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Ensuring the best price is available on the hotel website

Since partnering with Avvio, the booking experience on the Ampersand hotel’s website has been transformed in all sorts of ways, reducing confusion for customers and boosting conversion rates. “Our original booking engine was more

static but Avvio is constantly updating the booking engine with new functionality, a lot of it based around what the OTAs do,” says the hotel’s general manager Roberto Pajares. For example, customers can see if there’s

only one or two of the room type they want left on a particular night, creating urgency, and can compare rates against OTAs via the TripTease Price Check widget. “That way, guests understand they are getting the best price on the hotel website,” Pajares notes. The booking engine also offers rate

“Unfortunately there is no

definitive answer to hoteliers’ biggest question: ‘What

percentage of business should come through OTAs?’”

It’s also crucial to separate strategic long- term OTA success factors like reputation man- agement, content, membership type and loyalty programme incentives from tactical day-to-day controls such as rate changes, commission overrides and the opening and closing of pro- motions, Reeves advises. “The latter set can be changed (increase, open/close, decrease) on a date-dependent basis to get the maximum per- formance from the channel on dates when you want to sell more rooms.”


Despite the continuing dominance of OTAs globally, the idea of booking direct has been gaining much more momentum in the last year, something that can only be a good thing, according to Charlie Osmond, chief tease at direct booking platform TripTease. “In addition to managing dis- parity, for many hotels the focus this year has been building an effective commu- nication strategy around the benefits of booking direct,” he says. “It really is an exciting time in the industry for direct bookings and we believe this will con- tinue throughout 2017.” Step one of any direct booking strategy is to make sure that OTAs aren’t

blending so guests can combine different rates to get the overall best price for their stay, something that’s reduced the number of phone calls to the hotel. “Previously, customers were getting frustrated because for example, they’d have to book two separate stays if they were making use of two different promotions; you couldn’t package them,” Pajares explains. Next on the horizon is more

personalisation. “We want to be able to interact with our guests depending on what stage they are at in the booking process with relevant information either about their booking or upcoming stay,” says Pajares.

undercutting the room rate for booking direct, something hotels have been paying more attention to over the last 12 months. Indeed, research from TripTease, based on over 200 million price comparisons, found that OTAs are only cheaper than hotels 14% of the time, down from 21% a year ago. Then, it’s about making sure the content, user experience and booking engine on brand. com are the best they can be. “Every hotel looks templated on an OTA site but on a direct web- site, hotels can offer consumers a richer expe- rience where they dive into the brand and learn how it’s different from every other hotel,” notes Frank Reeves, co-founder and CEO at booking engine provider Avvio. should also include special offers, such as spa breaks, that third-party sites can’t offer, as well as a sophisticated booking engine, much like those the OTAs use, which becomes more effective over time based on the data it gathers, and is able to offer different booking paths to different market segments. Most crucial, though, is that hotels treat the direct channel just like any other; in other words, they adopt a cost of acquisition approach to direct marketing. “For example, if an OTA booking costs 15% then how much can you afford for a direct booking?” Frank Reeves asks. “While this will likely change throughout the year, it is the clearest approach to determine sensible online advertising budgets for your digital marketing strategy. A good digital marketing agency should be able to manage your budgets dynamically on this basis.” Metasearch, which is addressing a major pain point for travel consumers by delivering clear hotel price comparisons across booking channels, from OTA to direct, also enters the picture here. “Hotels with a strong direct book- ing performance can use metasearch to bring in business at lower than OTAs and we see cost-of-acquisition coming in close to 10% for metasearch,” Reeves notes. Brian Frank agrees. “Metasearch can yield a strong return if rate parity is under control; however, if wholesalers are offering lower rates for the hotel on metasearch websites, this becomes a big problem.” Finally, it’s vital for hoteliers to remember that travellers will rarely book the same hotel twice through an OTA; third-party bookers are therefore ripe to be converted into direct bookers while at the hotel. To capitalise on this, every guest arriving at a hotel should be asked to leave an email address so that they can be contacted post-stay and front-desk staff must be informed and empowered to encour- age guests to book direct.


Looking to the future, the travel intermedi- ary space is incredibly dynamic at present and the online customer journey is only set to evolve further. According to Frank Reeves, the main players hoteliers should be looking out for are TripAdvisor, Google, metasearch sites and travel apps that offer customers curated travel experiences like Google Trips. Meanwhile, disruptors like Airbnb and one- finestay, as well as the emergence of extended- stay apartments, will continue to challenge the traditional hotel transient model by increasing competition and thus reducing market share, according to Mandelbaum, who also forecasts artificial intelligence eventually playing a much larger role in the travel sector. “Today, Chatbots support services like Uber and food delivery, but in future I see integration with things like the entire hotel journey from begin- ning to end. The ‘internet of things’ too

will make the entire customer journey both effective and efficient while also being helpful and hopefully fun,” he predicts.

Technology Prospectus 2017 | 15

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