What is a direct booking?
Direct bookings are reservations that guests confirm directly with a retreat business, without using a 3rd party agency. They’re normally made on the retreat’s own website or over the phone/email. Direct bookings are favourable because they connect retreat leaders directly with their guests and save them money on paying commissions.
As you probably know, direct bookings have become an important part of any retreat marketing strategy. Direct bookings can increase your profitability by reducing customer acquisition costs and increasing your brand loyalty.
It is important to note however that all bookings are good by nature. Often when we talk about direct bookings, it sounds as if third-party bookings are bad, but they aren’t. Different types of bookings will bring you varying amounts of revenue and profit. Retreat directories may take a percentage of your booking, but it’s still revenue you wouldn’t have otherwise gained.
Before we jump into ways to get more direct bookings, let’s quickly go over the differences between retreat directories, and direct bookings. This will help you understand the role direct bookings play in the marketing strategy for your retreat.
What is a retreat directory?
Also referred to as booking engine, booking agency, retreat listing site, online travel agency or 3rd party intermediary.
A retreat directory is a website with a searchable online list or catalogue of retreats.
Retreat directory, such as bookyogaretreat.com and bookretreats.com, are widely used by retreat goers around the world. The majority of these bookings come with a commission fee. This means that guests create their reservations and process their payments via the retreat directory website, and the directory keeps a negotiated commission per booking before sending the remaining payment to the retreat leader or centre. Commission fees for some directories can sometimes be as high as 30% per booking!
Benefits of retreat directories
- Easy access to retreat goers worldwide
- Visibility to retreat goers that may not have been aware of your retreat before searching
- Adding more credibility to your business – aligning your brand with a well-known retreat directory site with a trustworthy booking process inevitably rubs off onto your own brand
- Easy to get started – it is a lot quicker and easier to ad your retreat to a retreat directory than it is to build your own website.
Challenges of listing on retreat directories
- High commission rates for the more popular retreat directories and rising commissions over the years
- Access to sparse information about the guests who book your retreat through the directory
- Less control over the guest experience as their first point of contact is with the retreat directory
- Difficult to stand out from the thousands of other retreats on the site.
Direct retreat bookings
Direct retreat bookings allow the retreat leader to transact and communicate directly with bookers. The advantages of direct sales are twofold: the retreat leader doesn’t pay commission to third parties and maintains a direct relationship with the customer. However, these bookings aren’t completely free. First, you have to have an online booking engine on your website to be able to take your own reservations and process payments, even if they are commission-free (The Stripe payment processor is a good choice). Second, you will still have to invest in marketing efforts to attract retreat goers and remain competitive in your market.
Benefits of direct bookings
Direct bookings give you a one-on-one relationship with guests; more opportunities for upsells before arrival; no commissions paid to third-party agencies or other marketplaces means more revenue and profits for your retreat business; loyalty bookings can decrease the overall cost by increasing the lifetime value of every guest.
Challenges of direct bookings
Direct bookings require strong online marketing skills or the services of a retreat marketing specialist to keep costs low compared to other channels.
How to increase direct retreat bookings
With their value explained, let’s examine some key tactics to increase direct retreat bookings. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results from your efforts to increase direct bookings, as small improvements will accumulate over time. Every 1% increase in direct bookings is worth celebrating! You will eventually be able to rely less and less on commission-charged third parties.
Here are a few ways to increase your retreat’s direct bookings:
- Use a commission-free booking platform
You should look for an easy-to-use commission-free booking engine that can also be used on mobile devices: by 2024, Euromonitor estimates that 1 in 4 travel bookings will take place on mobile devices. A mobile-friendly website will ensure your own channel remains competitive.
Also, make sure the booking process is limited to two or three steps to reduce the checkout abandonment rate.
- Build an eye-catching, user-friendly and results focused retreat website
Your website is in most cases the first impression potential guests will have of your event. Make the effort to keep your website updated with regular high value content and use high-quality images and videos showcasing the retreat experience. Make the booking process easy by providing a modern and seamless experience to further encourage retreat goers to book. Also, make sure that you have a stand out call to action on every page of your site.
- Leverage online marketing and build your list
This is where boosting direct bookings can get a bit tricky. Instead of relying on directories for their marketing muscle, you’ll have to run retreat marketing campaigns yourself. Begin by building your own email list with high value lead magnets (see what is a lead magnet) and regular high value and targeted content.
- Embrace guest loyalty
Your past guests are an often forgotten about resource when it comes to direct bookings. Re connect with past retreat goers using an email marketing campaign with exclusive discounts and offers. Also, if you don’t have one, consider launching a loyalty program. Retreat goers respond well to these programs. They don’t have to be complicated, with points and redemptions…It could be as simple as promising “Priority Only” rates.
- Show up on social media
Social media is a great way to nurture and build relationships with past and potential retreat guests. Create a hashtag for your event and encourage guests to post photos on Instagram by creating “Instagrammable” corners. Then reshare photos posted by guests. Nurture your community online, and then make special offers or exclusive packages just for your followers. You should use social media to distribute content and engage directly with your followers. Create your content for your blog, video channel or podcast first and then share it on social channels. This will be a much more sustainable way to add value.
Reducing the amount of dependency on retreat directories and increasing direct booking revenue can create a higher bottom line for your retreat business. Still, keep in mind that the best reservation is the one that pays the most in value and was acquired through the least amount of expense and means.
Sometimes the commission costs paid to retreat directories are actually less than costs incurred on an individual marketing campaign on a short term basis. As you test different ways to drive bookings, remember to track your costs. If you’re clever and creative, you can increase retreat direct bookings and keep more of your revenue.