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How To Beat the OTA’s and Use Your Website To Tell Your Story

When we compete against Expedia and we set ourselves up to lose. They have massive budgets and they are increasingly becoming masters at conversions. They’ve mastered the art of how to minimize the steps we take to book.

However, the transactional business is not fun and it’s far from inspiring. Let’s face it, you can’t really stand out or show your unique personality on their websites. Fighting just on best price is clearly not good for business. To stand out from the crowd and drive direct bookings it’s important to take full advantage of social media and your website. Let’s take it one step at a time.

The most important aspect of your marketing is your website, because it’s your ‘home’. It’s where your potential guests will come and stay. It’s fundamental that you look at your website and think of it as a platform to tell a story. A story that shows your personality, a place where you create a distinct brand image and offer compelling reasons for your potential guests to book beyond just a price for a bed and four walls. We are going to dig a bit deeper to see how you can use original content and design on your website to express your personality and tap into the power of storytelling to increase your revenue.


You can’t argue with it… video is the most powerful way to tell stories! It can evoke a mood and capture the spirit of your hotel in a way that will spark the imagination of your guests. Travelers need emotional reasons to choose to take a trip; that’s why video is an amazing way to create that emotion.

Generator Hostels‘ home page video is a prime example of how video can capture emotions. A pop style video sequence on their homepage shows a group of young friends having a blast over a day of exploration, drinks and dancing.

It appeals to the younger generation and it’s selling the amazing social experiences of travelling. Visually, it has a low budget feel that steers well clear of brand-heavy gloss.

In contrast we have Canaves Oia Suites (a 5-star luxury hotel in Santorini) which features a stunning video with high-end production values. What I love about this video is that it doesn’t focus on the hotel, it focuses on the destination.

The man’s voice is very deep, very poetic and it’s somewhat abstract, narration overlays a series of dreamy scenes, from a luxury yacht cutting across the glittering sea to a couple sipping Champagne in an infinity pool. The images of the hotel are fleeting, it shows us the natural beauty that surrounds the hotel. It’s inviting us to fall in love with Santorini and the experiences that await us if we book.

Both examples are great ways to story-tell and show us how we can sell the experience and the emotions rather than services and amenities. When the execution is done the right way they have the power to inspire, entertain and open the eyes of our audience to experiences that they hope for – or perhaps haven’t even imagined yet.


Tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. We all know that we can say the same thing in different ways. Even how we communicate with our friends; some friends might deliver a message in a completely different way than we would. We can adopt a conversational, formal, witty or a quirky tone.

Every OTA has a specific tone of voice and format that they apply to every hotel listing. OTAs list thousands of hotels and need to market them to an incredibly wide and diverse audience. Adopting a neutral tone as part of a uniform template serves this purpose, but inevitably makes every hotel listing seem familiar, featureless and formulaic.

That’s why I believe crafting your own unique tone of voice is fundamental for your hotel’s success. It will allow you to stand out from the crowd by showcasing your property’s personality and building an all-important emotional connection with your audience.

There is so much research which shows that people buy on emotion and then justify with logic.

Let’s take an example and have a look at how CitizenM New York Times Square is described by compared with their own website. As you can see, describe the hotel’s amenities and location in a formal, neutral tone.

This is absolutely fine and does the job for It answersall the practical (and logical) questions that a potential guest might have, but it does not sell the personality of the hotel. In contrast, the tone used by citizenM on  its own homepage bubbles with conversational language.

Did you notice how their tone of has voice changed? The easy-going informality gives us the instant flavour of a playful and youthful personality. It’s aimed squarely at a certain kind of guest and seeks to talk with them on their own terms. Amenities are still mentioned but in a chatty way that hints at the experience citizenM hotel offers.

You might be thinking about how you can choose your tone of voice; I always believe that your authentic tone of voice is the best strategy. How do you talk when you are with your best guests and your best friends? You can think of your audience; who are your audience? If your guests are over 50 business travellers, there is no point adding a young and sassy tone of voice.

Another audience of younger travellers will likely be put off by formal language and that doesn’t mirror the way they talk with friends and about favorite brands. So your tone should also accurately reflect the experience you offer and the feeling of what it’s like to stay with you. When you get this combination right and tap into their emotions of the younger traveller you will build a much stronger rapport with them. A generic tone that appeals to everyone will never do this.


You might think that OTAs have plenty of pictures, right? Yes you’re correct,  but it’s just a gallery that has pictures in it. It’s like a lake with lots of fish in it. Users click through the series of images provided which has little or no emotional context. In contrast, the homepage of a hotel website is able to use images that can evoke an emotion. You can highlight certain features and tell your story in a more impressive way.

A lot of hotels are using full screen photos on their homepage to grab and focus their audience’s attention on the most compelling selling points.

Here’s an example:  The Stanford Court Hotel Homepage features a full screen photo of the San Francisco Skyline. It immediately catches the eye, and conveys one of the hotel’s major selling points; an amazing location with spectacular city views. The accompanying tagline, ‘A lookout for a new outlook’ adds plenty more context to the experience staying here.

In contrast we have Ruchmeyers in Long Island which gives over its entire homepage to an Instagram-Style photo gallery that sells a rustic image of travel, defined by family time and group get-togethers.

If you want to choose the right images you need to think about what kind of visuals will make your property unique and create an emotional context presenting the kind of experience you provide.


Specific colours have been found to alter brand perceptions and research shows that 85% of shoppers say that colour was a primary reason for their purchase decision.

The choice of colour gives a snapshot of your hotel’s personality, subconsciously communicating a feeling that goes beyond words. Here’s an example of The Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs.

You can immediately see that the hotel is playful and has a personality. Candy-coloured visuals not only reflect the property’s unique décor but also imply that this is a place where it’s always summer, tropical and carefree.

In contrast, you have The Dean Hotel in Rhode Island using a moody black and white colour scheme that hints at the hotel’s old-world style and sophistication. It ties in nicely with the hotel’s somewhat macho image that seems to be targeted at discerning business travelers.

The key take away is not to use colours for the sake of it but to use only those that will help you story-tell to your potential guests.


We all know that OTAs are very focused on communicating practical information, but beyond that, you can use your website and social media to tell a unique story that will inspire your audience.

The key is to tell your authentic story, as that is the true experience you offer. A beautiful website will not work unless it takes us beyond just some nice stock images and some text. When you feature unique design and original content you can spark a sense of wanderlust among your audience and build an emotional connection that incentivises them to boodirectlyct with you.

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