There is no denying that third-parties are marketing powerhouses. However they can seem at odds with golf courses, but with the right strategy they are a powerful tool for a golf course to use. Third parties historically have provided the best booking experience combined, with the best and most targeted marketing, therefore have dominated the online tee time market.
Within the hotel industry third parties control approximately two-thirds of online bookings, they also have access to around 99% of hotel inventory. In the golf industry third parties do not have access to as much inventory (tee times) and have less control of the online market. Undoubtedly the golf industry is somewhat behind the hotel industry, for example there are still a number of courses that do not allow online bookings but time will change this.
Third parties typically invest significantly more in marketing compared with an independent golf course, and because golfers see this message more often, they can believe a better deal is available by booking through the third party. Some golf courses do offer better pricing through third parties, however it is our opinion that the golfer should always get the best deal when they book direct. Whether this be the best price, the best lead time, no booking fees, value adds, loyalty programs etc - booking direct is best for the golf course, and should always be the best deal for the golfer.
With the right strategy golf courses can increase their share of online bookings, reducing the costs associated with third parties and putting control back into their hands. Third parties play a significant role in this strategy. For starters, 50% of third party bookers in the hotel industry visit the official hotel website before booking. Golf courses can better capture the golfer who visits their website through improved user experience, user-driven design, and an emphasis on making booking as easy as possible.
In the hotel industry the overwhelming majority of travellers (85%) believe price to be the most important factor when deciding where to book— and associate lower prices with third parties. Price certainly has a big influence in the golf industry, however by selling direct, price has a less of an influence as golfers are in less of competitive environment, and are less likely to look at a competitors product. This also highlights how important it is to offer the best price direct.
Technology is key to getting golfers to book direct. For example, if someone abandons a tee time on your website (known as 'basket abandonment' in the e-commerce world), does your tee sheet/booking engine have the ability to re-target these users by sending an email encouraging/reminding them to book? Statistics suggest that between 20% - 50% of abandoned purchases can be recovered with the right technology. This is just one example of how technology can help drive direct bookings. To be clear, in order to increase online bookings, golf courses must fully understand what their technology can do, and if it is not fit for purpose, change it. Online bookings will only increase their share of a golf courses revenue stream as time goes on.
Considering the reach and traffic third parties generate daily, golf course operators should strategically use third party channels only during 'off-peak' or 'need' periods. Perhaps even more importantly, golf courses should track golfers who book through third parties and target them with special direct booking deals.
Adam Anderson, Director of Industry Relations at Expedia, revealed in a recent interview how most hotels and resorts are missing the mark by not leveraging third party tools, meaning they’re losing out on money, far-reaching exposure and even DIRECT bookings. We have provided a synopsis of the interview, and what we believe should be applied to the golf industry:
Content on a third party website is key - making sure you have top quality photography and a concise description can increase bookings by 1.9% and 2.1% respectively.
Third parties can help increase direct online bookings as web traffic is proven to flow from the venues page on the third party, directly to their own website. Just make sure your website is mobile friendly, looks great and has the ability to take bookings online!
Manage your distribution strategy by using the technologies and tools to attract the right bookings, at the right time. For example you could use third parties such as Golfbreaks.com to drive long lead (3 - 6 months) group bookings combined with society/group offers, a direct booking engine to drive bookings from 90 - 3 days, then use third-party tee time distributors to late fill the 48 hour and in tee times.
Reviews - although the hotel industry is much further ahead (tripadvisor) compared with the golf industry the principal is still the same. Good reviews mean more bookings at a higher price, so be sure to monitor and respond on review websites.
Use the data third parties have such as average rate, lead time etc, to help set your overall online green fee strategy.
Ranking on a third party website is somewhat of a "secret sauce". However, it goes without saying that good rates and good availability bump you up (in the search results).
Feel free to get in touch if you would like to talk about your third party strategy - firstname.lastname@example.org.