Are all your eggs in one Online Travel Agent’s (OTA) basket? We see a number of independent accommodation owners who rely on just one OTA. Business wisdom and common sense suggest that an over reliance on one source of sales is risky. Spreading your sales sources will give you a more reliable, robust and diversified stream of bookings.
So what are the risks of working with just one OTA? At some future point that company may decide to implement something you disagree with; it could be a policy about commission or some way that they deal with guest data, reviews or customer relations. There’s no way to say what the future holds but with only one source you will have to follow their rules without any backup relationships.
Each of the biggest three worldwide travel websites (and they keep growing), Expedia, TripAdvisor and Booking.com all have their own customer databases and their own advertising strategies. By working with more than one you both maximise your exposure and diversify sources of potential customers. Remember that some customers only ever book with Expedia and others only Booking.com so by working with both you get seen by them all.
Customers also visit many websites during their research process so featuring on the big three means you have more chance of catching their eye. Again each of these booking sites will place a different emphasis on your property so you will appear in different positions and places on different searches and pages.
Having only one OTA is a bit like a farmer getting a giant contract from a major supermarket. The initial glow wears off when you have had to turn down all other distribution opportunities and tailor your processes to that single source, and then you realise that losing the contract would likely mean instant business failure. It’s a horrible question to ask but an important one, if your biggest OTA stopped working with you would your business survive?
Fortunately in the accommodation business you can spread your risk far more easily than some farmers can. You can share your availability across multiple channels and benefit from a bigger and more diverse spread of bookings whilst increasing your negotiating position. Then, if at some future date one OTA ever demands something you don’t want to give you can always move business to another.
A good healthy business mix includes plenty of direct bookings so your OTA policy should always go hand-in-hand with a strategy to increase direct bookings. In our next blog we cover ways to increase direct bookings, so you can make the most of the existing customers that have booked via the OTAs.
A huge amount of internet change is currently impacting independent accommodation providers.
Online travel agent (OTA) consolidation puts the vast majority of bookings into the hands of just 2 or 3 players. Together they dominate the online space through aggressive marketing and huge pay per click spends with Google and other high volume websites. This continues to make it increasingly challenging for independent accommodation owners trying to maintain the same volume of direct bookings.
If you find yourself in this situation the best strategy is to avoid over reliance on a single OTA as that level of dominance creates obvious business risks, no business wants all its eggs in one basket. So make sure you have a spread of booking sources and always be on the look out for new, more efficient ways to distribute.
Don’t be afraid to invest in technology that improves your direct commission free bookings and also enables you to diversify your booking sources i.e. a channel manager and booking engine that connects to all three big players…Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor.
Remaining fiercely independent and open to multiple sources of bookings becomes more crucial as the dominance of the biggest grows. In other words the most successful strategy will be diversified and independent – keep your eggs in baskets you can trust.
It’s great to see so many small businesses flourishing on TripAdvisor with the recent Certificates of Excellence. What does it take to get one? We are privileged to have a special view of the accommodation business chatting to thousands of owners across the world. On the whole customers openly share their success to help others get ahead.
When you look around at the independent B&Bs and guest houses that are winning there are a few things that seem to make all the difference to their guests.
Their welcome is warm, friendly, unique – it sets the tone for the stay. You, the host, make all the difference…. unlike some large corporate hotel chains where you’re “checked-in” by a machine ! That’s a huge advantage straight away, use that encounter to understand the guest, they are all different – some want to chat, take advice etc. others may not.
They have a small “flourish” at check-in that’s worth it’s weight in gold….a fresh pot of tea, some home baking, interesting events for them to see, something local ?
Their “wow factor” often comes from plain old attention to detail. Having everything spotless is a good starting point and then its lots of very small things done well….that add up. In elite sports it’s called “marginal differences” i.e. the type of bed the athlete sleeps on, the liquids they drink, the make up of their diet, added together all of these 100s of things can mean the difference between a gold or silver medal on the day!
They are “great” at something (most people are!) and they show it off, differentiating themselves from the “crowd” and creating a memorable experience…something guests want to tell their friends about. It could be flower arranging, local history, gardening, baking bread, carpentry, telling jokes….
They think of their guest all the way, anticipating their needs….if they are in a “walking area” they provide advice or maps, if guests need to eat out they know which restaurants do what food best. By spending time with their guests they are better able to understand how to make their stay just that little bit more memorable.
If you do all this you need to understand that although this level of “service” is natural to you it is also a real part of your marketing plan, so make the most of it. Ask for a review and respond to them on TripAdvisor (all types), it shows you care but it’s also a fantastic source of marketing information. You will find out what “made the difference” in the eyes (and words) of your guests.
Essentially, “the host” seems to make the difference, not the free wi-fi or parking, so organising your time around the guest is critical. The best in the game know this, they clear their “admin” desk, use technology to the max – they don’t waste time processing bookings, typing in payments, updating booking systems …. instead they invest the time saved delivering a friendly, unique and memorable experience… it pays off!
Some winning accommodation owners case studies for further reading
Many accommodation businesses are confused about TripAdvisor’s direct bookings, are you one them? Let’s try to explain, so find a nice quiet spot to sit down with a glass or mug of your favourite drink.
In the last year TripAdvisor has changed its business model a number of times leaving many potential customers confused and even locked out. We have created a couple of videos to help you understand these changes (skip to these at the foot of the article…if you like) but it’s probably worthwhile seeing some of the basic facts first. Like them or not, here they are;
TripAdvisor is a booking website used to book accommodation online.
Accommodation businesses can receive bookings directly from the TripAdvisor website using a booking engine i.e. Freetobook.
If you are already working with an OTA (Online Travel Agent) like Expedia or Booking.com you may find that the OTAs advertise your availability on TripAdvisor. These bookings will come through the OTA (not directly from TripAdvisor) and look like any other OTA booking and you pay your agreed commission to the OTA, as usual.
The OTA pays to advertise on the TripAdvisor website, each OTA decides if they want to advertise your availability. You have no control over this.
TripAdvisor lists availability and prices prominently so properties that don’t have online rates will be more difficult to find and if they are found they’ll be surrounded by images and popups directing customers to nearby available properties.
Available to accommodation owners worldwide except if you have a holiday rental on HolidayLettings or FlipKey
In short, if you don’t have online rates you will receive less traffic and fewer bookings than in previous years.
If you do want bookings this way then you choose your route, direct with TripAdvisor or through an OTA – either way there is no requirement for any fixed upfront costs, no subscriptions or annual fees.
To get bookings direct you will need an account with TripAdvisor and an approved booking engine (or connectivity partner i.e. freetobook). Simply login to your TripAdvisor account and setup your direct advertising via their TripConnect service. Most approved booking engines charge for this service but with us it is completely free.
To advertise directly on their website you will need to pay TripAdvisor. In their wisdom they have created two models for payment (hence our two videos mentioned earlier).
Model One: Pay Per Click
Here you pay TripAdvisor a click fee each time a customer clicks on your advert, on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. However, you DON’T pay for a search, you only pay when the customer searches AND then clicks on your available price. If you are not available on the dates the customer searches or they don’t click the price then you don’t pay.
Cost Per Click model facts:
You pay when a customer clicks on your available price.
TripAdvisor sets the click costs and from feedback they are generally quite low (but we can’t see or know the cost, they are only visible in TripAdvisor).
You can vary what you pay per click (your bid). If you bid too low then TripAdvisor will remove the advert and you would have to increase your bid to show again.
If you work with an OTA they might also advertise alongside your CPC advert.
You set the budget and pay TripAdvisor and can switch it on/off as you please.
In this model you pay for the advertising and you measure the bookings that come from the clicks. Bidding higher for clicks will make you show at the top of any adverts on your property and bidding too low will mean you don’t show. You make the judgement as to the cost effectiveness of your advertising by totalling up the bookings versus the click costs. Ideally that return has to better than any other booking options i.e. OTA commissions.
Enjoy the youtube video on the Cost Per Click model.
Model Two: Pay Per Booking model (Instant Booking)
In this model you only pay TripAdvisor for bookings. There is no cost for each click, instead you pay a commission amount on realised bookings. You set this up by logging into TripAdvisor account and activating an Instant Booking campaign. You pay TripAdvisor a commission fee only after the customer has completed their stay. At the time of this blog Instant Booking is not available to all properties. Use the Instant booking link below to check.
Pay Per Booking model facts:
You pay either 12% or 15% commission after the customer has stayed.
If you bid 12% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 25% of the time.
If you bid 15% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 50% of the time.
No other OTAs will show if your advert is showing.
There is no payment/commission due on bookings that cancel.
Enjoy the youtube video on the Pay Per Booking model
By now you are either asleep or completely up to speed on direct bookings from TripAdvisor….. that is before it changes (only joking!) As always, please share your experience of this service or any other relevant news, let us know how it has or hasn’t worked for you.
Just back from a quick trip down to Gatwick to see the Gatwick Guest House Association (GGHA). I was invited to give a short presentation on the Together service after a few of their proactive members thought the service may help their website generate more bookings.
Like many other associations they need to upgrade their website and in assessing the options it became obvious that a booking engine on the website would be a great benefit…and that’s where Together comes in. Freetobook are always happy to visit groups and explain face-to-face who we are, where we came from and what we do.
I was really impressed with the positive and proactive attitude of everyone at the meeting, I was made to me feel very welcome.
A big thank you to everyone and especially to Carmel at the Cumberland House for her warm hospitality…..the perfect host.
News is out that freetobook are working on a connection which will enable accommodation providers to connect their availability to Google Hotel Price Ads. All customers using freetobook with nightly rates will be able to participate including hotels, apartments, guest houses, inns, bed and breakfasts, hostels, campsites and many others using nightly rates.
In the past Google HPA was only available to big hotel chains, Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and digital marketing organisations. Here at freetobook we like to smash through barriers and open up the best marketing technology to everyone, making more distribution channels available on an optional basis to our customers across the world.
When completed your freetobook diary will be able to feed rates and availability to the whole of the Google network giving you fantastic global marketing access. This service is on an opt-in basis without any tie-ins so you are free to try it out and calculate your return on advertising investment. Bookings that you receive from the service will be direct bookings and you will be able to pay per click for advertising on the Google HPA service.
Google HPA is different from Google Ads. The main difference is that Google HPA can link to your availability and direct bookings can be made there and then. Customers on Google will be able to see which accommodation is available at what price and make a direct booking. Unlike Google Ads you do not bid on keywords with Google HPA the placing of the adverts will depend on Google and their bidding system.
Where will my Google HPA adverts show ? You will be able to show on Google Maps,
Google Local, Google+, and the new Google “three-pack” on AdWords. You can see some of the examples of where the adverts show in the pictures on this blog. All the best technology changes and improves and Google is a great example of this, so whilst we can say where the Google Hotel Price Ads show now we can also be sure that this will change and improve with time.
A short video with a flavour of the Google HPA service
Customers already using freetobook can pre-register for Google HPA in their TAB”Plus” under “Your Ads” on the orange bar.
Is your local association or marketing group doing enough for you?
Online booking is just getting easier and more accessible to everyone. It’s great to see associations and marketing groups looking to improve their websites and the profitability of their membership.
Local association and marketing group websites tend to generate a lot traffic because they are the best source of local information (search engines like this), but do they really capitalise on all those visitors. If the huge growth of budget hotels and online travel agents is anything to go by you would have to say these local websites are failing to deliver what their members need most…direct commission free bookings.
Why are they losing out on these bookings, because they are not offering their visitors what they want…the ability to search availability then compare properties, locations and prices, and make bookings. We all know customers want choice, value and convenience when shopping for accommodation online hence the global popularity of the OTAs.
That’s the problem, here’s the solution – get your area website set-up to take bookings for your members. To set this up quickly and cheaply you need a booking system that is accessible to all, quick to set up and easy to manage. Our solution at freetobook has been
simple and inclusive, the internet booking engine is free to use, quick to set-up (couple of hours) and easy to manage. Members can still run their existing booking systems if they want .. we do not mandate that they have to use freetobook exclusively and there’s no tie-ins. So the cost of entry is just a few hours time for members … a fair price for commission free bookings?
Proven benefits of working better “Together” include:
1) being able to categorically show members that they are “in profit” from their membership
2) reduce commissions paid and raise the long-term positive profile of the group/area
3) expand the membership of the group and directly increase their profitability
4) keeping bookings within the group means more bookings for all and easier referrals
Website visitors want to book online on your website and your association or group website, can you and your association afford to sit on your hands and do nothing ?
As TripAdvisor focuses on Mobile customers we think you should too. Earlier this year they reported there had been 100 million downloads* of their free mobile app. These customers use mobile phones to research holidays and some make bookings. If you are promoted on TripConnect you will convert better with freetobook’s mobile booking platform.
To optimise your freetobook mobile booking system simply login and select the TAB ”Plus” then “Mobile Booking”. The “Deluxe Mobile Search” option will work for TripConnect or why not get a discount on the Full Mobile Package which includes a great mobile website.
Freetobook’s mobile booking works on all mobiles and includes multi language booking. The mobile services work for all customers, not
just those on TripConnect, this means customers visiting your website using a mobile will also be able to use the optimised booking process.
We don’t charge for a connection with TripConnect….and that includes multi language booking in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.
Our mobile optimised website and/or mobile deluxe search provide great value.
Watch the video below to see how great your mobile website and mobile optimised booking process can be with freetobook.
freetobook mobile booking engine for tripconnect and your website (youtube)
Knowing the secrets of success with the Online Travel Agents OTAs can boost your direct bookings. Their web coverage is so massive that any single property will find it hard to get noticed without them. In reality the chances are that any potential customer visiting your website has already checked out your listing on the OTAs, so take a moment to learn how to leverage that coverage to your advantage.
The big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are experts at online promotion and sales, they act a bit like a supermarket, giving customers significant choice, relevant information to help compare and an opportunity to buy simply and quickly. They have mastered the art of great online marketing, continually optimising their websites and spending billions on advertising to generate millions of bookers. Ranking high on search engines and also listing on the most popular websites like TripAdvisor make it almost certain that anyone searching for accommodation online will come across them.
The great news is that although customers visit OTAs during their search for accommodation most still choose to book direct. Take your OTA presence seriously by investing time and care to ensure it works for you. Do not be fooled into just a switching it on and letting it run, you have to drive it in the right direction.
1. Look Special: Ensure you are “attractive” on the OTA websites by having great images and plenty of them. These images must “connect” with customers on an emotional level….can they see themselves in those images? Highlight your strengths, you will be compared. By standing out you increase your chances of getting booked.
2. Know Your Targets: Understand what types of customer are finding you on the OTAs – why not ask them when you see them? Then grab the attention of those customers with the right content, your business customers may want to see free wi-fi, car parking, proximity to their destination etc. Enhance your own website to attract these customers.
3. Make Improvements: Refresh and fine tune your presence on each OTA, learning and improving all the time – nothing is static on the internet! Simplify the process of managing OTAs by using a channel manager, then spend the time you save by getting more from the connection…. put an end to tedious rate and availability updating, rather spend the time saved to add real value.
4. Drive Direct Bookings: You must have a great website, invest in fantastic images and rich content – go the extra mile. Place your online booking process at the heart of your website, it’s got to be so easy to find and book. Customers want it to be simple don’t confuse them or appear to offer less. Extract the maximum value from all customers, capture repeat business or referrals direct.
5. Returning Customers: Once a customer comes to you via an OTA make sure you get to know them, offer them a loyalty discount so they come back via a direct booking next time. Add the customer to your mailing list or social media channels and engage them directly.
6. Create your own Mini OTA: When you can’t beat them make your own. Why not join up with other properties in your area to work together. You could create a website for customers to book accommodation in your location and compete with the chains and save commission using your mini OTA.
Smaller independent properties have limitations on their time and marketing budgets so it’s critical you make the most of them. The biggest advantage owner run and managed businesses have is the direct contact with their guests, it’s not something the chain hotels and OTAs can replicate.
Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine and channel manager with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor TripConnect, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others. Using freetobook can greatly improve your worldwide distribution and add bookings to your bottom line : find out more about freetobook on our home page.
To find out more about what the freetobook channel manager can do for you, click the link below.
Watch the video on YouTube see how the freetobook channel manager works.
* freetobook will not charge their set-up and connection fee if connected in time. There may be costs from Welcome to Yorkshire to list on their websites and update via guestlink – your listing on Yorkshire websites is subject to their terms and conditions so you need to check all Welcome to Yorkshire terms and conditions.