For hotels, there’s a new Billboard Effect

Discovering your hotel, hostel or BnB has changed. So should your website. Make smart adjustments to get direct bookings.

Josh Ziman
Sep 8, 2017 · 3 min read

The past

Once upon a time, there was the Billboard Effect. It explained this simple phenomenon:

  1. Internet shoppers visited an online travel agency (“OTA”; Expedia,
  2. They viewed a hotel listing
  3. They opened a new tab, and visited that hotel’s website
  4. They booked directly via the hotel’s website

It didn’t always happen. But when it did, it was great for the hotel. The OTA offered the “billboard” advertisement. The OTA’s “billboard” then drove the best type of traffic to hotel websites: direct bookers. These direct bookings are cost-effective and healthy for hotels.

It looked something like this:

Then, in 2009, Cornell published a study declaring this particular phenomenon dead.

The present

Now we have the social web.

Shoppers research places-to-stay and things-to-do before booking. They read reviews on Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, OTAs, etc. Then they book.

Now we must redefine the Billboard Effect to include social browsing.

As you can see, there may be bi-directional, circular behavior:

Shoppers discover the hotel via any channel, including social media. Then move onto the next channel. They may visit all 3 before booking.

The new direct booking playbook

“The game is out there. It’s either play or get played.” — Omar Little, The Wire

To win, hotels must consider the evolving shopping behavior.

Do not: create a zombie Facebook page, let it collect dust, and link it from your website’s footer.

Do: create a social strategy that actively funnels traffic towards your website. Lock the door behind them. Toss the key.

Take the traffic from OTAs and social media, and do not send them back. Understand why visitors might leave, and give them every motivation to stay.

Give them social proof on your website: fresh reviews, recent booking notifications, scarcity etc.

Give them stunning photos.

Give them videos.

Give them a 360 tour.

Give them the best possible price.

Give them discounts.

Engage them via chat.

Make sure your booking engine works on everyone’s devices: iPhones, Androids, even a fucking Tamagotchi.

Find out if your visitors are looking or if they’re booking.

Is your visitor looking? Get their contact info. Follow up until they book.

Is your visitor booking? Give them a winning value proposition to book direct.

Fix your website. Make it better than Make it better than all OTAs. Don’t give anyone any reason to leave. Yes, you can do it.


As always, contact me for help. We can discuss your website and ways to improve it.

Or, fill out this short survey. I’m building you a product that will increase your direct bookings. Your response helps me build it closer to your needs. Maybe you’ll be the first to use it!

Josh Ziman

Written by

Tourism · UX Designer · Solutionist

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