How To Win The Battle For Direct Booking: Parity Advice From The Experts
The fight to own the direct booking for your hotel is a cutthroat and strategic battle. OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are always testing the limits, trying to fly under the radar and undercut your hotel’s official site rates. While we aren’t experts in maintaining parity, we have a lot of great clients who are and we wanted to share their advice with you. We’re all in the battle together against the OTAs. Here’s some expert advice on how to maintain parity for your hotel.
Our hotel parity expert panel includes:
Jason Nelson - Stein Collection, Director of Revenue
Garry Fiore - The Hermitage Hotel, Director of Revenue Management
Susan Deneen - Dollywood Resorts, Director of Revenue Management
What are the biggest challenges you run into with keeping your property’s rates in parity with the OTAs?
Jason: Disparate offers – make sure your team is fully aligned with the pricing strategy and that relationship managers are sticking to the plan.
Garry: Maintaining parity on mobile channels. Booking.com tends to stack their mobile & member discounts when viewing on a mobile device whereas they will not via desktop, where most shop reports are done from, thus going undetected.
Susan: From a strategy perspective, maintaining parity can make it difficult for the consumer to understand the advantages of booking direct. From a tactical perspective, technology tends to be our biggest challenge whether it be lag time for rate updates or when rate or length of stay restrictions don’t push out properly to the OTAs. We also intermittently share in the industry-wide battle with unrecognizable and rogue OTAs advertising incorrect or stale rates.
What are the biggest benefits you see to keeping your rates in parity?
Jason: Instilling a sense of confidence in the guest. Disparate rates create confusion and will delay a guest from making a booking.
Garry: Drive more direct bookings and build lasting guest loyalty. We are able to anticipate needs and have direct communication with our guests who book direct allowing us better flexibility and an increased opportunity to surprise and delight.
Susan: The biggest benefit of rate parity is minimizing risk of guest exposure to rates lower on OTAs. With the continuous growth of metasearch applications such as the Google travel vertical, parity issues are glaringly obvious. Not only do we want to minimize cost of acquisition, but by funneling more bookings through direct channels we can be confident our guests will have an elevated booking and stay experience, increasing their likelihood to recommend and return.
Can you share any specific examples of times you discovered a parity issue and the methods you used to resolve it?
Jason: Once per year I encounter a situation where we discover a rogue website that has made an agreement with or is pulling net rates from a wholesale partner. Resolving the issue in these cases can be quite difficult as it can be next to impossible to track down the company’s contact information. A more regular example might be that we will find a promotional rate plan may not have been turned off at the appropriate time, which is easy to troubleshoot, or we might find that a partner site is giving up margin to be more competitive. In those cases we are typically able to quickly resolve with an e-mail or phone call to our market managers.
Garry: Expedia recently launched an “auto rate match” which means if they found a rate lower anywhere on the web they were automatically matching that rate and automatically opted hotels into this service. You have to manually ask to be removed – as I have found that the auto rate match was competing against some of Expedia’s affiliate sites!
Can you share any of your best practices when it comes to rate management to avoid parity issues?
Jason: I’m a subscriber of the KISS approach…Keep It Simple, Stupid. Keep your approach simple and transparent, avoid having too many offers available simultaneously and avoid giving any one channel a better offer than another. I also tend to avoid “member” offers as, even though these offers are fenced, anyone can sign up to become eligible. At the end of the day, be calculated and it’s just not worth jeopardizing your other partnerships and strategies.
Garry: Diligence. Checking every.single.day. Ensuring you understand the distribution process and how to pinpoint errors in distribution versus manipulation from the OTA’s. Holding them accountable when it happens is also key.
Susan: We develop attractive package offers which show value against the room only rate offered on the OTAs. If we run a promotional rate that we chose not to share with the OTAs, we can launch it as a closed offer, targeting guests with private promotions and bounce back offers. We do not enter wholesale agreements which has minimized onward distribution issues. We also do not participate in OTA programs that offer additional discounts to members.
Do you have any preferred tools or platforms you use to assist in maintaining parity?
Jason: Keep a close relationship with your reservations team. If there is a disparate rate available in the market place you can be assured that someone is going to find it, and if they don’t just book it they are going to call in to ask about the lower rate…your reservations team will let you know what’s going on and they’re not going to like being surprised by a rate that seems out of place. A good rate shopping tool (I like HQ Revenue) can help you find disparate rates, too. If you’ve got a couple of free minutes, there’s no substitute for conducting your own regular spot checks!
Garry: OTA Insights is my preferred rate shopping tool.
Susan: Our trusted GCommerce partners keep us apprised of inconsistencies and we use Triptease and OTA Insight for daily monitoring.
Do you recommend participation in sales on the OTAs? If so, when and how do you continue to keep rates in parity during these sale periods?
Jason: The OTA’s are all about partnership, participation, and parity. I have found that OTA’s are willing to bend on the parameters (LOS, % off, etc.) they would like to see for their campaigns. It’s to their benefit to have more properties included v. less. Again, I would advocate for keeping it simple, give all partners the same offer…don’t play favorites, it’s all about relationships!
Garry: Yes, if you have a specific need date – but also ensure you are launching the same campaign on your direct channels, and throwing marketing dollars behind it to further your leverage. Utilizing the marketing arm of the OTA’s and to retarget the traveler back to your own site with the same offer is a great way to steal share from the OTA while still leveraging their promotions / spotlights.
Susan: Leveraging an OTA marketing campaign can support a hotel’s distribution strategy if it aligns with revenue goals and the hotel has the bandwidth to closely monitor and reevaluate or pivot as needed. Currently, our property only creates or participates in OTA sales or campaigns if it is mirroring a promotion we are running internally. When we do so, we duplicate the promotion for all contracted OTA partners for the same time frame, using the same blackouts.
GCommerce wants to say a big THANK YOU to our incredible hotel partners that have shared their own personal insights and tips in the fight against OTAs for parity success.
Looking for ways to drive more direct bookings and lower your OTA fees? Reach out to the direct booking experts at GCommerce today.