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Convince Guests to Skip the OTA by Offering These Incentives


The battle for direct bookings is one that continues to rage between hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs). While OTAs drive over 20 percent of total room bookings, hotels suffer from the 10-25 percent commission fees they must pay to be listed. Of course, getting customers to visit your site instead of an OTA is not without its challenges. But, once there, how can you convince them to book directly through your website?

We collected about 500 unique responses to each of five questions, giving us a total of 2,500 respondents. Here, we highlight the biggest takeaways.

Key Takeaways

  • A free room upgrade is the top incentive that will convince customers to book directly;
  • This room upgrade can be as simple as offering a balcony or better view;
  • Free food and drinks (e.g. at on-site restaurant) are the second most effective incentive.

A Room Upgrade Is the Most Preferred Incentive

When survey participants are given the option of an upgrade, 48 percent of them claimed they would choose a room upgrade over other options.

Incentives that Could Lead to Direct Hotel Bookings

OTA incentives add-on

Coming in at a distant second is free room service, which 23 percent of respondents said would motivate them to book directly over a free room upgrade. (We’ll take a closer look at travelers’ preference for food and drink perks later in this report.) In third and fourth place are are free access to on-site amenities (14 percent) and gift cards (11 percent).

Based on this data, hotels should consider featuring room upgrade options on both their website and social media channels to travelers who book direct. Though, as R. Terry Mueller, CEO of eMax Hotel Internet Marketing, shared with us, hotels need to draw attention to these special offers. For example, on their websites, hotels can use a call out box with special upgrade or food and drink packages that sits above the fold—the portion of a website that is visible when a user first reaches it—to make sure every visitor sees the offers.

Guests Prefer a Variety of Room Upgrade Options

When we asked what kind of room upgrade guests would most prefer, the responses were much more evenly matched. An offer to upgrade to a suite with a living room narrowly beat out the other upgrade options, at 29 percent.

Preferred Room Upgrade Incentives

OTA incentives upgrades

A room with a better view came in at second place, at 27 percent. While not quite as popular, a room with a balcony (22 percent) or a kitchenette (20 percent) were other upgrades preferred by a significant portion of respondents. So, you don’t have to give away the executive suite; many guests will be satisfied with a better view or balcony. Moreover, providing a variety of upgrade options can help you appeal to a broader customer group with varied preferences.

Free Meals Top the List of In-Room Perks

When asked which in-room perk would convince respondents to book directly, 43 percent said they could be swayed with a free room-service meal. Tied for second was an in-room massage and free access to the minibar and snacks (19 percent), followed by free movies on demand (16 percent).

Preferred Room-Service Incentives

OTA incentives room service

When we broke down the data by gender, more females chose a free in-room massage, while more males chose free access to the minibar and snacks. Despite this, offering a free meal was the most-preferred perk for both genders.

Free Food and Drinks Also Outrank Other Amenities

When asked which on-site amenity would convince guests to book directly through a hotel website, a vast majority (55 percent) chose free food and drinks.

Preferred Amenity Incentives

OTA incentives amenity

For many hotels, offering a free meal isn’t new. Incentives like this already exist, and many hotels likely understand their effectiveness. As Mueller points out, “a kids-eat-free offer is something people really seek out, and free breakfast, which is relatively cheap for hotels, works really well.”

The second most convincing amenity was a free spa package, at 23 percent. Trailing behind are a free fitness class (11 percent) and free golf or tennis reservations (7 percent).

A Restaurant Gift Card Is the Most Popular Offsite Perk

For many travelers, eating at a unique local restaurant is a highlight of their stay. Our data confirms this—45 percent of respondents said they would be convinced to book directly if they received a gift card to a popular restaurant as an incentive over other types of gift cards.

Gift Cards that Can Encourage Direct Booking

OTA incentives giftcards

Twenty-two percent of respondents said they would prefer free tickets to a popular event (such as a concert, play or convention), while 19 percent would prefer free tickets to an amusement or water park. Free transportation services drew just 11 percent of the vote.

Looking at the split among different age groups, a gift card to a popular restaurant was clearly preferred by all ages, but more by those aged 45-65+, while more respondents between 18 and 34 preferred amusement and waterpark gift cards.

Gift Card Preference By Percentage of Each Age Group

OTA incentives giftcard breakdown


Offering a variety of free room upgrade options is the single strongest motivator for travelers to skip the OTA discount and book directly. It’s also clear from our research that travelers value free food and drinks over most other add-ons, and would be more convinced to book directly if offered free room service meals, free food and drinks at the hotel restaurant or restaurant gift cards.

Thumbnail image, “8462716871,” created by Mike Kappel CC BY / Resized.

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Taylor Short

About the Author

Taylor Short has worked as a reporter and writer for six years, focusing on local coverage of city governments, businesses, schools and police. Taylor tutored students in English and writing at Austin Community College and freelanced for Reuters News Agency before joining Software Advice in Fall 2013.

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