Reports vary as to what percentage of hotel bookings are now made online but we all know that figure is growing, as is the proportion generated by online travel agents (OTAs). \r\n\r\nIt is hardly surprising, therefore, that so little attention is paid to the huge numbers that are still booked over the phone and yet these can often be the most valuable bookings of all. At Pride of Britain we are noticing that although the volume of reservations passing through our electronic booking engine dwarfs that taken over the phone the average booking values, at \u00a3462 and \u00a3612 respectively, are dramatically different.\r\n\r\nLet me be clear, this is not in any way a complaint about the advance of technology - far from it - like good hoteliers we spend a great deal of time and money trying to perfect the systems that are most effective in converting lookers into bookers. Having said that, some customers just prefer a human exchange which creates an opportunity to upsell and to deal with unusual questions, such as \u201ccan we have two rooms on the same floor?\u201d or \u201cwill there be anything on the Sunday lunch menu for a vegan?\u201d.\r\n\r\nMany of the calls our team handle result from failed attempts to book online, either because the hotel really is full or because tougher restrictions than necessary are in place to prevent overbooking or to prevent single night stays at weekends. A phone call can sometime reveal availability that online systems inadvertently conceal. I believe it\u2019s also easier to put across the personality of a hotel or any business when you speak in person. Ideally the conversation will end with the customer thinking; \u201cthey seem nice\u201d.\r\n\r\nWhether the guest makes contact online or by phone is not the main issue, of course. What matters more is the value of their business to the hotel which is considerably greater if it is free of commission - something the more intelligent among our trade have grasped with zeal. Here is an example of what I mean from our own experience in Madeira a few months ago.\r\n\r\nBeing a savvy person, my wife Michelle found the ideal hotel for our holiday and noted the rates. She then referred to a popular OTA and found lower rates for what appeared to be the same room type and dates and made the booking. A phone call to the hotel established that the lower rate could indeed be booked direct with them and so a new booking was made and then the OTA one cancelled without penalty. What, you may ask, did we gain from that exercise?\r\n\r\nFirstly, our room was among the recently refurbished and on a higher floor and so quieter than the majority. A nice car picked us up at the airport and returned us at the end of our stay, free of charge. We were waved through the normal check-in, where others had to queue, and were fabulously looked after by a guest relations manager throughout. All of this because we had saved the hotel a load of commission by booking direct. None of these advantages, of course, transgressed the rate parity rules in the hotel\u2019s contract but they have ensured we\u2019ll return some day, bypassing the third party.\r\n\r\nNot being privy to the accounting methods of our host venue I have no idea where they show the small added costs of our undeserved VIP treatment, but I bet it isn\u2019t under the heading \u201cmarketing\u201d where it arguably belongs. And what of the commission that is paid on hundreds of other bookings? That should also be counted as a marketing cost in my view because ultimately it comes from the same pot as the money spent on traditional forms of promotion.\r\n\r\nIf you will allow a moment of indulgence\u2026I recently discovered that I share my name with the Bishop of Bath & Wells, another Peter Hancock, so end this sermon by anointing direct bookings with the status they surely deserve. For us, they are the Holy Grail.