Now hotels can re-position the OTA playing field

TabletWho remembers Sidestep? This was probably the first metasearch tool I used and a few years before Kayak emerged in 2006 (Kayak acquired Sidestep in 2007). Since then, the ongoing love/hate relationship between hotels and OTA’s has ratcheted up a few notches.
Over the past 30 years I have been trying to win the loyalty of my customer. Probably 20 of those years I spent at the sharp end directly managing the relationship with my guest. Since the early 2000’s the landscape has continually changed. My competition, which was fairly straight forward (my comp set), now includes OTA’s and a plethora of additional intermediaries designed to squeeze my margin and attempting to steal my guest. The big difference is that they don’t have a bed or a hotel or room service or spa’s or restaurants.
As a result of intense OTA marketing and PR, many hoteliers simply gave up and sold their souls together with a chunk of their profit to the OTA genie behind the curtain. They also threw in the towel and resigned themselves to the fact that they were no longer in control of their customer. Worse than that, they were helping  build a third party brand while devaluing their own.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a jealous hater. OTA’s are not bad guys, however, over-dependence on any third party channel is simply poor revenue management at best or perhaps lazy revenue management at worst. I would rather pay a travel agent 10% commission on consumed business than 20% to 50% (or more) to an OTA, TravelZoo, Groupon or Living Social.
But ask yourself…..is this business you would not attract yourself? Does it really drive incremental guests? In addition, do you have a channel strategy? Do you have a Revenue Management system and a capable Revenue Manager? Do you really know how much you are driving the bottom line?  Have you identified and measured the long-term value of your direct customer specific to ancillary revenue and repeat stays versus bookings coming through the OTA channels?
Based on STR research for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, direct bookings outperform OTA’s nearly two-fold in ADR, nearly twice the length of stay, and three times the room revenue – not to mention ancillary spend.
TripAdvisor has been able to build a sensational business model based on user generated content, guest reviews and interactive forums. It plays on the concerns that consumers do not want surprises when they travel for business or leisure. Consider this; according to TripAdvisor, nearly 2,800 new topics are posted every day and over 90% of questions are responded to by other travelers within 24 hours.
Meanwhile search engine giants have been patiently waiting on the sidelines observing the gains that OTA’s have been making and weighing up their options in the hotel booking arena and will certainly make their moves to further encroach on dwindling hotel margins. The big are getting bigger and getting better at what they do.
In addition, according to hospitality industry expert Cindy Estis Green, CEO Kalibri Labs, research shows that customer acquisition costs are rising at twice the rate of revenue growth. This is clearly unsustainable.
After all the due diligence, consumers like to book direct with the service provider. They seek out the authority, the source of the information. Consumers want to engage and ask questions and get answers directly from the source not a third party. How does a hotel compete against the juggernaut OTA’s .
One answer is a MetaSearch booking tool. This enhances the consumer booking experience and places them face to face with the hotel and the best rates and specials. Some nifty service providers in this space allow rates pulled directly from the Internet Booking Engine and delivered seamlessly to the MetaSearch channels of choice. This approach eliminates the need for hotels to allocate inventory or update an extranet and provides a single admin for managing bids and budgets across all platforms. This puts hotels in a top placement position for Google Hotel Price Ads (HPA). Consumers get to see these hotels first. This allows the consumers to click directly to the hotelier’s website to complete the transaction. In addition the same functionality can work on TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak, Skyscanner etc.
A couple of these MetaSearch booking service providers have sophisticated administrative options that include built in bid management tools, dynamic real-time ROI, (real time not monthly reporting dashboards)  and some can even be structured by brand and market to maximize efficiency. As with Revenue Management, true success demands that somebody is actively managing this process. Like spaghetti sauce, you can’t just put it on the stove and walk away.  It really does require attention and adjustment as necessary. But the outcome is well worth the effort.
One iron clad certainty is that this will continue to be a fast moving space but finally hoteliers are being offered more sophisticated tools and refined options to compete more equitably with OTA’s and other third parties and can leverage the online and offline relationship they have with their guest.
Consumers will always prefer to book directly with hotels rather than OTAs. Guess what, so do hotels and MetaSearch booking tools have just made this a lot easier. If this is not in your 2015 business plans I suggest you add it today.
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