Hotel Industry Blog

For Ireland, It’s Never Looked Better For Direct Booking

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, January 05, 2016

Positive Outlook

As 2016 opens, it is true to say that there has never been a better time for Irish hotels in particular to leverage their direct-to-website booking channel. 2015 was a boom year in Irish tourism. Recent Tourism Barometer reports from Fáilte Ireland have shown that accommodation providers displayed their most positive sentiment since the pre-boom era, with 70% of providers overall indicating that business is up. This figure rises to 79% among hotels alone.

Most providers benefitted from an increase in tourism numbers and a particularly strong influx from GB and USA. Overall spend is also up, and exchange rates have certainly helped Ireland to be more attractive. Repeat business has shown improvement, the domestic market is yet again on the rise, overall occupancy has risen. The Average Daily Rate (ADR) in all segments has also risen fast, which is generally good news for the hotel industry (but a worry if allowed to progress unchecked).

Sustainability of this growth is another question. But so far things remain positive, with Tourism Ireland aiming for another record year for Irish tourism in 2016 with a target of 4% growth to 8.2 million visitors.

But even without further growth in visitors, a strong opportunity exists to see further and continued growth in profitability if the existing numbers alone can be focused more on direct booking at the hotel rather than through more expensive distribution channels. It’s really time for hotels to rethink what this means and seize the opportunity.

Your Opportunity

According to Phocuswright (see Figure 1), online bookings in Europe will grow from 36% of overall bookings in 2015 to 39% in 2017. That same report shows that online travel agencies (OTAs) are taking 71% of the online booking value in Europe, versus a more balanced 52% in the US. (Peter O’Connor, the lead author on that report, is among the lineup for the Bookassist Distribution & Revenue Management Seminar on January 19th in Dublin.)

Figure 1: Data and figure adapted from Phocuswright’s recent report on the Independent Lodging Market in Europe

The challenge therefore for European hotels is to simultaneously seize the online growth opportunity in the coming years while reducing their reliance on OTAs to help shift the balance more towards what is already achieved in the US. Tapping in to this could make a massive change to your business. The stars are aligning for this, with considerable legal pressure in the EU on OTAs through 2015 to desist with anti-competitive practices and provide a more level playing field for online competition. OTAs of course retain a critical and necessary role for distribution, but their use should increasingly be strategic and if possible secondary, not a primary focus. The high rates charged for OTA business are often justifiable for that first booking you could not otherwise attract, but there are many segments where their excessive use is simply not necessary.

Repeat business and domestic business in particular is something that no hotel should be ceding to OTAs. These are customers who undoubtedly already know your hotel name and are likely searching online for your hotel. Targeted advertising on your hotel name is needed to ensure they engage directly with you rather than OTAs when searching online, and every one of them should see better value on your website and a well-presented offering online to ensure they book direct. Repeat business should additionally be encouraged through the proper use of Customer Relationship Management systems for targeted and relevant email communication.

Avoid Silo Thinking

Part of the issue with effecting change for the better in a hotel’s distribution pattern is that elements of distribution may be handled by different people who do not fully coordinate or who are not incentivised to do so. The approach to each channel or segment may be looked at in isolation, as a “silo” distinct from others. FIT business, Corporate segments, OTAs and “the website” may all be viewed in isolation rather than as a strategic whole. Even if the people responsible are the same, the thought process itself may be siloed. Optimising each within its own confines is not the same as optimising your total business.

You need to look across the business as a whole to ensure that redistribution towards direct becomes the priority of all involved. One could argue for example that the remit of anyone looking after FIT business should be to ensure as little business as possible goes that way and that as much of it as possible is shifted towards direct online channel! Accordingly, you can easily see how incentives based on targets for each silo may actually be counterproductive and encourage a status quo in your distribution strategy that is difficult to shake. Where all your key business managers are working together however toward a common goal of more direct business and therefore higher profitability, a more dynamic approach to redistribution will occur naturally.

Invest Now To Reap Rewards

The intention to push more to direct business and higher profitability must be met with real actions or it will fail. In particular, it is critical to invest in digital marketing and in web presence to ensure that the traffic is captured and is then converted. It is unfortuante that many hotels are still not prepared to make this leap and put the money behind their aspirations. This shows a lack of foresight that will trap a hotel in the distribution patterns of old.

The beauty of building your online strategy and customer engagement is that it is a bootstrapped process that gets cheaper over time with success. Initially, it may cost to fund online campaigns, a professional and dynamic web presence, proper analysis of your customer base, segmented targeting etc. But as the direct booking numbers grow and savings are made on each booking versus other distribution channels, the cost per booking of the ongoing investment actually diminishes.

This is because many of the necessary outlays, like website costs and software such as CRM or revenue management tools, are largely fixed or annual costs and as direct bookings grow those costs are not increasing. Conversely, the cost per booking of FIT or OTA bookings continues to grow linearly with volume and will never give you a cumulative advantage.

Technology

Technology in the travel space continues to develop apace and brings real advantages to the modern hotel. Profitability is driven by a capability to deliver, and delivery is driven by being forewarned and forearmed. Never has their been more opportunity for hotels to analyse and understand their business in order to improve their strategies for growing profitability.

Analysis is difficult, and interpretation even harder. Technology can take the pain out of this and many tools can provide real actions that generate business improvement and more than justify their costs. Three technology areas that are blossoming are in revenue management, customer relationship management, and data analytics.

Revenue Management: Revenue management as a skill is of course invaluable in your hotel’s team and further insight can be gained through the use of many tools now on the market. Understanding the dynamics of price flexing and its drivers is not necessarily simple and good tools can take the donkeywork out of the process, helping you see your real competitive set more clearly and patterns in their behaviour that you might otherwise miss.

CRM: Real analysis of your customer data is also critical and something that OTAs do exceedingly well. There are many tools on the market that can now help hotels to really optimise what is already their greatest but perhaps most underexploited asset. Many hotels are not capturing sufficient data to make their customer lists truly useful, and structuring your approach through the use of a specific tool or service can help turn lost customers into won customers, and turn your existing data into repeat business and improved profit. The area is worth looking at.

Analytics: True analytics and the promise of “big data” for the masses is finally coming to hotels also, combining revenue and customer views and taking a macroscopic view of the market. What use to be within the reach of large hotels only is becoming more and more affordable at independent hotel level. Watch the space carefully for developments in 2016. (One such offering comes from SnapShot, and VP Strategy Brendan May joins the Bookassist Distribution & Revenue Management Seminar on January 19th in Dublin.)

Take These Five Steps

So make it a resolution at your hotel strategy meetings to focus on what can grow your profitability and not just take complacent views of growing your ADR and occupancy. With the current positive sentiment, hotels are throwing away considerable opportunity to drive margin and generate the cash needed to invest in their property and thus secure sustainable rate levels through improved offerings and higher ratings. Adopt these five simple steps to improving your hotel’s profitability:

1: Make sure your team is thinking more broadly about your distribution mix as a whole and is resisting the trap of “silo” thinking. Ask of every booking, how could I have made that occur directly?

2: Focus more on redistribution away from other other online channels and FIT and towards direct. What does it take to achieve that? Set yourself goals.

4: Put digital strategy front and centre of your hotel’s entire strategy. Other routes may fill the gaps but direct to web must be the primary aim.

3: Be ready to capitalise by investing now, and indeed continually, in your web presence. You need to spend more to make more so beware of a budgeted approach that may place artificial limits on your ability to realise profit when it is there for the taking.

5: Embrace technologies that can help you analyse your position and give you the correct key performance indicators (KPIs). Are the KPIs you’re using now really helping to monitor your drive towards profitability or are they just affirming the status quo?

Above all ensure that you, and not just your distributors, are tapping into your fair share of the profitability that your industry is already delivering.

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Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide, and is a HSMAI “Top 20 Extraordinary Minds” recipient.


Trivago pushing for more Direct to Independent Hotel business

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, October 07, 2015

There’s a big shift happening in meta search that is creating a real alternative to OTA-dominated business for independent hotels.

Tripadvisor and Google are both moving into the “direct to hotel” space, with onsite bookings, which Bookassist sees as a potential opportunity for independent hotels to break the stranglehold that OTAs can often have on their online business. Major meta search player Trivago, which is owned by Expedia, is also making moves to tap into the direct space more and open up opportunities for independents (and of course for itself). To date, Trivago was much more focused on the brands and chains in the hospitality sector and is dominated by OTA offers for its hotels.

In a recent interview on Skift, Johannes Thomas, Trivago’s managing director in charge of hotels, says he wants to reduce the company’s reliance on advertising from OTAs and tap into the independent hotel market. Trivago knows that “the hotel is the most valuable source of information” on its own unique services and believes that hotel sites are “the most-trusted”. The company has begun to improve its tools to allow hotels to edit and update their online content on Trivago and is hiring a strong team in this area.

Trivago still believes that managing bookings on its own site, as Tripadvisor and Google are now doing, is a non-runner. According to Thomas, Trivago wants to become a de-facto independent source of information and believes that “In a moment, where you take an on-site booking, in that moment we believe you lose credibility and trust” of the online customer. This of course is a valid issue in particular for Tripadvisor, a potential conflict of interest if it is monetising hotel listings, and it also calls into question the independence of hotel search results on Google.

For the full interview, see skift: http://skift.com/2015/09/29/interview-trivago-building-big-team-in-shift-toward-direct-hotel-relationships/

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide, and is a HSMAI “Top 20 Extraordinary Minds” recipient.


New “Direct” booking via Google and Tripadvisor - threat or opportunity for hotels?

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, October 06, 2015

Tripadvisor has effectively positioned itself as a new breed of online travel agent by launching its Instant Booking service recently. The service allows hotels to directly display rates and availability on Tripadvisor via a feed from their booking engine system, such as Bookassist’s. Customers on Tripadvisor can then see both OTA rates and those direct-from-hotel rates to make their booking choice. The customer never leaves the Tripadvisor site when booking “direct” with the hotel. (That “captive” approach of trying to keep the customer on one site for all was originally driven by Tripadvisor’s mobile business, where jumping between sites on mobile was a far bigger barrier to conversion than it would be on desktop.)

Not to be outdone, Google has now also expanded its Book on Google feature (now in the USA) in a change of strategy from their previous Google Hotel Finder and Hotel Price Ads approach. Again, the service allows hotels to directly display rates and availability via a feed from their booking engine system. The customer can now book directly from search results without ever leaving the Google site.

Both services claim to be “direct” friendly, helping the hotel to reach their customer directly, and positioning themselves apart from the big-brand OTA players such as Expedia and Priceline. But their “hybrid” services nonetheless come with hefty commissions from 12% to 15% for delivering acquisitions via this route (cost per acquisition or CPA model). In parallel, both continue to offer cost per click (CPC) alternatives also.

With these two giants of the travel search and research arena offering hybrid booking services, what does this mean for the hospitality industry? As usual with disruptive play, there are both threats and opportunities for the independent hotelier.

The moves from Tripadvisor and Google are, in our view, a positive for hotels if they know how to leverage the potential advantage. It does take specific action on the part of hotels to engage with the new services appropriately however, and, with inaction, therein lies the threat.

Giving Hotels Leverage

In terms of hotel online business, we are in the midst of a monopoly or duopoly stranglehold in most parts of the world with Priceline/Booking.com and Expedia dominating OTA sales. Often, this has meant that hotels are reluctant to challenge that status quo and have no option but to go along with often onerous contract terms.

The introduction of new viable routes to capture online business, backed by serious players in the travel space who can potentially deliver volume, breaks that monopoly/duopoly and introduces real competition for the main OTAs. If managed correctly, hotels should no longer fear reducing their exposure on specific OTAs since there is real opportunity to leverage the broader metasearch space encompassing Trivago, Kayak and others, as well as Google’s and Tripadvisor’s hybrid booking options.

Of course, managing carefully means managing availability and rates distribution at channel level, and not making total inventory available everywhere. The management of these hybrid metas is no different to the careful management required of OTAs.

Remember that if hotels refuse to “play” with these hybrid channels, their inventory and rates will appear anyway via OTAs, and at higher acquisition cost. It’s far better to be there directly and be in control of your offering. Therefore, it’s a question of effective management of such opportunities by the hotel.

Overall, adding new strong players to distribution is a good thing for hotels. Choice breeds competition that may ultimately favour not just the consumer but the supplier. (We will see.)

The Data Play

In the case of both TripAdvisor and Google, the hotel’s booking engine is the technology feeding the rates and availability to the site, there is no new “extranet” for the hotel to manage. Also, completion of the booking takes place behind the scenes on the hotel’s booking engine platform. Unlike the OTAs who have rowed back even further on the information they supply to hotels regarding the inbound customer, TripAdvisor and Google are providing the customer’s real email, and the hotel sends the actual booking confirmation email. This allows hotels to manage, own and monetise pre-stay communication, as well as maintain ownership of the customer interaction post-stay.

This is particularly important when you consider that the large OTAs are increasingly generating their revenue from “private” club sales to their customer base via email offers or private log-in, offering deals that never appear on the public sites. Clearly, customer data is extremely valuable. (Whether hotels are equipped to capitalise on that effectively is another question however.)

The cost of acquisition for that first hybrid booking via Tripadvisor or Google may therefore appear high (though not as high as OTAs), but it is critical the hotel has a data-use strategy to ensure that opportunities are created for the customer to book direct next time.

Browsing and Research Phase

A fundamental difference also between Google and Tripadvisor on the one hand, and the OTAs on the other, is that the browsing and research phase of travel planning overwhelming takes place on the former. By building in booking opportunities to the research phase of travel planning, it may well short-circuit the decision and lead to booking acquisitions that would otherwise have ended up on an OTA at a later stage in the decision process.

Also, with Tripadvisor the hotel has much more control of the content describing its services via the comprehensive multi-lingual content it can manage as part of its Tripadvisor listing. Google likewise is championing the clear display of hotel amenities as a way for hotels to stand out. Both these areas help hotels to be less commoditised compared to the OTAs’ approach, and to shout a little more about what makes them unique. Such rich information often drives additional confirmatory traffic to hotel websites, where direct booking potential can also be capitalised upon.

Bottom Line

It remains to be seen how this play from Tripadvisor and Google will work out. The primary disruption is to the OTA model, but for the reasons above we do not believe that it diminishes the hotels’ opportunity to increasingly drive direct business on hotel websites. Both OTAs and direct-to-hotel booking rates continue to grow, mostly at the expense of offline and traditional travel modes, even if OTA business has the stronger growth rate.

Indeed OTAs are increasingly interested in direct business, and have been signalling their concern about how direct may evolve to reduce their business growth - witness booking.com’s move into providing the booking suite for hotels, and their associated acquisitions in the hotel direct business space.

With book-direct models, Tripadvisor may well have the edge over Google here, as a dominant travel-focused brand with a “good” reputation among online customers who trust its reviews and among hotels who value the custom and exposure it brings. Google on the other hand has massive volume but still did not manage to deliver effectively with its Hotel Finder or Hotels Ads approach previously.

With Tripadvisor, bringing in a money element may well introduce a risk to its standing as an independent review provider. Can it truly be independent in how it ranks hotels if it has more to earn from some hotels than others? They have to manage that issue carefully. Likewise, Google has to thread carefully with its push towards booking since its primary bread and butter in travel is pay-per-click advertising fees from the OTAs as well as from hotels. Google also has continual issues with anti-trust investigations into how its monetisation of search may lead it to skewing the validity of search results.

For the independent hotel, the moves are broadening the landscape yet again and this means that more careful management is key. Hotels need to have a full digital marketing strategy across all potential customer touch points, and need to work more strategically with their customer data if they are to properly leverage these new avenues for business. The key, as always, is for hotels to be able to actively manage the opportunity, rather than allow themselves to be managed by it.

For that, they need the appropriate technology and the expertise.

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Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide, and is a HSMAI “Top 20 Extraordinary Minds” recipient.


Hotels must think more strategically and collectively about direct booking

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, September 14, 2015

In all the noise and opinion about rate parity changes, the pros and cons, some simple realities about the dynamics of the industry are often overlooked. For example, online travel agents (OTAs) are crucial to hotels’ business because they provide the reach into the general market that a single hotel cannot possibly achieve. And there will always be a need for that regardless of how the prices compare from OTA to hotel website.

That’s because a primary disadvantage for independent hotels that OTAs can continually capitalise on is that hotels cannot (or do not) behave collectively. Hotels are so busy competing with each other that they hand a significant amount of business to third parties at a high cost to themselves, rather than figure out ways to hand it to each other and benefit from reciprocation! For OTAs, it’s like divide and conquer except that the hotels oblige by doing the dividing part themselves.

Hotels are so busy competing that they hand business to third parties rather than figure out ways to hand it to each other!

The brands and chains have worked hard in this area of course, and can move business between properties through association and brand building. Pushing their business towards direct is happening more and more, as seen by Marriott’s clever #itpaystobookdirect advertising campaign recently. But the brands and chains are still walled gardens, passing business among themselves but not outside the brand.

Is there another way?

Many (but not enough) hotels adopt the sensible policy of telling their guests at checkout to please book direct with them next time. It’s that few precious moments of personal facetime with your guest when you can give them a message that sticks, and if it’s not policy in your hotel it certainly should be. Even if the price is the same, a personal request is often a strong psychological inducement to action. Don’t underestimate it.

OTAs have been leveraging this for years of course - encouraging their users through shrewd email marketing to return to the OTA platform when booking again, and making more and more use of “private” clubs to encourage their users to stop looking elsewhere. This makes sound business sense if you’re an OTA, and they’ve done it very well indeed. But independent hotels have failed to figure out how to work collectively when it comes to customer acquisition, effectively handing the advantage to OTAs.

That’s because they concentrate on customer acquisition for their own hotel only, whereas OTAs don’t need to care about which hotel their customer books once they do book.

But here’s the thing:

Hotels need to think at a higher strategic level when it comes to booking direct. At Bookassist, we advocate that hotels should be encouraging their guests to book direct at ALL hotels, not just theirs. Getting the message to every single hotel guest that any hotel would welcome direct bookings when next they book gives hotels an opportunity in this one small way to work collectively for their greater benefit.

Maybe your guest doesn’t book with you next time, but the message to book direct gets around and all hotels eventually benefit. (Ramping this up to offer some form of collective benefits or awards could be a next step.)
Remember, the hotel industry is larger than any OTA if it can just work collectively for its own benefit. Getting a larger slice of the online pie and redressing the balance of business with OTAs and other distribution avenues is a reasonable thing to work for. There’s plenty of business to go around for all.

Suddenly, hotels are vouching for their industry, not just their hotel.

So, suppose tomorrow every hotel told every guest at checkout to book directly next time at their next hotel, no matter where they decide to stay. Suddenly, hotels are vouching for their industry, not just their hotel.

Just imagine what a game-changer that could be.

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Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide, and is a HSMAI “Top 20 Extraordinary Minds” recipient.


Capitalising On Changes In Contractual Rate Parity

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, August 17, 2015

France’s landmark Macron Law, passed in July, prohibits online travel agents (OTAs) from writing rate parity clauses into contracts with their hotels, giving French hoteliers full freedom to offer lower rates on their own websites or to other OTAs. Crucially, the bill also prohibits OTAs from offering prices lower than those supplied by the hotel, so OTAs cannot sacrifice part of their own margin to secure a lower cost sale in competition with the hotel’s website. While rate parity changes are not applicable everywhere, the law has re-opened the debate on rate parity and how hotels balance business with OTAs.

Predictably, dire warnings on the fall of rate parity have come from the OTAs themselves, who predict a price war between small independent hotels (who will now be unprotected and unrepresented online) and the large branded chains - as if the OTAs were the guardians of the small hotel in the pricing landscape!

The highly specific French law comes on foot of legal challenging of aspects of rate parity in other countries and recent anti-competition investigations in various EU countries. France’s move is the most straightforward and clear. The hundreds of hotels that Bookassist works with in France are overwhelming in favour of the move - but capitalising on rate freedom is not as simple as it may sound.

As it stands, France is the only country to specifically give hotels full freedom to alter rate in whichever way they wish. But Europe-wide, Booking.com and Expedia are now no longer able to write contractual clauses prohibiting hotels from giving lowering room rates to other OTAs. The new contracts cannot prohibit hotels from offering lower rates to their corporate or loyalty club members (non-public rates), and to the general public through offline channels.

Rate Parity Impact

It was, ironically, the hotel industry itself that pushed for rate parity in the early days as hotels sought to ensure contractually that OTAs would not undercut their own website prices. In turn, OTAs accepted this, provided hotels agreed not to allow other OTAs to undercut their pricing and retained parity across all OTAs. The concept became engrained in the industry but OTAs were quick to capitalise on their best price position through massive advertising, brand development, and more recently private clubs for their customers. They built their brands on promising best price, giving little reason to consumers to bother going to hotel websites. The margins realised by OTAs grew at multiples of the hotel industry margin growth as a whole, and a shifting of the power balance resulted.

But how rate parity affects a hotel today depends on their strategy – whether they are distributing widely and want to keep uniform rates (or indeed vary rates) across multiple OTAs, or whether their strategy is to limit distribution to a manageable few and target direct business to their website. Those strategies also depend in turn on the size and location of the hotel, since larger hotels need more specific distribution and rate management policies than smaller ones who have less rooms to fill. But, for the smaller independent hotel, in particular those seeking to drive more direct bookings to their own website, the fall of rate parity can be a very good thing indeed, provided the hotel truly knows how to manage their rate distribution.

The Meta Search Mirror

The focus on OTAs has side-stepped some of the looming problems arising on rate issues today. Control of selling-rates is more and more difficult. Meta search holds up a mirror to your hotel’s distribution strategy online, and when you examine a hotel on meta search to see how their rate and availability stacks up, it’s often not a very flattering picture. Many hotels seem to have lost control of rate online, without even knowing it in many cases.

FIT rates for example, that are supposed to remain wholesale or offline, are regularly appearing on meta search sites at below the intended public rate, where wholesalers privately sacrifice part of their commission to get the sale. Often hotels have no idea how to track or control this, or may not even be aware it is happening. (Other than making a booking themselves to determine where exactly the rate has originated from.) Discussions we have had with our client hotels in Italy, France and the Czech Republic recently indicate that this problem far outstrips the OTA management issue for many hotels and is the real rate erosion problem faced by many.

Hotels must revisit their FIT contracts and determine exactly which of those are playing by the contractual rules - delivering real value offline and not just undercutting the hotel on obscure websites. There are certainly some players who are bending the rules to the detriment of hotels’ direct business. Hotels need to be forceful in stopping that practice.

Meta search is only going to grow. The massive investment by TripAdvisor shows that there is appetite for a third way between hotels and OTAs, with 235,000 of hotels on TripAdvisor now bookable on that site as of July. Google Hotel Finder has also announced a revamp as it pushes towards making all hotels bookable from search. The opportunity for hotels in meta search will become stronger as time goes on. It has not yet delivered massively for direct-to-hotel business, but at Bookassist the booking value generated on all our meta search integration channels is showing clear progress. It is critical that hotels get their direct business on to meta search and begin to play with and understand how each platform works, as they all differ so much. Meta is often the simplest way to see how hotels’ distribution strategies are working (or not), since so many hotels still (inexplicably!) appear with better availability and lower rates on other channels compared to their own website. With hundreds of Bookassist hotel clients availing of our direct meta search connectivity to Google, Trivago, and TripAdvisor, our strategic knowledge continues to rapidly grow and can be shared among our clients bringing to them the benefit of scale.

How Do Hotels Capitalise And Drive More Direct Bookings?

Stay Competitive - Controling rate is more difficult than it sounds and the consequences of getting it wrong can be large. Using OTAs appropriately is crucial for their reach, but simply altering your OTA price upward so that your hotel website is cheaper will not work. OTA listings ordered by price will obviously disadvantage hotels who up their OTA price with respect to their previous offering, regardless of contractual terms. Hotels needs to be careful to remain competitive here if they are to continue to use the OTA advantage of widespread exposure.

Value - The key is to deliver better package value on your own website for the same price. There are many ways hotels have successfully done this, from offering preferential room upgrades, to free in-house services for direct guests versus third party guests, to promotional codes off future bookings.

Data - Projecting value is the key element to allow the prospective online purchaser to make an informed decision, while proper use of guest data in the form of pre-arrival upselling and highly targeted post-stay offers will derive best future value from the acquisition cost of that first booking. Remember, OTAs are now generating more and more business from their private clubs because they know how to use personal data. Hotels can and should be doing this too with a clear strategy to collect customer data, proper segmentation of their customer data and targeted email and social media exclusive offers to segments that are highly relevant and compelling.

Loyalty – As with my comments on data above, develop a loyalty programme to maximise the return on your efforts. Customers love the exclusivity of being a member (of anything!) provided you show how well they are treated in return.

Website Quality – Even with price parity or better value, you are competing for the mindset of the online customer when you pitch your own hotel website against the OTA website. OTA websites are conversion machines. Top quality hotel websites, designed for conversion (such as those produced by Bookassist for our hotel partners) are critical if hotels are to compete. But hotels too often take the same approach to web design as they take to decorating their hotel and end up compromising website design for the sake of their own aesthetic view. Hotel management must get away from reacting personally or emotionally to website design and realise that the objective scientific approach to conversion optimisation is what counts. Take the advice of expert companies in this area like Bookassist, resist interference and let them do their job to build your online business.

Mobile – The growth in mobile continues and so much browsing now comes from cross platform access, where people jump between devices as they do their research. Not being on top of mobile is a big mistake. Even if you are not getting significant mobile bookings, the availability of your information on mobile is a critical part of the decision matrix process leading to conversion on other platforms.


Even with all of the above, it’s critical to remember that a driving force of online sales on any platform is the reputation of the hotel and staff. Thankfully, there is nothing new for hotels to learn in order to get this one right and boost their reputation online – good old fashioned quality of service, personal interaction, and engaging with guests online and offline in as helpful a way as possible. The best way to win the online reputation status you want is to deserve it.

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Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide, and is a HSMAI “Top 20 Extraordinary Minds” recipient.


We are working with educators on the next generation of hoteliers

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, June 10, 2015

Education and knowledge is key. Bookassist has always had education in its ethos and has long supported the training of the next generation of hoteliers. That’s why Bookassist continues to hold annual seminars in all our key markets, as well as regular hands-on workshops where our staff and clients work together on the real issues being faced by independent hotels every day. And that’s why Bookassist staff are happy to actively engage with national and international schools in hospitality on an ongoing basis in bringing market-based expertise and viewpoints to students in institutes such as

Evolution of the skillset requirement in our space has been rapid, and keeping your knowledge up to date is a considerable challenge for independent hoteliers. Trying to stay in control is just one reason why hoteliers need to partner with reliable external expertise, such as Bookassist, who can leverage economy of scale across hundreds of clients in multiple markets to keep hotel clients abreast of critical emerging trends and technologies.

Independent hotels today may have access to an array of technology tools and know-how to successfully compete with OTAs and third party booking providers in order to build their direct booking business. But whether they can optimise their use as part of a coherent and effective strategy is the real challenge. (This issue was discussed in detail at the recent Phocuswright Europe Executive Round Table on the Complex World of the Independent Hotel.)


Booking.com removing email addresses from customer data

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, May 04, 2015

Across our European markets, we’re noticing that Priceline’s Booking.com is implementing changes in the customer data that hotels are receiving.

In France in early April, an email was received by all hotels citing potential “threat posed by online criminals” as the reason to stop making customer emails available to hotels. The same has occurred in the Czech market this week and is sure to continue in all markets. To quote the email:

As of this week, guest email addresses will be made anonymous in order to provide an extra level of security. Your email address will also be protected in the same way. You can continue to send and receive emails to and from guests as you normally would. The only difference is that your identity, as well as that of your guests, will be additionally protected.

While it is obviously in everyone’s interest to enhance security online, the value of guest data to hotels is something that will take a big hit as this rolls out, requiring additional work by hotels to now capture that data from their guests, while booking of course can retain that data. Many hotels have already expressed frustration at the move and see no additional security advantage in it.

It will be interesting to see if the hotel community reacts in any way or just accepts the reduction in information quality.


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