August 07, 2014
By Cvent Guest

There’s no denying that Online Travel Agencies (OTA) are marketing powerhouses. With cutting-edge technologies, targeted email lists with subscribers in the millions, and a talented team of hospitality professionals dispatched to every part of the globe, OTAs have a worldwide reach of traveler consumers that a hotel marketing team could only dream of.

I chatted with Adam Anderson, Director of Industry Relations at Expedia, to learn how most hotels and resorts are missing the mark by not leveraging an OTA’s tools, meaning they’re losing out on money, far-reaching exposure and even DIRECT bookings. Read on to increase your ROI and worth by marketing hotels online with OTAs:

How does a hotel's content on an OTA site increase bookings?

It’s all about the first impression, says Anderson. Expedia garners 50 million visitors monthly and your “online brochure” of images, reviews, content and descriptions can either intrigue or deter them. Expedia has studied the increase of conversions based on content.

First off, eye-catching photography is a must. They have to be of quality (hire a professional architecture or hotel photographer) with a variety of shots (don’t show 4 different angles of your Presidential Suite). Hotels with quality photography are 1.9 percent more likely to get booked. “Some travelers won’t book a hotel unless it shows a photo of their bathrooms,” adds Anderson.

Hotels that provide thorough descriptions of their property are 2.1 percent more likely to get booked. Sharp hotel descriptions and nearby points of interest are critical to ensure consumers know what makes your property unique or different from the property across the street. 

Make sure you write succinct copy for your room types as well. Having robust, distinct room descriptions will increase possibility of conversion by 2 percent, and will help a traveler make a distinction between room categories, as well as understand what amenities are included in each room type.

Are OTAs deterring travelers from booking direct?

Not at all, said Anderson. In fact, exposure on OTAs can even INCREASE direct bookings. According to PhocusWright, 60 percent of travelers visit OTA when researching and shopping for travel options.

“The real value of your OTA presence is that you are now part of consideration,” said Anderson. “They may not even book on the OTA at all, and book direct on your site because they’ll remember your property.”

Also, Cvent Blogger Sherry Cummins' previous post, 3 Tips for Converting OTA Customers into Directly Engaged Guests, explains how front line engagement can drive direct bookings from OTA users.

What about timing of offers and inventory?

“Play to the booking curve, both short- and long-term” said Anderson. “Manage your distribution strategy by using the technologies and tools to attract the right bookings, at the right time.”  A smart revenue manager would maximize these tools, he added. Having a presence in an OTA’s variety of booking options will maximize your exposure and give you a fuller OTA strategy. Also, make sure you display availability across all room types.

What role do guest reviews play?

Traveler opinions (both number and quality) are critically important to consumers. Data from global hotel transactions in Dec 2012, suggests hotels with more than 50 reviews were 1.4 percent more likely to get booked than other hotels for the same period. 

If you have a small number of reviews, you may want to offer your guests a small incentive for completing an online customer review.  Equally as important to the number of reviews is your actual score. 

As a rule of thumb in order to avoid a loss in up-take your score should be equal too or higher than your star rating.  For example, if you are a 3.5 star hotel your traveler opinion score should be at least a 3.5.  Plus, with OTA reviews, you can rule out foul play, said Anderson. Only people who actually booked on Expedia can leave a review, eliminating suspicions of fake reviews that have racked other sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp.

How do you think OTAs will be changing this year?

You’ll see more marketing focus on the rising number of international travelers, Anderson said. Expedia is reaching out to the burgeoning middle classes of Brazil, Russia, China, as well as the mainstays like the United Kingdom.

“This type of incremental business is very hard for hotels to do that on their own, he said. “The user experience  is different for certain countries.” For instance, Brazilians are used to paying for purchases in installments, rather than flat rates. And, the Chinese and Japanese sites have dropdown menu using their characters.

To enhance your own hotel’s international reach, consider offering a special rate for certain countries, offer amenities just for international travelers or have your hotel added into an OTA package that groups flight, hotel and rental car.

How can hotels stand out from the rest of the comp set on Expedia? How can they differentiate themselves?

The simplest and most creative way to stand out on an OTA site is to offer value-add services like free champagne, free parking, etc.  And make sure to keep those services current on your OTA account.  For example, if a hotel that previously charged $10 for breakfast, now offers it for free and does not update this information across OTAs, the hotel will not be listed when the Free Breakfast filter is used to refine search results.

How do you think hotels often fall short when working with an OTA?

Not taking advantage of their market managers’ expertise and market knowledge, said Anderson. “Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table,” he noted.  Use your market managers to map out your strategy, and meet with them at least once a quarter to discuss specific targeting, goals, and to fine-tune a distribution plan. Most notable is that market managers know what all the hotels in your region are doing. They know about upcoming events, compression periods, what’s working, what’s not working.

What are some ways that hotel properties can increase both profitability and bookings from OTAs?

Leverage packages where you can partner with airline and car rental, Anderson says.  When working with Expedia, hotels simply opt-in to be included in a package and Expedia will hide the rates per partner, so the consumer will pay just one price. “These are valuable bookings,” he said.

Plus, embrace technology. OTAs are not just travel sites, they’re tech companies. “The hoteliers that do well embrace tech,” says Anderson. People are booking more and more on mobile. All hoteliers have to do is list with them, and Expedia will do the rest, he said.  If you’re not on the consideration set, then you’re not on mobile. You can even offer a mobile only deal, too.

What about rankings? How can hotels make sure they’re showing on top of the search results within the OTA site?

“Ranking is a secret sauce,” said Anderson. “However, it goes without saying that good rates and good availability bump you up (in the search results).”  From there, it only gets sweeter. The hotels that are booking more, increase in ranking.  Also, hotels offering a compensation rate that’s friendlier to Expedia will show up on top, he adds.

Written by Sarah Vining.

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