Online Travel Agencies, or OTAs, have revolutionized the way people travel.
Travelers love them, but hotels have a love-hate relationship.
From a user’s perspective, it makes finding and reserving a hotel based on your travel preferences easy and streamlined. What else would you need?
But from a hotel owners’ point of view, OTAs are the ultimate “frenemy” of the hospitality industry.
Hotel owners enter these platforms at their own will. It’s a guaranteed source of visibility, lead generation, and revenue. These platforms have an incredible reach (Booking.com has nearly 404 million monthly users worldwide); hotel owners have to be crazy to not partake in a slice of this market share.
But, they keep a HUGE chunk of this revenue for themselves, regulate your pricing structure, and trying get out of their platform is a business death wish.
So, where does that leave hotel owners? Damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t?
For savvy digital marketers, there are other ways.
Can OTA’s Be an Ally?
When it comes to digital marketing, hotel reservation platforms are omnipresent. In 2016, Priceline group spent $3.5 Billion on AdWords alone.
So, instead of trying to compete with OTAs, your strategy should focus on piggybacking off their efforts. Don’t treat these platforms like a rival, treat it like an additional communication channel.
Positioning OTAs in Your Online Conversion Funnel
The trick to making these platforms your ally is understanding where to include them in your online conversion funnel.
A conversion funnel represents the different stages that a potential customer goes through when making a purchasing decision. Effective digital marketing strategies are focused on defining and encouraging this process.
We’ll break this down into 4 steps to you to how to strategically position OTAs in your online customer journey.
1. Create Awareness
Before guests can book a room at your hotel, or even consider booking a room, they need to be aware that your hotel exists.
Channels that work best for this include Social Media, Organic and Sponsored Content, and Native Ads on premium publishers. With well-produced content delivered at the right frequency, you should be able to successfully build awareness amongst your target audience.
2. Reinforce Consideration
The consideration stage is where OTAs come directly into play.
Since many of these platforms allows users to browse various hotel options based on location, price, and other criteria, it is perfectly positioned for the consideration phase.
If you were able to successfully build awareness at the top of the funnel, then your brand should be at top of mind for potential customers considering their options. This means that they will be more likely to choose your familiar and trustworthy brand over some unknown alternative.
3. Drive conversions
In this action-oriented conversion phase, we will see users take one of two paths. They will either reserve a room on a third party website, or with your hotel directly.
If they, go through a third party, then congratulations, you just booked a room! We’ll pick these uses up again in the next stage of the funnel.
If they don’t, then we want to capture these interested audiences and get them to book directly on your hotel’s website. This is achievable through retargeting campaigns. Create remarketing audiences segmented by referral source (i.e. users that came to your website from OTAs), and impact them with high quality display ads.
4. Exhaust Loyalty & Advocacy
You’ve successfully converted your potential customers into guests, but your job isn’t done yet. In fact, what happens after the conversion is one of the most important parts of the funnel.
Fostering loyalty and advocacy amongst your customers is a combination of online and offline efforts.
When it comes to online techniques, your CRM and guest email list plays a huge role. If you’re not getting tons of reservations from this channel, then you need to take a look at how you can optimize.
The offline component, on the other hand, boils down to one simple rule: exceptional customer service. It doesn’t matter if your guests came from a third party or directly through their website- if they don’t enjoy their stay, they will never come back or recommend your hotel to a friend.
Focus on creating an outstanding experience for your guests, and they will remember you forever. So, next time they are in town, they won’t go to an OTA to consider their options- they will book their stay directly with you.