Question for Our Hotel Marketing Expert Panel

What advice can you offer hotels on finding the right balance between OTAs Vs Direct Booking channels? Are there any occasions where hotels should not use OTAs?

Industry Expert Panel

Our Industry Expert Panel exists out of professionals within the hospitality & travel Industry. They have comprehensive and detailed knowledge, experience in practice or management and are forward-thinking. They are answering questions about the state of the industry. They share their insights on topics like revenue management, marketing, operations, technology and discuss the latest trends.

Adele Gutman
Adele GutmanCulture and Guest Experience Expert, Hospitality Reputation Marketing Podcast

“Speaking on behalf of myself and the hotels that I have worked with, driving business directly to our websites was always the #1 priority. We made sure that there were always advantages to booking direct and that those advantages were easy to see. Often our occupancy was very high, thanks to great reviews, and we focused on profitability. That meant striving to keep OTAs in check as a helping hand for off-peak times. On the other hand, when opening a new hotel or expanding our reach to fill a larger hotel, OTAs were our best friends and partners.

Sure, we might all someday aspire to having the vast majority of our bookings come directly and only a small, even single-digit percentage come from OTAs and other commissioned providers. Even if it may be possible for a boutique hotel to manage without OTAs, based on today’s commission rates it may be short-sighted to be unprepared for changing tides if you have not created a long-term relationship before you really need them. To stabilize business as much as possible, both in good times and bad, it is important to have partners who can help fill holes and help you access customers that may be too challenging to target on your own. However, everything has a limit, so if commission levels were to rise on the major players, I would certainly begin to consider alternatives.

Ideally speaking, once a traveler has come to your hotel the first time, it is up to you to do everything in your power to make a more human connection with them so that they prefer to communicate and book with you directly. This takes great tools – but more than that, it takes great service, great experiences, and a team that is fully aligned on ensuring that every guest leaves more than content. Our mission is to ensure that they leave feeling fully cared for, appreciated and respected – and looking forward to returning with their friends! OTAs are very popular, so use that relationship to meet some new travelers and turn them into customers for life.”

Luminata Mardale
Luminata MardaleDirector of Marketing and Business Development, Vienna House

“Online Travel Agencies grow their popularity very much amongst travellers and make them a necessity to be part of every hotel booking strategy. As a hotelier, we can not ignore them.

Most hotels, especially large hotel chains, have been trying to drive direct bookings to their websites to avoid OTA fees, but even so, a survey by Google states that 52% of travellers worldwide access hotel websites only after they locate the hotel on OTAs. For small or medium-sized properties that have limited marketing budgets, it is impossible to operate without OTAs, because they offer greater online exposure, quick access to information and reviews, and an easy booking process.

There’s no denying that OTAs can extend your reach and create booking opportunities, but by limiting your reliance on these external booking sites and optimizing direct bookings, you can maximize your revenue, cut down on costs and create a positive customer experience.”

Thomas Dieben
Thomas DiebenFounder, Becurious

“In general, hotels require OTAs to become visible. OTAs have a great reach and are used by potential hotel guests to find accommodation suited to their specific requirements. Typically, guests use OTAs to find a suitable hotel and then use a search engine to find the hotel’s own website. The hotel website should be fully optimised to turn website visitors into hotel guests.

To achieve this, we recommend clearly displaying the best, most tempting content possible, showing the benefits given to guests who make a reservation via a hotel’s own website. Also, offering special offers and package deals exclusively via the hotel website helps hotels in becoming less dependent on OTAs.

Hotels can also work with special promotion codes or rate types for visitors that have reached the hotel’s website via social media, online campaigns or marketing programs offered by metasearch websites.”

Tim Kolman
Tim KolmanCommercial Strategy Expert, three&six

“I’ll preface this by saying that this is a very property-specific, market-specific question! That being said, I believe that OTAs should still be used as a means for the “billboard effect”. Consider them a marketing channel, while still fully investing in your Direct Booking strategy. The technology is now available to enable hotels with modern direct booking functionality to be able to compete with the deep pockets of OTAs.

While considering your hotel’s direct booking strategy, make sure to explore the following:

  • digital marketing automation & optimization
  • a modern booking engine experience
  • upselling apps
  • reservation chatbots
  • a website experience geared towards conversion
  • …and most importantly, technology that was designed for integration using modern APIs.

There will not be one application that does everything you want and need for your direct booking strategy, and that’s ok! Just make sure that you choose technology that allows for easy integration to help you deploy the strategy that is best for your property.”

Jolien Alferink
Jolien AlferinkHotel Marketing Consultant, Orange Hotel Marketing

“OTAs are very important when opening a new hotel to create brand awareness and to build up guest feedback, along with a good rating. It is then crucial to have an up-to-date, engaging website with a strong brand story and brand identity that will encourage guests to book via the hotel website directly. Strong visuals obviously play a vital role here too, as well as tactical online marketing campaigns to optimise SEO/SEA.

This is exactly the approach we take when helping hotels to grow their direct bookings; however we would still recommend to work with OTAs as this is often the first step in a customer’s search for hotel inspiration.”

Amy Draheim
Amy DraheimOwner, ABD Creative

“I consider OTAs a necessary evil. OTAs own so much real estate on search engine results pages that if you’re not listed, or if your listing isn’t optimized, you’re missing out on metasearch. OTAs are like encyclopedias for hotels, i.e., an easy reference point for all of the hotels in a given location, which is why ensuring you’re listed and optimized could be the difference when it comes to being found online.

If you skip the OTAs altogether, you miss out on that billboard effect, and you’ll be hard-pressed to compete with the OTAs in search results on your own. When it comes to optimizing your OTA listing, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, including photos, descriptions, and respond to reviews, both positive and negative.

Your revenue manager can fence the available inventory, so you’re not deeply discounting over busy weekends, and even decide which room types are worth including on the OTAs. A little strategy can go a long way.”

Michael Markarians
Michael MarkariansPresident, Tee Hospitality

“I would say that every hotel is different, depending on the destination and the area they are in – but that being said, every hotel should yield their bookings based on supply and demand. I don’t think hotels should completely shut their OTA channels. As we speak, city center hotels who do not have the typical business travel or convention traffic, now have every booking channel open, simply because there isn’t enough demand.”

Reshan Jayamanne
Reshan JayamanneDigital Marketing & Sales Strategist, Bnb Optimized

“OTAs are a great option for small and large accommodation chains. If you find yourself not being able to spend money on advertising, SEO or optimizing your site correctly to acquire direct bookings, you should use OTAs as a way to increase your bottom line and create on-location strategies to extract data sent from customers from OTA sites. A good way to do this is to have a sign-in portal for customers looking to use your free, in-house WiFi.

From my marketing agency and OTA experience, I’ve had the privilege of seeing both sides of the coin and have reached the conclusion that they are both a vital part of running a successful accommodation business.

I know there is a crowd of people with pitchforks and torches who hate OTAs because they take 15-30% commission per booking. However, as an advertiser myself, I can confidently say from experience that at times, the cost of acquiring a customer with digital marketing may result in 15-30% of a bookable value depending on the accommodation type, price, desirability, offer and advertising channel. For smarter advert