Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a very active webinar on the subject of Online Travel Agencies for hotel marketers. Our audience was as lively as ever, and asked some thoughtful questions on this sometimes controversial topic. Here are some of your top queries, which have been answered by our expert guest speaker Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing and strategy consultancy:
Carolyn asked: Often the information and rates on OTAs are not correct for our resort. Where do they pull from and how can we correct it?
That is truly horrible news – and somewhat unforgivable in 2013. Inaccurate information is pretty much a lose/lose proposition. Rates incorrectly listed as too high will scare off potential guests, whereas those listed too low will result in “bait & switch” accusations. The same goes for descriptive content – if it is not updated, you are not promoting what should be an improved product. If it is just plain wrong, well, that’s another issue altogether. With social media able to amplify guest displeasure of a product or service “not as advertised” to the world, this issue should be addressed immediately.
Obviously there is a process breakdown somewhere. Unfortunately, the root cause depends on the specific circumstances of your hotel and how you may be connected to the various OTAs via a central reservations system, channel manager or extranet. I would highly recommend that you hire someone to perform a quick audit and determine who may be dropping the ball.
Tony asked: Statistics say 53% of travel shoppers book on OTAs, why do they prefer OTAs to booking direct?
First the stats for the Digital Elite (individuals that own and use at least two digital devices — a smartphone and tablet — to plan and purchase travel services) were that 53% feel OTAs provide the best prices and 49% believed OTAs provide the most convenient way to arrange travel plans. Cheap and easy are two compelling traits for consumers. These individuals also valued more sophisticated web content, maps, reviews, mobile-optimized sites, virtual tours, etc. They also like downloadable coupons, simple booking, photos and room location previews as features.
Here is the press release regarding the study from MMGY: http://www.mmgyglobal.com/news/news-article/?id=117078.
Lee asked: How can hotel marketers take back control over what gets shared on OTAs?
The best method for chain-affiliated properties is to work closely with the central reservation service provider, representation group or brand distribution team to see that the appropriate content is updated. If this does not work, there may be inefficient staffing or process limitations that hinder the ability to update information in a timely manner. If you identify a bottleneck, get some help from executive management to bust through it. If that doesn’t work, see if you can work directly through the OTA to get it updated using an alternate process. Normally most individuals (except occasionally, those creating the bottleneck) want the process to work efficiently.
Unaffiliated hotels (or those that work directly with OTAs) – independent of any central oversight – should work through the local market manager or help desk if a specific individual is not available. The OTAs generally share a mutual interest in having your property properly presented – at a minimum, to improve booking conversion.
To hear more about the role OTAs play in the travel shopping journey, watch the recorded webinar on How Improving Your Look on OTAs Can Drive More Direct Bookings.
Robert Cole is founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. Robert’s deep industry experience includes executive leadership positions with leading hotel, travel and technology firms including Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Anasazi/Travel Resources, Sabre, Neat Group/Cendant & The Mark Travel Corporation. Robert speaks frequently at travel conferences. He has keynoted the last two years for the Association of Travel Marketing Executives on Social Media Versus Consumer Privacy.