It’s no secret that hotels hate having to rely on Online Travel Agents (OTAs). With super-high commission rates, competing on the property’s brand keywords, and hijacking their TripAdvisor pages, the OTAs’ relationship with hotels is often anything but a partnership. Granted, for a lot of small properties with small marketing budgets it is a necessary lifeline for getting the property in front of consumers early in the buying cycle.
However, there are a few simple things hotels can do to maximize the impact of the OTAs without giving up so much revenue.
1. Manage Your Rates Properly
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been trying to figure out why the conversion rate on a property’s website dropped suddenly only to find out that someone increased the rate on their own booking engine without increasing it on the third-party channels. Please, please, please, don’t ever publish a lower rate on a third-party site than on your own website. Your website should be the lowest rate available. Period.
2. Be Seasonal
Don’t approach the OTAs the same way year round. If you have a peak season in summer and off-season in the winter, change it up. If you know you’re going to sell your higher-end units out during peak months, don’t put them on the OTAs. Put your lowest-priced inventory on there to get visibility and draw the consumer in to your own website where they can see other room types.
3. Keep YOUR Guest
People are creatures of habit. If your guests have a good experience, they are likely to stay with you again in the future. For resort destinations, this is especially true. A lot of times you don’t get the personal information such as an email address or a phone number for a consumer that books through an OTA. Meaning that they are going to get bombarded with propaganda and exposed to your competitors through the mighty marketing machine that is deployed by the OTAs. Your primary goal when an OTA guest checks in should be to get their email address and make sure that you have the ability to communicate with them and develop an ongoing relationship through post-stay surveys and special promotions. You want them to book directly through you the next time they stay.
4. Offer Exclusive Incentives
Consumers like to feel like they’re getting a little something extra or being treated special. It could be free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a ticket to a local attraction, or express check-in through your mobile app. It’s not hard to think of something that’s going to cost you less than the 20%+ OTA commission but also provide more value to the guest. This is part of the reason the airline industry has been successful in weaning the consumer off of the OTAs. By offering the opportunity to select more leg room or access to a VIP lounge, the airlines have not only made it a better experience to book direct, they’ve also found a way to generate new revenue streams. With a hotel, you could offer the ability for the consumer to book a specific floor or add additional services that aren’t available on the OTAs and you can drive incremental revenue that way. Not every consumer is looking for the cheapest. A lot are looking for the best value.
5. Bid On Your Brand
It kills me that this is even allowed to happen. OTAs bid on a property’s brand keywords on the major search engines in the hopes of intercepting guests who already have an interest in staying at the property. We have had some cases where larger property groups have successfully lobbied OTAs and had them pull off of their brand keywords. Unfortunately, this is typically short lived and the ads magically re-appear after a short period. SO, in order to compete with your friendly OTA “partner”, be smart about your ad copy. Phrases such as “Lowest Rates Guaranteed” and “Official Hotel Site” tend to get better results than generic ad copy. It’s better to pay a few cents to Google than it is to pay a high percentage to the OTAs. We recently did a case study on the impact of bidding on your own brand.
6. Show Reviews
The consumer really wants to stay at your property – great! They just want to make sure that they’re not making a bad decision that their spouse will yell at them for. So, they want to check out reviews. Most people will go to TripAdvisor. BAM, you just had a consumer on your website, ready to book, and now they’re on TripAdvisor and being exposed to rates from the OTAs. Assuming you’re using TripConnect, you’re there too, but it’s still a risk. The easy way to prevent this is to negate the need to leave your site by publishing authentic reviews on your own website. This gives the consumer the peace of mind they need without having to leave your site to get it.
7. Tell The Consumer How To Behave
This may sound overly simple, but people do what you ask them to do IF you actually take the time to ask them. See the success of Facebook “likes” for an extreme example of this phenomena. Your website should educate potential guests on the value of booking direct. Show “Lowest Rates Guaranteed” prominently on your site. Ask them to book direct, and tell them what they get if they do so. Really play up the personal touch and develop a relationship. Your website isn’t just a billboard; it’s an extension of your front lobby. Show the guest the type of experience they can expect when they arrive at the front desk. Make it personal, and make it authentic.