Do your guests know what “BAR” stands for? Not likely. Unless they have worked or are presently working in the hotel industry, chances are correctly expanding that acronym out to “best available rate” isn’t snap-your-fingers knowledge, nor is its implied meaning.
In its simplest terms, BAR ensures that the low prices for nightly room rates on third-party suppliers will be matched by the hotel when the consumer contacts the hotel with “parity” in mind. This BAR, also known as best rate guarantee, is adeptly used by revenue managers worldwide to incentivize guests to make their reservations directly through the brand.com booking engine as opposed to the OTAs. I’m preaching to the choir on the definition.
However, BAR should also be a primary tool put forward by your sales team and marketers, not just something stowed away in the aft section of your website. The advantages to booking through your brand.com are undeniable, and educating guests on many of these straightforward benefits may make them unwavering converts to the “book direct” ideology.
Part of the problem is that hoteliers are often somewhat nearsighted. Scratch that — all humans are nearsighted. It’s all too easy to assume that when a hotel manager uses the words “best rate guarantee” others will instantly share in their understanding of the term. This is not so. As anecdotal as it may be, I’m constantly running into hospitality outsiders who are oblivious to this hidden gem of knowledge, and they are ecstatic to be enlightened. Here’s how I boil it down for them:
“Take any guestroom price you discover online. Go to the hotel website or call their reservation hotline and ask for parity. Not only will the price be matched, but by booking directly with the hotel, you’re also entitled to loyalty points, room upgrades, amenity vouchers, F&B coupons and tons more.”
The most common responses are various forms of “Whoa!” There’s evidence to support that a wide cross-section are gradually realizing this pseudo-loophole. In the April 2013 PhoCusWright Consumer Travel Report, the migration away from the OTAs is already happening in full swing. Whether BAR awareness is the primary force is open for debate; I believe it is one chief factor alongside the points and perks.
On the other hand, just as prices are used to differentiate your product across various channels, I do not believe that the ideal goal of attaining 100% of online reservations through your brand.com is feasible in the short term. No doubt the OTAs will find new and creative ways to reverse this recent decline; they all have very fluid designs, they allow consumers to simultaneously book flights or car rentals and they have some of the best advertising budgets a brand could ask for. In short, the battle continues.
Let’s jump right to the education part of things, as “enlightened” guests are far more likely to peruse your brand.com site prior to locking in an official reservation on one website or another. Whether that site is yours is still up for grabs.
The website is the obvious place to start; having an indexed page that lists the specifics of your BAR policy is a must. This way, guests can do the appropriate research at their own convenience. But it’s clearly not enough. A catchy graphic on the homepage may be necessary in addition to a few well-timed e-newsletters.
The front desk also can play an integral role in information dissemination. Pamphlets, brochures and one-pagers that explain how the system works should be visible and readily available for the plucking. Your front desk clerks must be trained on BAR so they can answer questions and politely shoehorn it into conversation as well. A quick prompt — “How did you book with us?” — can get the ball rolling here.
There are so many other points worth mentioning here — the tone your website conveys, the user-friendliness of your site and special non-public rates that circumnavigate rate-parity rules — but getting the message across face-to-face still has astounding results. Cement it into your managers and your line staff that BAR is a good point of discussion with guests and how more and more will flock to you directly for all future business.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on August 2, 2013)