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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

IHTF 2023 - How Best Western is investing in its direct bookings

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Joined by Chris Bowling, Head of Digital Marketing & Ecommerce at Best Western Hotels who at IHTF will deliver the presentation "Working with not against: What can we learn from OTA's to convert direct bookings? "


In this conversation, we look at

  • Tactics Best Western introduced to its direct strategy?

  • Efforts to drive direct bookings

  • Building a new strategy - and getting buy-in from the board

  • Working with teams to break down the silos


Programme Notes


Ryan Haynes:

Hello, welcome to Travel Market Life. I'm your host Ryan Haynes. And today we are looking at the IHTF 2023. Joining us are a number of speakers including Chris Bowling, the head of digital marketing and e-commerce at Best Western Hotels, who is going to be doing a presentation at the event, working with not against what can we learn from OTAs to convert direct bookings


Ryan Haynes:

Joining me on the line now is Chris Bowling, the head of digital marketing and e-commerce at Best Western Hotels. Chris, thanks ever so much for joining us today. So be really interested to know what tactics you've introduced at Best Western for your direct strategy, which is a key thing of your presentation, I guess.


Chris Bowling:

Yeah, sure is and thank you for having me around. Really been looking forward to this. Yeah, so we've changed quite a few things we've been doing. Obviously, the pandemic has given us a lot of time to reflect on what was working, and what wasn't working, and kind of reviewing our tactics against the OTAs was definitely one thing we had to consider, just having a good look at what their strengths are and what other competitors have done to kind of fight in that area against them. So obviously they're a technology company, they, they're constantly testing, innovating their website and their apps and they have extremely strong performance marketing, which is traditionally the area where we would compete with them is that very much lower funnel, just trying to convert the booking to try and get it directly rather than going through an OTA rather than spending higher in the funnel and inspiring the booking from the start.


Chris Bowling:

So that's very much where we've changed. If you take inspiration from the likes of Airbnb, that's very much where they're strong. So, it's kind of how can we take a little bit of inspiration from them and how could we change to maybe be more like them rather than fighting the securing the booking at the very bottom of the funnel.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean I guess there's so much technology now available that's off the shelf where you can actually just plug and go and really start to compete on this branded level. There are quite a few large brands in the UK that, you know, have a very strong direct strategy as a result of the investment it's made in its brand and Best Western, partly as being a franchise effort as well must be a lot to sort of work in changing that culture across the business. But particularly with focusing your efforts to drive your direct bookings, what specific areas, what are the highlights that you focusing on right now?


Chris Bowling:

So, the specific areas for us are kind of where can we invest at that high level of the funnel to drive those bookings? What are the strongest channels for our kind of demographic and our key stays? So, the past year we've been very much trialling different placements and different audience types. So, we've been invested heavily in Facebook and Instagram. We've also had a good go at TikTok, we haven't quite nailed that one yet, so there's a bit more exploration to be done this year we obviously invested heavily in YouTube and we've seen fairly strong success in the social channels after a bit of adaptation and testing. And so that's kind of where the main focus has been any kind of to support that as well.


Chris Bowling:

We've kind of revitalized our email strategy. I know Everett's kind of marketing basics, but I think we are just, we've maybe forgotten how powerful it can be and so we're reinvesting and growing that part again as well.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean so many new channels coming along and having to test and work out what's happening on TikTok, let alone email that's 20 years old. Suddenly as you say you have to sort of go back to basics and think actually are we doing what's right here? Where, where have you got some of your learnings? Then particularly if we look at your sort of like emailing campaign and going okay, these are the key aspects that we need to make sure we get right and is it's invaluable for any brand.


Chris Bowling:

Yeah, so we've, we've as you said, we have very much gone back to basics. We looked at what our journey was and we looked at how we could enhance that. So, we've introduced kind of very basic customer lifestyle journey, customer lifecycle journeys and just trying to entice people with the use of personalized discount codes at various stages and then just trying to treat our rewards based differently to how we would treat a new customer. For example, someone who's maybe not so brand aware. So, it's kind of much trying to entice someone with the right kind of discount but also trying to entice someone with inspiration and education about who we are and kind of what we stand for as a brand. Very much the basics


Ryan Haynes:

Now, I mean this has been quite an overhaul. We've been looking at your tech stack, how does it all feed into what sort of investment is needed? Because you can't do it for free, you need the resources, you need the partners, technology partners to be able to deliver this and obviously, this means a whole new strategy. How did you get that buy-in from your board to really be able to move forward? What advice would you give to anybody out there really having to take a different approach and getting that buy-in?


Chris Bowling:

Yeah, so the main success we've had with our board is very much taking them on the journey with you, informing them at the early stages about what you're going to investigate and what you're looking at before just kind of coming out of nowhere and saying this is a full on paper and can you please approve it. So, taking them on the journey is, has been kind of the biggest change where we've seen the most success and you know, they're the experts in our, they all own hotels, they've been doing it a long, long time. They've seen where the market's been so they have really good insights and you know, you'd be silly not to take their feedback. So, kind of getting them in the early stages and trying to overcome the obstacles as where we've seen the most success.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. And now I mean as part of that, you know, it's also who's further down in the organization, how do you feed that in and get their them to really be part of that change? How did you work with your teams to start breaking down those silos?


Chris Bowling:

Yeah, so when we, when I initially came, came up with how I thought we could change the structure, it was very much we had a set budget and we would invest it in that low funnel. It was about how could we relieve that to kind of invest more in the brand bits. And so, I had an idea about how we could change the budget and how we could maybe measure that going forward. So, it's very much talking to the performance marketing guys on my team, making sure that it wasn't just something in my head that I thought could work, actually making sure I could work in practice. So, a lot of communication there. I'll back a lot of back and forth to make sure that, you know, with the resource we had, we could manage it and you know if we had to take on more where could we, what were there any tools that could help us out?


Chris Bowling:

And then very much taking that, that information and feeding it right through the top and up to the, to the board. So very much a full journey is just a lot of conversation, a lot of meetings and a lot of just being clear and expressing your views.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent, wonderful. I mean are you finding that people are a lot more sort of like engaged now with the strategy and what you're trying to achieve? Are there any specific changes that you've seen yourself in how the team now operates?


Chris Bowling:

Yeah, without a doubt I've found it myself in the past. If you don't have clarity about where the company's going or what the strategies are, you just don't feel involved and that's very much something I've really tried to change within the team since I've taken over just clarity, regular meetings, just making people share sometimes, sometimes people like to just kind of sit back and not talk about their areas so much, but everyone has their own expertise, everyone has the things they're working on. You need to just make people share sometimes and that's really made a difference. So, kind of regular team meetings, kind of wider team meetings and just taking the time in one-to-ones, just trying to work out what people are doing and just being clear, invite people in on the vision.


Ryan Haynes:

So sharing is caring.


Chris Bowling:

It sure is.


Ryan Haynes:

Well, I look forward to actually sharing the same space and air as you when it comes to the end of March at the IHTF 2023. So, I will see you in a few weeks.


Chris Bowling:

I really can't wait. I'll see you there


Ryan Haynes:

As that's Chris Bowling, the head of digital marketing and e-commerce at Best Western Hotels. His presentation working with not against OTAs, how to convert direct bookings

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