By Doug Kennedy The frontline colleagues staffing the reception desk are interacting with guests every day and have numerous opportunities to help lock-in more direct bookings. Here are some suggestions and training techniques. As a starting place, make sure the frontline colleagues understand the costs of various distribution channels. Those I talk to in my workshops tend to grossly underestimate the distribution costs their hotel is paying via OTA commissions and other third party booking fees. Most do not realize how much revenue can be captured by encouraging guests to book directly. Marketing and revenue managers should take the time to attend monthly departmental meetings and/or pre-shift line-up huddles to explain these costs. Another important step is to make sure your hotel's direct phone number is posted prominently at your hotel's website with a call-out button indicating: "Contact us directly for the lowest available rates." Too many hotels have their phone number buried at the bottom of a "contact us" button. Next, train your front desk reception team to: - Convert those who want to speak with someone directly at the hotel into confirmed bookings. Although many guests do book online these days, plenty of others still call directly to the hotel. Many of those ask directly to speak with "an on-site agent" for assistance. This might be because they have a specific question that only an on-site colleague can answer, but it also might be because they perceive they will get the best deal by calling directly. (Many travel writers are suggesting this these days.) All too often the front desk team automatically flips these calls to central reservations, especially if they are part of a brand, or to an after-hours reservations service if their in-house reservations department is closed. Based on my experiences, brand call centers are not aggressive enough at converting calls from those who say they are also online shopping while on the phone. Encourage your front desk team to capture these bookings directly. (Consider a contest or incentive for capturing direct bookings.) - Implement a "repeat guest direct booking program." Train your team to identify guest who have booked via OTAs and provide them with a business card listing a special "repeat guest discount code" to provide to an on-site agent when booking directly next time. This will help them channel-convert repeat guests. - Encourage repeat bookings at departure. Although many guests do use express check-out, plenty of others stop by the desk for a zero-balance receipt. Encourage colleagues to offer to make return reservations. (This can also be done at registration when colleagues are checking in regular guests.) Aside from channel conversion, train your front desk team to take advantage of other revenue-generating opportunities they have every day to: - Capture walk-ins. - Upsell at check-in. - Maintain "rate fences" at check-in, such as when group rates are past the cut-off date or when corporate rates are closed out. By training your front desk reception colleagues in these concepts your hotel can not only decrease distribution costs but also capture more bookings than you would have captured by just being another name on the list of available properties on an availability search at an OTA. Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.