Online Travel Agencies, OTAs for short, have become a big part of consumers’ travel booking process. Despite being relatively new to the modern traveler, the OTAs history stems for decades.
American Airlines launched the first automated booking system in 1946, and 30 years later in 1976, United Airlines granted travel agents access to its computerized reservation system. It was then that the first sparks of what we refer to today as OTAs was born.
It would take another 20 years, in 1996, for Microsoft to launch a travel booking website, Expedia.com. In the ensuing years, we would see Travelocity.com, Priceline.com, Hotwire.com and Orbitz.com. Along the way, there have been various mergers and acquisitions, but the fact is that they are here to stay no matter what form these online properties take.
The major concern for hoteliers and hotel marketers, is that OTA bookings have slimmer margins than direct bookings due to the fees involved. So the question then becomes how do hotel marketers encourage more direct bookings. Here are a few tactics that hotels can use:
Content Marketing (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is continually evolving, and the latest update places consistent, quality website content at the forefront of factors affecting search performance. Organic traffic can generate a lot of revenue, and is typically the number one revenue source for clients.
One of the best ways to provide consistent, quality content is through a blog, but blogging can be tedious. That’s why we here at O’Rourke have come up with a new product to solve this issue, SearchPRO.
Many travel searches are done on search engines like Google and Bing; Google, in particular, has been catering more and more to hotels with things like the Google carousel and what we call “meta search”.
A hotel may or may not be ranked well organically for a particular search term, which is why participating in PPC is a good idea. Another reason is that OTAs will typically bid for a hotel’s brand name. So when a user searches for a particular hotel, an OTA ad will show up, enticing that user to book through the OTA for that particular hotel. It’s critical that properties protect their brand in search engines.
In the end, PPC allows hotels to compete against OTAs by capturing more search real-estate.
Social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, can be great ways to reach potential guests and help shift share away from the OTAs. Although social channels aren’t big contributors to direct revenue, see our previous blog on social media and direct revenue, they can be great tools to generate awareness and initial interest. They’re also a great tool to interact with guests before and after their stay, and possibly creating loyalty along the way.
The world is literally at our fingertips and in our pockets thanks to mobile devices. The facts tell the same story with mobile Internet usage set to surpass desktop usage this year. Hotels should take notice because the OTAs certainly have, with many of them coming out with their own mobile apps for travelers.
Hotels can benefit from this mobile revolution too by investing in their own mobile application. There are many benefits to investing in a mobile app, including being able to have it tie directly into a hotel’s property management system (PMS) allowing for direct bookings. Mobile apps also serve as an extension of a concierge before, during and after the guest’s stay. Not to mention, it’s a great marketing piece.
Learn more about mobile app solutions from our team here at O’Rourke.
TripAdvisor made its name as a popular review site, but is making a splash as a meta-search site as well. Meta-search is different than OTAs in that you can’t book through TripAdvisor, but TripAdvisor does display options for booking a particular hotel and among these options are OTAs.
Essentially, TripAdvisor is leveraging their popularity as a review site to gain exposure in their meta-search business. This means that TripAdvisor is a critical channel for your hotel to compete with the OTAs. TripAdvisor offers many options for advertising, including its business listing product and TripConnect, which allows hotels to display their current rates alongside OTA rates on the hotels’ TripAdvisor page.
OTAs have really created a wave of change in the travel industry, and hotels must adapt their marketing tactics to deal with this new form of competition.
Read Part 2, where we’ll cover what to do if the potential guest goes directly to an OTA site!
Interested in Defeating the OTAs?
Talk to Us Online or give us a call at 978.465.5955