Before the pandemic, the mix of business coming from a brand.com direct bookings were at an all-time high. However, this can be deceiving, for the majority of these bookings were rewards members with higher statuses. The large percentage of the Platinum and Diamond rewards members of the world are frequent business travelers. Until that mix returns, a hotel is reliant on the transient, brand agnostic traveler.
Back in 2009, I began my hospitality career with Booking.com. During this time, our nation was hit with a recession, and I quickly found myself at the forefront of Booking.com coming to the US and growing exponentially.
During times of economic distress or travel disruptions, consumer behavior is more price conscious and not as loyal to a particular brand. According to a recent survey by PWC, 41% of travelers surveyed are likely to switch hotel brands, and almost 40% are brand agnostic. This is the bread and butter of the Online Travel Agencies.
For a consumer that is not dedicated to a brand, easy comparison tools with a variety of hotel types and price ranges is how they shop online for a hotel. Often times, Google will be their first go-to for last minute decisions, but with meta and paid search, they most often are directed to a Booking.com or Expedia owned site.
OTAs have remained a strong player in the transient space, specifically amongst the younger demographics. Today, we are seeing a younger traveler making last minute reservations (according to the latest Demand360 data). Similar to 2009-2012, we are facing a time where occupancy levels are low and hotels were more focused on putting heads in beds than driving direct. Both Booking.com and Expedia had extremely successful years during this past period with hotels being more reliant, despite the higher commission rates. With Booking.com and Expedia reducing their staff, I would expect commission rates to creep up once again. Even so, as travelers return, we will see more bookings coming through these channels.
As a hotelier, it is important to give more attention to these OTA channels, while being careful not to dilute your rates. You may have to dust off some of those old OTA tactics you used in years past.
Some things to think about when attempting to attract this brand agnostic traveler:
- Ensure your content and quality scores are as high as possible. You want to be eye catching and attractive to a consumer, with all relevant photos and content easily accessible
- Adapt your content on the OTAs to reflect how you are handling cleanliness and taking care of your guests
- Use the opportunity to show off your local knowledge and proximity to awesome local finds in your custom copy
- Consider playing in the Expedia TravelAd space, but always use the targeting tools. Expedia now shows sponsored listings very similar to a standard listing and it is a great way to get to the top of the listings. Ensure you customize your copy and add targeted dates for a higher ROI.
- Respond to reviews in a timely manner. Nothing will show you care and are engaged with your customers more than responding to reviews. Just remember, any response is public and people will make a decision with their wallets based on your response.
- Look into using some of your marketing dollars on Google and the meta search space. This space is often-times the first go-to for someone searching last minute on their phones. This is still a great way to drive direct and save on commission.
Online Travel Agencies should never be your first and foremost strategy; however, in this new era we find ourselves, you would do your occupancy a disservice to disregard your OTA presence and what they can do for you.
Roger Littlepage is the founder and CEO of Maple Tree Marketing and has worked for both Booking.com and Marriott International in the hotel marketing space.