Top Referrals Blog Post

All property owners are looking to generate direct bookings.  This seems like a fairly basic concept but with so many distribution and booking channels it can be difficult to drive travelers direct to your website for a direct booking. As opposed to a booking from a third party advertiser or an OTA, a direct booking means you’re not paying commissions as high as 40% to an OTA. There are multiple ways to drive business, but it can be difficult to follow a lead from a referral business all the way to a direct booking.

If your top referrals aren’t leading to direct bookings, how are they contributing and earning a spot as a top referral? It comes down to how travelers are researching, planning, and booking their trips and the reasons why they make certain decisions.

Money

Booking a vacation is seen as a substantial investment for most travelers. When that large a purchase is being made, many travelers prefer a phone conversation as opposed to a computer. Discussing payments and trip details over the phone feels more personal than chatting with someone online.

Technology

Phone and email inquiries overruling online bookings isn’t just a one way street. Only 50% of HomeAway’s listings offer online bookings, so even if a potential guest wanted to book online, the technology may not be there. One of the reasons this doesn’t see much light is because vacation rental owners don’t want the electronic paper trail that comes along with online payments and bookings, since this could lead to them paying more in taxes. If online bookings were made available, there would still be opposition from both the traveler and vacation rental owner.

First Time Buyers

When a traveler is booking a trip to your property, it’s a completely different experience than booking a night at a “big box brand” hotel. They are choosing your property for the personalized experience, not somewhere to sleep for the night. Guests coming to your property, “call because they have special interests – e.g., weddings, hotel amenities and room location – that require talking to someone. When it’s personal, people want a human connection.” The personal connection the guest creates with your staff starts with that phone call, and will last through the booking process as well as throughout their vacation.

Multi-Device Attribution

Vacations are not a one-click purchase. When researching where to go, what to do, and what to spend, travelers end up on multiple websites; typically on different devices, such as their phone, tablet, or computer. Travelers report shopping at an online travel agency site and switching to a supplier site to book (and vice versa). Moving around makes it increasingly difficult to track if a potential customer started their search on your page, as they are most likely going to end up on a different one.

The Buyer’s Journey is a Long Road

With the average buyer’s journey lasting 81 days, and including at least 38 travel website visits before booking a vacation, what’s to say a traveler didn’t start on your website originally, but then venture onto other sites before booking? Many travelers will take out their mobile device, type the resort name into Google, and hit “call” right from the search results on page one. Does your site get credit for the referral? No. Did the traveler visit your website once, and maybe even multiple times during their search? Absolutely.

Conclusion

A booking has much more behind it than a simple visit to a website and the click of a “Book Now” button. The journey is long for the traveler, and it is important to know where your bookings are coming from, as well as what sites are driving quality traffic to your website. Just because there is a dip in online bookings, it doesn’t mean a referral site isn’t doing its job. With so many outside factors, it is important to be able to look at your analytics and see what sites rank near the top in traffic. Taking this a step further, it’s also important take a look at the markets these referrals are coming from. If they are in line with your typical feeder cities, chances are that potential travelers are visiting this site during their journey and the referrer is in fact doing its job.