Must Know Strategies to Avoid Needing Last Minute Bookings

Imagine this scenario. As the general manager or revenue manager of a luxury destination hotel, you are checking your occupancy and you still have significant room availability for the week ahead. What do you do – announce a flash sale? Send a last minute email to your database? 

Here at Aró Digital Strategy, our advice to clients would be not to get into that situation in the first place. Of course, that’s easy for us to say, however we have the strategies to minimise this scenario from happening. Let’s take a look at those strategies and also investigate why flash sales and last minute emails are not only unlikely to be effective but may also be counter productive.

As I write this, it is early June and if I was the aforementioned manager, I would expect by now that my rooms for July and August are largely sold. At Aró, the planning for this is done earlier in the year in conjunction with an account manager and using a rolling content calendar for the upcoming 12 months. 

It is essential to be clear about what segments you are targeting to fill your rooms. Think about tours, weddings, MICE, FITs, corporate and then consider for each of those segments what channels they can book via e.g. direct, OTA, GDS etc. Throughout the year this is likely to change so it is important to be flexible, and be able to pivot your organic and paid content to suit.

This is where a website which authentically represents your brand with great user experience, constantly updated SEO, high domain authority and a high converting booking engine is your greatest ally. In the summer months for example (depending on location) you may be able to shift room bookings away from corporate to more profitable independent travellers who book direct (the most profitable channel), stay for longer and tend to have a higher discretionary spend.

In whatever way the year pans out, with careful planning and a relentless focus on the numbers, the aim is not to be left panicking that occupancy is low with a week to go. This can lead to bad decisions which can be counterproductive.

If you lower the rate suddenly, existing bookers will cancel and rebook at the lower rate. The OTAs will pick up on the reduction and highlight it so you are then not only getting a lower rate but high OTA commission too. Worse, you risk diluting your brand long term if you become synonymous with sending out serial ‘last minute offer’ emails to your database. 

A value add is always a good way to promote unsold rooms. Rather than reducing the price, maintain it and add a complementary bottle of wine or dinner offer. Use your social channels to promote this rather than emailing and then you come across as proactively adding value. Paid social media campaigns are effective in this situation and have a good ROI.

What happens if a tour group does cancel at the last minute leaving you with multiple rooms to fill? This is where not having overused your email subscriber list repays you. Email your guest database first to give loyal past customers first refusal (filtering out any booked guests for that month in case they cancel and rebook). Then go out to general subscribers (who may not have stayed previously) and also put it on social media if need be. 

An email to guests who have booked for one night in the period of the group cancellation, offering them a special offer to extend their stay to two nights, can also  be effective.
Achieving occupancy targets is never going to be easy so all the more reason not to make it any harder. You do not have to do this in isolation. A great website, careful planning and a proactive digital agency with targeted strategies will help plot your way to smashing your goals.

Here are our top five recommended long-term strategies to avoid last-minute panic selling of rooms is crucial for maintaining profitability and brand integrity. 

1. Dynamic Pricing and Revenue Management
Implement Advanced Revenue Management Systems: Use sophisticated revenue management systems (RMS) that analyse market demand, competitor pricing, and booking patterns to optimise room rates dynamically. This helps in adjusting prices well in advance to maximise occupancy and revenue without last-minute discounts.

2. Foster Loyalty
 Encourage repeat business through email and text based loyalty programmes that offer exclusive benefits to past and frequent guests. This not only builds a loyal customer base but also promotes direct bookings, reducing reliance on third-party platforms and high commissions.

3. Focus on Direct Bookings 
Invest in a user-friendly website and mobile app, and offer incentives for booking directly through your own channels, such as exclusive rates and discounted packages, flexible cancellation policies, and personalised offers. Direct bookings reduce the dependency on OTAs and give hotels more control over pricing and inventory. We recommend a rate differential also with OTAs to encourage direct bookings and also to offset their high commission rates. A direct booker should become a loyal customer and an advocate for your property. 

4. Effective Marketing and Promotions
Targeted Marketing Campaigns: Use data analytics to understand customer segments and tailor marketing campaigns accordingly. Seasonal promotions, holiday packages, and special events can attract guests during low-demand periods, spreading bookings more evenly throughout the year. An effective strategy needs to have a strong focus on non-paid organic content as well as paid. Our Digital Marketing team work on both on and off-page SEO for our clients which focusses on  evergreen content that pays off over the long term. This is coupled with tactical paid promotions to support each clients growth strategy. 

Early Promotions: Offer incentives for early bookings, such as discounted rates or additional perks, to encourage guests to book in advance when you know there are likely to be excess rooms available. This helps in predicting occupancy levels and reduces the need for last-minute discounts.

5. Enhanced Customer Experience
This is an area where our independent hotel clients excel; focus on delivering exceptional guest experiences that lead to positive reviews and word-of-mouth referrals. Happy guests are more likely to return and recommend the hotel to others, ensuring a more consistent occupancy rate.

Personalised Guest Experience: Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to gather data on guest preferences and provide personalised experiences. This can enhance guest satisfaction and encourage repeat visits. You can also set up email automation to keep in regular touch with targeted offers and relevant messaging to your market segments. 

By implementing these strategies, hotels can better manage their inventory, optimise pricing, and reduce the need for last-minute room discounts, thereby maintaining steady revenue and a strong market position. At Aró Digital Strategy, we partner with independent hoteliers to assist them with their long term sales & marketing strategy with the ultimate aim of getting our partner clients oversubscribed, so they are always a step ahead and strategically managing their growth.