Last week we hosted our biggest-ever Direct Booking Summit in Singapore. Our seventh event since the series began back in 2016, this summit had it all: A stunning venue in The Fullerton Hotel, two days of killer content, and the most engaged audience of hoteliers we've ever had. Check out our roundup of day one to get a feel for what we spoke about, or keep reading to discover our three key learnings from the two-day event.

Be prepared to put the work in

Two of our highest-rated sessions centered on the importance of developing, testing and continuously improving a long-term direct booking strategy.

Chantelle Veness of The Lancemore Group in Australia took the audience through the process of setting up full-circle customer relationship management (CRM) for guests. "We had two goals for our CRM strategy," Chantelle shared.

"The first was to increase profit by increasing the number of stays, encouraging longer stays and upselling to guests. The second was to increase our direct bookings and minimize our OTA fees."

Divulging that The Lancemore Group did not have a CRM system - "we did all this in-house!" - Chantelle stressed the importance of continuous testing and communication with any third parties you might employ. "If you've got an agency that you're not meeting monthly - start meeting them monthly," she instructed. "Otherwise, you're just giving money and free rein to somebody who knows nothing about your customer."

What was clear from Chantelle's talk is that the kind of customer analysis necessary for successful CRM is not quick or easy. You have to be prepared to put the time and effort in to make it worthwhile. "Complete customer analysis can be really boring, but once it's done it's worth its weight in gold," Chantelle shared.

Not only does The Lancemore Group know its customer better as a result, it's also seeing return on its direct booking goals. Direct room nights have increased 11% in six months year-on-year, and organic and direct revenue has increased by almost 26%.

On day two, our audience was captivated by Aida Merdovic's story of developing a completely holistic direct booking strategy for Hamilton Island. "There's no magic bullet for direct bookings," Aida suggested. "There are just lots of smaller initiatives you can take that build to bigger success."

Aida's talk encompassed distribution, rate parity, the customer path to purchase, user-generated content, booking engine optimization and more. What stood out to us was the belief that a successful direct booking strategy needs to involve every single area of the organization, from revenue to marketing to distribution and beyond.

One standout from Aida's workshop was the idea that there is room for hotels to capitalize on their contracts with trade by taking advantage of operational costs. "We discovered that we could waive fees for guests booking directly with us," Aida revealed. "This 1.5% effective discount had a significant shift on channel preference among our guests."

"We realized that we didn't need to offer 20% discounts to win guests over. Marginal differences here and there have a big impact."

Acquisition and conversion: Better together

Another message that stood out from talks on both days was the importance of working on your acquisition strategy in tandem with your conversion strategy. Blessy Townes of The Discovery Leisure Company, Inc put it best with her succinct summary: "You cannot have the acquisition strategy of a Ferrari with the engagement strategy of a Kia."

Triptease's own Alasdair Snow echoed the sentiment in his session on acquisition and conversion. Al took the audience through Triptease's approach to optimizing a hotel's entire direct booking performance.

"The Guest Intelligence platform leverages data science to identify and target guests based on their value," Al shared. "We attract and convert only the most valuable guests so that you can compete with OTAs."

"A shared understanding of customer value works across the entire path to purchase. Attracting and converting work in tandem, feeding into each other and increasing the performance of both."

Know when to put your foot down

By far the biggest cheer of the conference was drawn by Ayudh Nakaprasit, owner of Eastiny Pattaya in Thailand. Speaking on our 'Managing OTAs' panel, Ayudh laid his cards on the table when it came to his approach to OTAs.

"I'm happy to oblige with OTA requests, but I would like them to reciprocate the courtesy with me. All I ask for is rate parity. P-A-R-I-T-Y!" he joked.

"I constantly seek transparency. I conduct test bookings, call them up, ask them on the spot to work out why I'm being undercut. Most of the time it's a 'system error'..." he shared, drawing empathetic nods from the audience.

Ultimately, Ayudh suggests, "Dealing with bad tactics is a matter of speaking up and putting your foot down."

More to come

We'll soon be sharing even more from the Summit, so stay tuned to the Content Hub for more videos, write-ups and interviews from the event. You can also find out more about upcoming events on the Direct Booking Summit website, where we host highlights videos, agendas, and much more for the series of events.