The recent focus on the value of online travel agents (OTAs) seems to be gathering momentum and some see 2018 as the year when the tide turns in favour of direct booking. So how does ongoing scrutiny by the Competition and Markets Authority on OTAs affect your accommodation programme? Unless your travellers are going outside policy and booking hotels or serviced accommodation through these channels, the impact is probably minimal but are we seeing a change in buying patterns?
Many hotels, aparthotels and serviced apartment operators are now promoting better deals on their websites than through third-party booking tools, encouraging customers to buy direct. Hospitality software provider Guestline expects the sector to increase its independent stance and further invest in digital marketing to enable operators to drive more direct business. Direct booking platform Avvio is also leading clients to reduce dependence on OTAs.
The Book Direct Conundrum
With a limited, albeit increasing, amount of serviced accommodation available through the GDS, there is a continuing emergence of serviced apartment agents or hybrid agent-operators, who facilitate managing a global programme. The one-stop-shop certainly has its advantages and can often offer apartments worldwide but there are additional costs associated with the use of a third party. With technological advances, many of these third parties now publicise online booking capabilities, although strangely each one seems to claim to be pioneers! Surely these improvements are making decision-making easier – just enter a few details and a choice of recommendations descend upon you. But what is the value of easier?
The algorithms of most booking platforms take into consideration numerous factors but not always those that are most important to the traveller. Many operators see agent, hybrids and aggregators as secondary to their direct clients, so inventory made available to these channels is often suppressed, particularly at peak times. As a result, the findings from the information submitted can either be too narrow or conversely, too expansive, because none of the properties exactly meets the traveller’s needs.
This can often make decision-making a lottery. With inconsistencies in side-by-side comparisons, how does the traveller begin to choose accommodation that meets their expectations? The majority of those options will have unknown standards of safety, security, quality or comfort and in the meantime, companies are possibly paying a premium for questionable – if plentiful – choices.
So is the tide turning towards direct booking? The increasing independent stance by operators will certainly stimulate consideration towards a direct booking programme. The ability to define the desired criteria of your company and its travellers will also result in removing hidden costs and address any infringement of standards.