partners. Users who earn the Genius rank receive special discounts from Genius Partners (usually 10%). This enables these Partners to have a Genius tag, resulting in improved ranking and visibility. Genius Partners will be displayed more often to special customers who travel more often, make bookings further in advance, and have a higher budget. Through this program, Genius Partners increase their bookings by 17% as well as revenue by 17% on average (even with the discounts). Sounds like a win-win situation!
The conditions to become eligible as a Genius Partner are that you have to have 5 or more reviews with a score of at least 7.5, as well as are in the top 50% of properties in your region that meet Booking.com pricing criteria. You can sign up for the Genius Programme through the “Opportunities” tab in your Booking.com profile. If you decide to leave the Genius Programme, this is possible at any time, but you can’t come back for a period of six months.
#9 The Preferred Partner Programme
Another beneficial feature is the Preferred Partner Programme. Hotels can choose this program as a part of a long-term partnership strategy with Booking.com. Preferred Partners receive more visibility in an exchange for a slightly increased commission rate (17% instead of 15%) and as a result, receive 35% more bookings and 65% more page views on average. You can join this program by clicking on the “Opportunities” tab in your Booking.com profile.
To join the Preferred Partner Programme you must rank within the top 30% of properties within your region and have:
- An average guest review score of at least 7.0.
- An above average conversion rate.
- A low cancellation rate (compared with page visits).
- A perfect payment record (commission invoices always paid on time).
- A wide array of availability and good selection of popular rates.
Once approved, Booking.com will monitor whether you continue to meet these standards over a period of 90 days. This program can be quit at any time and your commission rate will be immediately lowered down to the normal rate.
#10 The Visibility Booster
Booking.com has developed yet another feature for hotels to maximize their conversion rates known as the Visibility Booster. Booking.com’s standard commission rate is 15%, but this can be increased when necessary. This tool allows you to change your commission rate based on the demand in page views that you expect to receive. The flexibility from this tool can maximize your potential earnings by adapting listing visibility for every type of circumstance.
It can be useful in the following situations:
- High seasons: if there are certain dates or time periods such as holidays or a popular event that you would like your listing to stand out for, you can increase your visibility on these dates to match better when users search for this.
- Low seasons & unsold rooms: book more rooms during low seasons on certain dates to stabilize your income or book certain types of rooms that are difficult to sell.
- Customers in specific countries: if you know there will be an influx of customers from a specific country or region, due to a holiday for example, you can increase your listing visibility to those users in particular.
- Deal with cancellations: if you’re experiencing a high volume of cancellations, it’s best to put those rooms up for sale again as quickly as possible. This tool can boost visibility for those rooms in particular to attract new customers to redeem the lost income.
Although you may be hesitant to increase commission rates, the results are proven. Hotels often forge price wars to get more bookings, meaning that their rates get lower and lower. However, increasing your commission with an OTA (Online Travel Agency) like Booking.com is precisely the factor that can set you ahead of competitors – with the right formula based on experimentation.
So how does this work?
Booking.com’s standard commission rate provides visibility to everyone at more or less the same rate. But when you increase visibility and target certain customers at certain times, this increases your effectiveness for that target group. Though it may sound counterintuitive, this actually lessens costs and increases sales because you focus more so on who books with you the most instead of the general pool. Booking.com’s goal is not to do everything possible to sell your rooms. That is your responsibility. Use the tools you have available to maximize your bookings and make Booking.com work for you.
#11 Offer more amenities
Amenities are key factors that a user filters for when doing a search on Booking.com. So basically, the more amenities you have, the more likely it is that a user will book with you. There are a few essential amenities that should be included:
- Wifi (preferably free)
- Toiletries (shampoo, soap)
- Selection of complimentary refreshments
- Toilet paper
Additional amenities such as a breakfast buffet, free parking, and 24 hour reception make a big difference. Furthermore, facilities like spas, hot tubs, pools and saunas can be extremely worth it to be able to increase nightly rates and reach a target demographic with a higher budget.
#12 High-quality images
Using professional images can’t be emphasized enough. If you property doesn’t look good, there is no reason for someone to book it. Include a lot of photos on your Booking.com listings for different rooms, facilities included, and the external property (like the hotel front) to give a complete overview – and make sure to do so at a professional level.
Other tips for images are to:
- Use bright lights to freshen up a room’s appearance
- Book a professional photographer
- Showcase a wide variety of different rooms
- Focus your photos on what makes your property different from your competitors
#13 Accurate & complete descriptions
Guests also won’t understand your value if you don’t tell them about it. List each and every amenity you offer in your description, highlight unique points such as that you’re located next to public transit or are close to a tourist attraction. Maybe you have a special type of spa inside your hotel.
In addition, make sure your description appeals to the right type of customer. For instance, don’t mention proximity to nightlife if your target market is families, but do underline shuttle services or special amenities for business people. In general, the point is to write what your target customer wants to read.
#14 Allow bookings without cards and prepayment
Users on directories like Booking.com are there because it’s convenient for them. Any factor that makes the booking process simpler means a higher chance for a user to make a booking. If a user doesn’t need to complete their booking with a card and doesn’t have to prepay, they’re more likely to reserve. They want to maximize their freedom of choice, and not having that extra hassle of worrying whether they’ll get their money back after a cancellation is a huge relief and a big reason for them to choose you over a competitor.
#15 Respond to all customer inquiries in a timely manner
Every customer is important because that is how you earn your income. Don’t slack on replying to customer questions or avoid them. Even if they are negative, that can turn a bad situation to worse if you don’t respond. Responses help the customer feel like they matter and this will be reflected in their reviews. Answer questions as quickly as possible and individualize all communication. The customer will note the difference and react accordingly.
#16 Use the benefits of a combination of channels
While it’s one of the top directories in the globe, using Booking.com alone is likely not enough to maximize your true profit potential. Booking.com is just one of the major directories that you should have listings on.
Other directories include, but are not limited to:
All of these directories have components that make it easier for you to sell your rooms based on commission. Overall, the same as with your visibility performance on Booking.com, the more places that you can be found, the easier it is for customers to find you and make bookings.
#17 Create your own website
Many businesses across the entire hospitality industry focus on generating bookings solely through directories like Booking.com without any idea how much this is truly limiting their potential sales. The most successful hotels combine directory listings with their own website as part of a strategic marketing plan. While a website is more work than setting up a Booking.com account, the income difference is staggering. And not only do you limit your revenue without your own website, you limit the visibility of your brand. When you put the time and money into creating your own website, even if your bookings are only bookable via directories, a website enables you to harness the power of branding and marketing.
Important to note: make sure you take advantage of the insights gained from monitoring your traffic that provides priceless information about your website visitors. A fantastic free program to do so is Google Analytics, and if you build your website on WordPress, there is a plugin that makes set up a breeze.
#18 Formulate a long-term sales and marketing strategy
Why then is marketing so important? Booking.com is a tempting platform for hotel owners to use because there are no sign up or maintenance fees and they earn their revenue entirely from commission. So basically, if you don’t sell anything, you don’t lose anything either. Nonetheless, each hotel should still have a comprehensive and long-term sales and marketing strategy put into place.
Here’s an example for why:
Let’s say there is a hotel with 100 rooms with an average nightly price of $100. If this hotel has a 70% occupancy rate of which 20% of the reservations come from Booking.com (at the standard 15% commission rate), about $76,000 will be paid to Booking.com as commision over the course of a year. That’s quite a massive fee to be paying to rely solely on Booking.com, who spends the majority of its payments on advertising itself. It’s simply not enough for most hotels to maintain good profit margins. Not to mention that relying solely on Booking.com gives you basically zero in terms of brand awareness. You will always rely on this middleman if you don’t market through your own website.
Getting started with a marketing plan takes a bit of practice, but the benefits are well worth the patience required. Here are the steps to formulating such a plan:
- Research target market and competitors: if you don’t know who your customers are, you can’t know how to market them. And in order to gain inspiration for how to market to them, you need to look to your competitors. Putting in the effort to do this research will inform you for the entirety of your business and is essential for long-term sales success. A major advantage to having your own website is that you can use metrics from Google Analytics to collect this information.
- Use this data to determine marketing platforms: different people are reachable on different platforms and have varying demographic factors (age, sex, language, location, interests, etc.) and need to be considered to understand how to appeal them. For example, if your target market is families, then you probably don’t want to advertise on LinkedIn, as it’s more suitable for businesspeople. Families can be reached much more on Facebook or Instagram.
- Create a relevant content strategy across these platforms: whatever you have determined as the best methods of reaching your customers is how you should market to them. But consider in addition the tone you should use and branding style. For example, don’t use slang words and talk about clubbing with businesspeople, as it would be a huge turn off. Think about what your customer would like to read and formulate your content accordingly.
- Monitor the results & adjust: the best marketing strategies aren’t overnight successes. They take time and experimentation to find where your niche is. Be patient and test different methods over longer periods of time consistently and you’ll gain insight as to what methods are best for your hotel so you can make suitable adjustments.
In terms of marketing and sales, many hotels use a revenue management strategy. This means checking specific KPIs such as occupancy rate, average daily rate and others to optimize sales and pricing strategies. When done correctly, a good hotel revenue management strategy also enables sales forecasting. This forecasting can then be applied to boost visibility during preferred time periods and stabilize customer influx.
Sales and marketing for hotels is complex and requires careful maintenance. For hotel owners, often times there are dedicated staff or even whole departments for maintaining these issues. No matter whether it’s a time saver so you can focus on your customers or whether you require special expertise, it can be well worth it to outsource your sales and marketing processes to more experienced parties. More information on particular marketing methods is in the sections below.
#19 Use social media to your advantage
As already mentioned, social media is a great way to get in touch with your target market and increase brand awareness. You can use social media ads to promote discounts and encourage reservations for specialty bookings. Having your own social media pages is also recommended (Facebook and Instagram in particular for the hotel industry, but others include Pinterest, Twitter and even Youtube if you can do video marketing). Using social media means that you control your brand’s narrative in a manner that engages exactly your target audience with the appropriate content that will drive them to make bookings with you through the links you post. For more information on hotel social media, take a look here.
#20 Increase organic traffic with SEO
Controlling your brand narrative can be done directly through your website as well, both via your website’s content as well as a blog. The purpose of a blog is SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization. The process involves using specific keywords within your content to generate consistent website traffic by conveying information that is relevant and interesting for your customers. Generally this is long-form content (at least 1000 words) with the goal of ranking highly on search results (mainly Google). It goes hand in hand with social media, as well as that you can include links within this content for readers to make bookings. Hotel blogs often focus on travel-related subjects such as travel tips and guides for what to do in surrounding areas.
#21 Expand brand awareness with affiliate marketing
Another option is to use other people’s social media accounts and blogs to promote your brand, otherwise known as affiliate marketing. Social media influencers and travel bloggers become popular due to their consistent base of followers that enjoy their content. Affiliate marketing therefore involves the process of having your link listed within their content (in quite a similar manner as Booking.com). This provides you access to these followers because they give you a reference that you’re a valuable and trustworthy brand that is often exchanged for commission.
#22 Retain customers with email marketing
A final method that is extremely useful for hotels is email marketing, because it increases customer retention. Booking.com is pro at customer retention because they automatically send emails to confirm bookings, remind guests about bookings, offer more information about their current bookings, as well as encourage guests to leave reviews after they leave.
You can do the exact same thing to users who book with you. Booking.com removes part of the stress of this process because they provide automated emailing services, but you can add to this. For example, when a user books with you through Booking.com, you have access to their email. You could send a separate email with permission to send further discounts and seasonal offers, particularly after a satisfied customer leaves. Most experts agree that generating sales with previous customers is far simpler than new ones and has some of the top ROI (return on investment) of all marketing methods.
#23 Try contacting Booking.com
When in doubt, you can try contacting Boooking.com support to ask for tips to improve your profile and how to increase sales. Nonetheless, this should be calculated carefully because Booking.com is not a non-profit organization. Their goal is to generate their own income, so they may sometimes offer options that will indeed increase sales, but you will pay too much for it and at the end of the day, you will generate a loss. The worthwhile strategy here would be to use their ideas for inspiration and then do your own testing to see what are the most profitable methods.