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Take Back Your Brand Bookings from Online Travel Agents

Justin Tadych
by Justin Tadych on Jul 12, 2016 12:53:03 PM

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Consumers today are so accustomed to using Online Travel Agents like Priceline, Expedia or Hotels.com that it’s hard to imagine a successful hotel marketing plan that doesn’t include using an OTA in some form or another.  While they have their place, should they be the cornerstone of your Online Marketing plan?  If not, what is the first step to break away from their grasp and gain back some control?  Before we touch on breaking away, let’s quickly address their value.

Online Travel Agents for Discovery:

If you have been marketing your hotel online anytime in the last two decades, then you are by all means familiar with participating (I use that term loosely) in rate parity clauses from OTAs.  It’s no secret that OTAs like Expedia and Priceline have enormous digital marketing budgets that continue to grow, so if you want the exposure they bring, be prepared to sign on the dotted line and agree to maintaining consistent rates across your online distribution channels.  With billion-dollar marketing budgets these OTA behemoths bring great potential in terms of reach and pick up large volumes of consumers who are not familiar with your brand.

While discovery value is one of the greatest benefits of OTAs, what if a prospect is already familiar with your brand?  Should you still rely on OTAs?  Even if you have to uphold your end of the rate parity bargain, would you be better off finding a way to avoid the commission rate(s) you negotiated with OTAs?

With billion-dollar digital advertising budgets, the scales are weighted heavily against most hotels.  So what can you do if your hotel marketing budget pales in comparison? 

Gain Back Some Control, Own Your Brand Bookings

While costs can vary, OTAs typically charge from 15-30% for a successful booking.  What if you could cut those fees by a third, in half or even more?  While integrated Online Marketing offers a plethora of options for the travel and hospitality industry a good place to start is owning your brand bookings. 

Travel industry competition is brutal everywhere, especially online.  If someone searches for your brand online, make sure you dominate the results. Employ a brand booking strategy using a combination of SEO, Social, Content Marketing, Local Marketing and Online Advertising.  This strategy will help overshadow the OTA’s efforts and help you own your brand bookings online.

  • SEO – Make sure you own your organic presence by building a solid website foundation that will allow the rest of your Online Marketing to flourish.
  • Social - follow up your number one organic website result with the social channels that your audiences are on. Social signals have also been shown to help with SEO efforts indirectly.
  • Content Marketing - Build trust in your brand by highlighting your expertise and willingness to make your guests' experience the very best. Produce the content that convinces people not only to stay at your hotel, but also to become loyal fans and spread the word about how great your hotel is.
  • Local Marketing – claim your Google MyBusiness, Bing Places and other relevant local listings to continue to dominate the search results. Make sure your reputation is intact.  Have bad reviews, don’t hide them or try to bury them.  Address them individually, then address the underlying problem. 
  • Online Advertising – finish off your search results domination by advertising on your brand phrases using Pay Per Click. 89% of traffic generated by PPC ads is incremental, meaning little cannibalization between organic and paid efforts.

Billion Dollar Competition

How can I compete with Billion Dollar digital advertising budgets?  Unless your name is Hilton, you can’t. Start small and pick your advertising battles.

  • If the majority of your bookings are same day, then emphasize a local Pay Per Click strategy. Give consumers an option to call you direct from search results.  
  • Utilize day parting strategies to ramp up or contract your efforts based on occupancy.
  • Don't have the budget to compete in every market? Focus on markets where your ADR is highest, or where your drive time crowd is strongest. 
  • With some OTAs not passing on consumer email info, consider the lifetime value of a guest. Do you have multiple properties?  Do you have repeat visitors?  Are your guests primarily business orientated?  Consider paying a couple points over and above what your OTA is charging you just to own your data!  Having that customer email information is vital and you are not going to get it from all OTAs. 
  • Has a customer visited your website, checked out available dates, prices and then left? If yes, remarketing can be a powerful and cost effective ally to get the lost booking back.  Your remarketing messaging should emphasize again, why they should be booking direct with you.

You Paid to Get Them, Now Make Sure they Book

You have the consumer or your site, don’t give them a reason to leave.  Take a look at your competition. They are giving the audience everything they need right on the page, taking away all need to leave the website.  Here are just a few of the many ways to keep consumers on your site and get them to book direct. travel-hotel-same-day-bookings-on-mobile_1.jpg

  • Make sure your site is user friendly, easy to navigate and easy to book!
  • Investing in a mobile friendly website is crucial. Remember that 74% of mobile bookings are made for same day check in.  Make the consumer wait too long to book and they are moving on to the next option. 
  • Get Visual... Even better, add video as it can increase bookings by 80% if used properly on landing pages
  • Your online reputation is vital to getting that booking. Feature customer reviews on your website prominently. 
  • Embrace Local. You're competing against other properties in the area, when people are nearby make sure it's your hotel they choose to stay at.

You can't undercut the OTAs as they still offer a service you need, but don't be afraid to let potential guests know the benefits of booking direct by offering exclusive package deals and perks.  Perks could be as simple as free Wi-Fi, late check-outs, coupons for on-premise dining, free shuttles or as elaborate as you want.  Know your audience and your local market and establish what perks, packages and add-ons are most in demand.  If your audience is a bunch of dog loving millennials, consider allowing pets to stay for free and offering an exclusive package for when Fido checks in. 

Going Beyond Brand Bookings

OTAs have their place and value, but imagine cutting those booking fees for brand related searches.  This could be the beginning.  With a comprehensive Online Marketing plan, you could recapture not only brand bookings, but new business as well.    

Ask E-Power Marketing to help your hospitality brand generate more business! 

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Justin Tadych
Written by Justin Tadych
Justin is our Assistant VP, Online Marketing, focusing on online advertising strategies and services. Priding himself on running the most effective and efficient ad programs possible, Justin focuses on maximizing Return On Investment while generating the best possible results for our clients' online advertising programs.

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