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Online travel agencies: Everything independent hotels need to know (including lists and definitions)

  Posted in Online Travel Agents

Online travel agencies

Online travel agencies

Online travel agencies (OTAs) are the preferred method of booking trips and accommodation for the majority of travellers.

Online travel agents are at the centre of a thriving online marketplace which offers broad choice, convenience, speed, value, and security. The prominence of OTAs such as Expedia and Booking.com, continues to grow and they’re a proven resource for travellers who use them to discover a diverse range of accommodation options at the best price.

While hoteliers can achieve much success with OTA connections, it’s also dangerous to rely too heavily upon them. There are still too many properties across the industry without mobile optimised websites and booking engines, and even more still that remain with manual processes to manage their business in favour of a property management system.

Connecting to OTAs will help your hotel increase its visibility and maintain its occupancy. Your property may even rank higher on search engines – and yet the commission fee from OTAs can feel like a necessary evil if hotels want to accomplish this.

This blog will take you through the ins and outs of OTAs and what they can mean for your hotel.

Table of contents

What is an OTA and what can it do for my hotel?

As already mentioned, OTA stands for online travel agent (or online travel agency) and is an online company where travellers can book hotels, flights, car hire, or even entire vacation packages.

For a hotel, the definition is slightly different. An OTA is where you can list your property, advertising to the thousands of travellers who may be looking for a room in your city or town throughout the year.

Typically there will be a whole profile of information about your hotel for the traveller to assess – the more information and images you include on your profile the better. The details may include the features and services of the hotel, nearby attractions, customer reviews, room images, a map, as well as room types and room rates for the traveller’s preferred stay period.

Listing with one or multiple OTAs can dramatically increase the online visibility of your property and help bring in increased bookings and revenue. Since all the marketing power comes from the OTA, you just have to worry about how you present your hotel and make sure guests are satisfied with their stay. The tradeoff for this is that you will be required to pay a commission fee for each booking the OTA brings in for you. Commonly this is around 15% of the booking.

That’s why it’s important to balance how many bookings you take from OTAs and how many you take directly on your website and social media channels, via an online booking engine.

Online travel agencies list

There are literally hundreds of online travel sites where travellers can book hotels and other travel services, so knowing who the big players are is important. However it can also be useful to be aware of some of the more niche OTAs which cater to specific traveller personas, or those that are specific to your region. An example of this is Mr & Mrs Smith, which is dedicated to boutique and luxury properties.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular OTAs with travellers:

Other OTA websites: Traveliko

Traveliko, by iko.travel, is a unique online channel in that it offers the same opportunities as traditional OTAs but on a model that requires no commission. Operating in an attempt to remove the ‘middle man’, iko.travel promises hotels will have full control over listings, promotions, packages, and price integrity.

While most OTAs might offer a subscription based membership, Traveliko offers hoteliers a listing on the site for free with channel manager integration such as SiteMinder, no minimum room allocation applied, and up to 100 bookings a month (or bookings to the value of $1000 (USD)). Hoteliers using Traveliko are able to make the most of the features they’ve become accustomed to on traditional online sales channels. Operators can package add-ons, upload videos, and provide information on amenities such as restaurants, spas, and activities. All this makes Traveliko a content rich platform and hotels are encouraged to maximise guest loyalty by offering some freebies and attractive member rates to Traveliko users.

This gives context to the world of options available to hoteliers looking to sell their rooms online. There will be an OTA strategy that works best for you but as a starting point, you need to know what your options are. Brands such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com, and Expedia garner the most mainstream attention thanks to huge budgets but travellers are becoming more savvy all the time, and will put in the necessary time to find the best deals wherever they may be. In this respect it’s important to connect to a broad range of channels.

OTA travel reviews: Tips for hotel marketers

On the surface, it would seem that online travel agencies (OTAs) directly compete with independent hoteliers — but the reality is they often become a valuable partner.

Independent hoteliers must create partnerships with OTAs that require them to pay commissions when their rooms are sold, but it must be appreciated that the properties would not be as discoverable without the incredible visibility of the OTAs.

OTAs have massive marketing budgets, and they dominate the search engine results page for just about any travel-related keyword. You can’t beat the OTAs at the online marketing game, so you need to work with them as a distribution partner.

But how can you make sure your property is ranking highly on OTA listings? Optimising your profile is crucial, which we’ll talk about later, but one major concern is reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely it is that travellers will discover your hotel’s profile.

Ways to improve reviews:

  • Ask guests to leave a review while they’re staying at your hotel
  • Follow-up with emails after their stay
  • Always respond to all reviews
  • Never leave any comments unresolved
  • Don’t get defensive
  • Limit the amount of staff that respond to reviews

While there’s nothing you can do to change the experience a guest may have had before leaving a review, you can make sure their concerns are acknowledged and acted upon, or their praise appreciated. You can increase the amount of positive reviews by having a system in place to collect real-time feedback when guests are still at your hotel. If you can resolve any concerns here, then it’s likely the publicly posted feedback won’t be negative.

Even bad reviews don’t have to spell disaster – how you handle the complaint or feedback could determine the ultimate outcome and the impression you leave on prospective guests.

OTA hotel bookings: Winning guest reservations

Winning guest bookings on OTAs is much the same as winning them directly – first impressions count!

One of the biggest first impressions you can make is with the images of your property and its interior. Travellers want to see what they’re paying for and if what they see is a grainy, blurry, or poorly framed image they won’t be racing to open their wallets. If you can’t produce high quality photography yourself, paying for it will be worth every penny in the long run. You should also make sure you update your images every couple of years and every time you renovate or refurbish your property. Have these ready before you start listing on OTAs.

Assess how your hotel should work with online travel agents (OTAs)

Generally, the more OTA channels you connect with, the better. But you also need to be strategic about which ones you choose as partners. You first need to research your market and see what channels they’re most likely to be using. You have to look beyond the four or five biggest channels and find partners that most suit your target market.

For instance if you’re in an adventure capital, such as Queenstown in New Zealand, you might consider connecting with niche OTAs like STA Travel who target young, active travellers. Or if your guests are commonly Chinese, you simply have to be looking at Trip.com to gain more of these sought-after bookings.

Capitalise on The Billboard Effect created by online channels

Just because a traveller finds your hotel on an OTA doesn’t mean they’ll always book on the OTA. Often they’ll visit your website once they discover you. This is called The Billboard Effect and it’s where you have the opportunity to win back revenue.

When a traveller does land on your website you need to make it as appealing as possible for them to make a booking there, instead of heading back to the OTA or even another hotel. If they don’t find the same room types, names, pictures, and policies they get frustrated.

You can also win travellers over with great content, packages, and appealing deals. Use a blog to broadcast helpful information, news, and travel tips. Establish an online booking engine to house your special packages and rates helping you capture guests direct.

Use data to market better

The most valuable tool at your disposal as a hotelier is data, especially when it comes to your potential guests.

You want to drive more bookings at your property, but marketing blindly to the masses is not the way to do it. You first need to narrow down who your target market should be, and how you can actually reach them effectively.

This might not be constant either, at different times of the year you might have different priorities or travellers may have different habits. That’s why it’s so important to have access to valuable data and be analysing it frequently.

There are many places you can find this data, including from OTAs, which often publish guides on how you can target specific audiences to boost your conversions and bookings.

How to manage your hotel’s OTA profile effectively

To make sure you get the full benefit of OTAs and their reach, there’s a number of steps you should follow to optimise your hotel’s profile.

Given your hotel is a brand, your marketing efforts should be consistent across all channels. Don’t save your best images and content just for your website, make sure this is also on the OTA websites.

Similar to search engines such as Google, OTAs have their own algorithms for how your property will rank, meaning you need to pay close attention to the following tips:

Here are 6 easy steps to optimise your hotel’s OTA profile:

1. Accurately manage your inventory
Because the availability of your rooms will fluctuate due to peak periods or seasonal changes, you need to maintain an accurate inventory across all OTAs to keep your occupancy rate high. Using a channel manager with pooled inventory is the best way to achieve this because travellers won’t be disrupted by double booking issues or incorrect data.

2. Cleverly manage your rates and promotions
Guests don’t simply use OTAs for a wide range of choice and inspiration, often they’re looking for last minute deals and offers. If you have time-sensitive promotions they’ll have more chance of being caught and you can more easily sell the remainder of your rooms. It’s not hard to make alterations on OTAs to highlight a particular rate or capitalise on seasonal events to attract more guests to your property profile.

3. Carefully respond to reviews
While only 14% of consumers trust traditional advertising, 92% respect reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor. Reviews on OTAs are traditionally reliable because guests can only post a review after they’ve stayed at the property. However, only 36% of hoteliers respond to reviews on OTA sites. It’s important to do an efficient job of managing online reviews.

4. Consider paid advertising
This doesn’t have to be restricted to big and rich hotel corporations. It can also be a viable option for independent hotels on a pay-per-click basis. While paid advertising is no guarantee of more bookings, it will help put your property front-of-mind. If your content and aesthetic is strong enough, you should see a rise in revenue and your OTA ranking.

5. Focus on specific markets
Narrowing down your targets will mean you impact a lower volume of customers but you’re also more likely to secure the bookings you want if you use certain time periods, events, geo-targeting or other methods to target specific audiences.

6. Understand your competition
It’s vital to know who the similar players in your market are so you aren’t significantly underselling or overselling your rooms. If you are, you won’t be able to compete. On top of this, being aware of their activity may provide an opportunity to snare extra bookings. For example, changing rates could indicate the occupancy of a competitor or a promotion based on something you could also benefit from. There are specific data systems hotels can use to monitor competitors.

With an optimised OTA profile, your hotel will not only gain bookings from third-party channels but direct traffic to your website should also increase, helping you to offset the commission fee you pay.

OTAs and hotels: Key takeaways

  • Online travel agencies (OTAs) are the preferred method of booking trips and accommodation for the majority of travellers.
  • An OTA is where you can list your property, advertising to the thousands of travellers who may be looking for a room in your city or town throughout the year.
  • Connecting to OTAs will help hotels increase their visibility and maintain their occupancy.
  • Typically there will be a whole profile of information about your hotel for the traveller to assess – the more information and images you include on your profile the better.
  • The more positive reviews you have, the more likely it is that travellers will discover your hotel’s profile.
  • Generally, the more OTA channels you connect with, the better. But you also need to be strategic about which ones you choose as partners.
  • Just because a traveller finds your hotel on an OTA doesn’t mean they’ll always book on the OTA. Often they’ll visit your website once they discover you.
  • Don’t save your best images and content just for your website, make sure this is also on the OTA websites.

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