Spread your OTA bookings

OTA selection
Select more than one OTA

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.

Biggest OTAs in the World
World’s Biggest OTAs

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.

Find out more about our Channel Manager

B&B marketing tips from Karen

hopton house“If anyone knows about B&B, Karen does.” (Guardian) Karen owns Hopton House, a converted granary in Shropshire offering three bedrooms. Alongside her own bed and breakfast business, she runs regular courses for potential B&B owners. Here Karen shares her business expertise and thoughts on TripAdvisor, the ‘Marmite’ of the B&B world.

“I’ve been running Hopton House for nearly eleven years now and the B&B courses for a couple of years less than that. I’m often asked what the biggest changes I’ve seen in that time are. In terms of the running of the B&B it’s very much about guest expectations, they tend to be more widely travelled and the lines between hotels and B&Bs are getting a bit blurred. Internet access is one case in point – ten years ago it wouldn’t have been required or maybe it was just a nice to have, but in 2015, with the amazing growth of smartphones, it’s pretty much a necessity for many people. From my own travels I know that if there are choices of similar accommodation in an area, I’ll always go for the one with Wi-Fi access. I think the biggest changes I’ve seen are the ways in which B&Bs market their businesses.

Here are the top 5 areas that I think have been game changing;

guest reviews tripadvisor1. Guest Reviews:
Tripadvisor; the marmite of the B&B world! All guests these days are potential amateur reviewers. Whilst having lots of great reviews is heart warming for the B&B owner, a negative review has the potential to cause serious damage to a business. Even now my heart skips a beat whenever I see I have a new review come through. Whilst receiving a bad review can ruin the owner’s day, it’s important to address the review and respond constructively. Tripadvisor reviews have shown that potential guests are more likely to choose to stay at a B&B if they’re taken to respond to negative feedback in a positive constructive way.

online travel agents2. Online travel agents:
The OTAs such as booking.com are changing the way people book accommodation, and many B&Bs can have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. OTAs can bring us a lot of business with no upfront joining fees but the commission they charge is high and the guests haven’t always understood what they should expect in their B&B. I think B&B owners need to make a decision about whether they will use the OTAs and then how will they use them. Whilst I don’t use them myself (I’m on booking.com but haven’t yet released nights to them), I think they can be very useful ( and possibly essential ) to some types of accommodation providers.

social media3. Social Media:
Many B&Bs have always relied on word of mouth to promote their business for years, and social media is the ultimate word of mouth. Social media, be it twitter, facebook, Instagram or even blogging, provides B&B owners with a great way to attract new guests, meet suppliers and keep in touch with repeat guests. I filled a room last minute following a cancellation using a promoted Facebook post last week. Better still, when you attract someone on social media and they like what you offer, they’ll then go back and recommend you to all of their followers.

advertising4. Advertising:
Whilst paper advertising in magazines and tourist guides has been steadily declining, digital advertising has been on the increase. I find both Facebook promoted posts and Google adwords are an effective way of marketing my B&B.

Google adwords particularly are becoming quite complicated to manage these days. I’d always suggest getting a recommendation for a digital marketing company to help you get started (although avoid those that cold call you offering top place on Google).

online booking5. Online Booking:
I’ve had online availability since I opened my B&B, I was one of the first in my area to get online booking. I do think online booking is an essential for any tourism business these days. About 85% of my bookings come through online via freetobook. Taking the deposit, blocking the calendar and sending confirmation are all handled seamlessly without me having to do a thing (the hours I used to spend on holiday looking for an internet café so I could sign into my email and respond to guest bookings with my old booking system!)

These days marketing is as an essential part of running a B&B as cleaning the rooms or cooking the breakfast. If it’s something you enjoy then great, if not then find someone who can help you. There’s lot of support out there locally via local tourism associations and groups.

Hopton House B&B, Hopton Heath, Craven Arms, Shropshire, SY7 0QD

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