Hotel Industry Blog

Owning Your Hotel’s Online Real Estate

By Editor | On Mon, May 21, 2018

The Continuing Importance Of Search

Your hotel’s online traffic and online bookings come from a broad variety of sources today, and none of those sources is more important than search. Aggregated data from hundreds of Bookassist partner hotels across Ireland and Europe over the past 12 months show that Google was responsible for 72.5% of overall traffic to those clients when you add Google pay per click (PPC), Google organic search and Google meta search (see Figure 1).

Bookassist data showing Google services delivering 72.5% of overall traffic to hotels in the past 12 months
Figure 1: Bookassist data showing Google services delivering 72.5% of overall traffic to hotels in the past 12 months


Google continues to rank far ahead of all other search engines in market share terms. This is particularly true when it comes to mobile where its dominance of search volume currently exceeds 90% due to its ownership of the Android platform and its status as default search on Apple’s iOS. With Google processing over 40,000 search queries every second on average, it’s virtually impossible for your business to succeed online without prioritising Google in your online strategy.

Just think of what could be achieved if you could own your very own real estate on Google’s search engine results page (SERP). Well actually you already do have a foothold - although there is a massive performance gap between brands that dominate the whole SERP area and those who just own a small corner. In a perfect online world, when someone searches for your brand on Google, the results page would be heavily dominated by you, the brand owner, with perfect messaging that reels in the customers. It’s not that easy to do, but those that do get it right reap large economic benefits. The continuing cost of tackling the issue can well be outweighed by the ongoing benefits if you get this right.

The Successful Multi-pronged Approach

Presence on the first page of Google’s SERP is the holy grail for brand owners and marketeers. However it is not enough - you need to be present and strong across all areas of the first page. Search engine optimisation (SEO), PPC, Google My Business and metasearch are all separate areas that must be continually optimised to present an enticing storefront for potential customers. And just like any store front, the windows need to be appropriately dressed and targeting to the customer.

Hoteliers actually have a lot of control over the presentation of their brand on the SERP but disappointingly many allow the weeds to grow and the page goes unnurtured and overgrown by unwanted competitors. So what can you do to win at the online equivalent of the Chelsea Flower Show?

Knowing The SERP #1 - PPC Advertising For Your Brand Name

Firstly it is important to understand the key areas of the Google SERP to see why and how they can be influenced for maximum visibility. It is interesting to note that 34% of searches on Google do not result in a click – this is because Google has either answered the query directly on the page, or because the user was not satisfied with the results and so entered another query.

Starting at the top of the page, the easiest area to control is the section with PPC or paid ads, which can be identified by the small green text box which says ‘Ad’ (see Figure 2).

Google Pay Per Click Ads are indicated by the “Ad” label. Rich ad extensions and site links can be created to maximise impact
Figure 2: Google Pay Per Click Ads are indicated by the “Ad” label. Rich ad extensions and site links can be created to maximise impact

In order to maximize visibility in this area it is strongly advised to use a Google Premier Partner like Bookassist that has experience in creating and optimizing campaigns for hotels. Your agency should ensure that the full complement of ad extensions and sitelinks are used to maximize the footprint on the page and provide rich information, and to ensure the best position to get maximum click-through. The devil is in the detail here and significant skill is needed for research and optimisation.

Many hoteliers query the value of running brand name ads at all. But there are significant implications of not doing so. In conjunction with one of our partner hotels we ran an experiment to see what impact turning off brand ads would have on other areas of Google search. As is demonstrated in Figure 3 below, there was a significant drop in OVERALL Google traffic when the brand ads stopped, with a recovery as soon as the ads were switched back on. Our conclusion was that while PPC ads will divert some users away for clicking on organic listings, removing the ads will result in an overall traffic drop as users click on alternative ads.

Bookassist data shows that not running brand advertising campaigns can also damage your non-campaign traffic as users engage with and focus more on competitor ads
Figure 3: Bookassist data shows that not running brand advertising campaigns can also damage your non-campaign traffic as users engage with and focus more on competitor ads

Knowing The SERP #2 - Organic Listings

Continuing down the SERP to the organic results listing beneath the PPC ads, it is important that this area too is managed by an agency experienced in SEO. Technical areas such as meta tags and descriptions need to be expertly crafted to send the best possible message to Google but also to attract users and encourage them to click through to your site. And of course you need to consider multilingual approaches also for your target markets which may differ in approach and not be simply translations of the main language.

Data for Google organic traffic in March from Advanced Web Ranking shows that, internationally, the first listing in the organic results page receives a 36% click through rate (CTR) on desktop and 28.5% CTR on mobile with a rapid drop off as we move down the SERP (see Figure 4). So it is critical to focus on how to rank first for your brand name.

Advanced Web Ranking data shows the importance of owning the first position in organic search
Figure 4: Advanced Web Ranking data shows the importance of owning the first position in organic search

Knowing The SERP #3 - The Knowledge Graph

The third key area of the results page appears on the right hand side and is referred to as the Knowledge Graph by Google. The objective of this section is to answer as many queries as possible in one area and to encourage the user to click through to a booking facility powered by Google Hotel ads – Google’s metasearch advertising platform.

Looking at a well-structured example in Figure 5, we see the various areas that can mostly be optimized directly by the property owner. If you don’t already own the information being displayed about your property, the first step is to claim the business using Google My Business at the address business.google.com. The Google My Business interface allows you to manage photos, reviews, description, questions and much more.

A well-structured Knowledge Graph can bring significant click throughs and additional business
Figure 5: A well-structured Knowledge Graph can bring significant click throughs and additional business


When logged in to your Google My Business account, you can upload official property photos and review user photos in order to flag any that are unsuitable. It is important to note that the knowledge graph will appear for searchers whether you engage with it or not, and in the absence of owner-supplied information, Google will rely on general users and third party websites for content.

The next key area to check is the map, to ensure that the location is correct, and following that, to check that the name, address and phone number match exactly with the details on your website.

The Book a Room button and Check Availability facility are powered by Google Hotel Ads. Google’s metasearch service that operates on a cost per click model. Again if you are not there, the user will likely click on a third party to check rates and complete a booking. Use of this area requires partnership with a metasearch provider such as Bookassist that has a certified connection to the Google Hotel Ads platform.

The Hotels details section allows you to create a well written and informative description of your property but unfortunately Google frequently ignores this description and pulls one together from various sources across the web. Despite this drawback it is well worthwhile managing your description and taking the time to regularly update your amenities to ensure that they are 100% accurate, as having incorrect facilities listed can lead to customer dissatisfaction on arrival or possibly mean missing out on a booking when customers don’t see a facility that they require.

The final two sections require regular monitoring and feedback – firstly the customer reviews should be treated in the same way as other important review sites, with frequent responses from the owner or other responsible for both good and bad reviews. Finally the questions and answers section is a good opportunity to engage with customers. These questions are typically answered by Google users, so it is important that the official response is given for accuracy, but also to start a conversation with customers.

Bottom Line

You may not know it, but you already have a SERP for your hotel. The question is who really owns that real estate, you or your competitors? It’s time to move your page’s real estate from a side alleyway to the main street and tap into customer demand.

Ciarán Rowe is Head of Digital Marketing Operations, Claire Sawier is Head of Marketing, and Des O’Mahony is CEO & Founder at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

Bookassist is The Direct Booking Expert™ and is a Google Premium Partner.


It’s Official - Desktop Is A Minority Access Point In Ireland/UK

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, January 04, 2018

​Mobile continues to gain usage over desktop and at the expense of tablet also. Recently we published data from mid year 2017 showing the impact of mobile on hotel website traffic - https://bookassist.org/blog/post/mobile-marches-forward/en/

For full 2017 figures across hundreds of hotel websites that we manage or monitor, we see that desktop sessions were in a minority for hotels monitored in Bookassist’s markets in Ireland/UK and in Spain/Portugal. As with other studies, we continue to see mobile revenue lagging the traffic figures significantly, though the growth rates are substantial. Let’s see what 2018 brings as customers become ever-more comfortable with mobile as their primary access point.

mobile traffic versus desktop 2017

mobile revenue versus desktop 2017

Six Key Digital Marketing Trends to watch for in 2018

By Editor | On Mon, January 01, 2018

The new year is an ideal opportunity to look anew at what you are doing in digital and see if you can catch the wave of new opportunities being created.

1. Driving Better Performance with Personalised Content

“Content is King” is still true, but now even more so when delivered with a personalised twist. Personalisation should be a core focus when devising a marketing plan for the new year. Conveying the right message at the right time to each individual customer persona is the holy grail. But how can we be sure that a customer’s specific needs are perfectly catered for?

  • Firstly, know who your customers are and reach for who your new customer could be. Study your website’s analytics and demographics carefully to ensure you are not making incorrect assumptions. Making real use of that detailed data is critical.
  • Secondly, ensure you have content on your website optimised in your customers’ languages, with different messages and offers depending on their needs. Geo-targeting, where messages (or offers) alter based on the origin of the visitor, is something modern web management platforms like Bookassist’s Smart Content Management System can already cater for.

This strategy will involve even more effort from hotels from now on in terms of creating content that matches each customer’s specific preferences, for example having different messages for returning customers versus new ones. But moving in this direction is a must, since one size fits all calls-to-action are no longer enough.

And don’t let good new content go to waste. Successful businesses also pay to promote their unique content and gain further value from their efforts. Social Media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram continue to be low-cost options for hotels to leverage their novel personalised content with stronger promotion.

2. Results-driven Social Media

Assessing ROI on Social Media (SM) is a difficult task, especially when the strategy in the SM campaign is not directly linked to income. For a hotel or restaurant, the SM strategy is often not to increase the number of bookings (rooms or tables), but to increase brand awareness.

Measuring the effectiveness of SM campaigns is not as clear as when using Google AdWords, where it’s easy to measure the achieved goals related to the number of reservations made through your ad click-throughs. In SM we must know how much the goals are worth to us in non-monetary terms, and those goals fall into two categories:

  • Awareness: The number of people that know about your brand;
  • Perception: How people think and feel about your brand.

Social Engagement Metrics, or “Vanity Metrics”, are the real currency in SM campaigns. Metrics often focused on are Followers or Page Likes, but they’re not the only ones. Key metrics also include:

  • Shares: the number of times your post was shared onwards;
  • Mentions: the number of times someone mentioned your brand;
  • Comments: the level of direct interaction on your posts;
  • Reach: the number of people who actually saw your post.

For example, comparing the number of people talking about your brand to the number talking about competitors (your Social Share of Voice) gives you good feeling for how well you are doing and if you are improving overall. Most Social Media platforms now give good analytics tool to help you gauge your success. It’s time to start using those tools.

3. The Rise of Dark Social

Dark Social (DS) refers to traffic that comes to websites via social channels but is not attributed to its original source. DS occurs primarily through private sharing of URLs on platforms like WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook Messenger.

Imagine this scenario. You post a link on Facebook promoting a special offer. A follower likes the post and tags one of their friends. That friend opens the link from your post. They like what they see and copy the URL, pasting it into a group chat on WhatsApp.

In this picture, clicks on the Facebook post will be tracked in Google Analytics with Facebook as the source. However, when the URL is clicked in the WhatsApp chat, the traffic will be recorded as direct to website without any referral. That’s DS in action.

A study by RadiumOne in 2016 claimed “84% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now takes place via private, Dark Social channels” . Unfortunately, there’s no accurate way to measure such DS traffic. Adding social sharing buttons to your website and correctly tagging the URLs you share on Facebook or in newsletters (with UTM parameters for those in the know) helps reduce the amount of socially-shared traffic being attributed to ‘direct’. But even that’s not entirely effective.

This does not mean DS should simply be ignored. Google Analytics allows you to deep dive into your traffic and segment ‘direct’ visits that arrived on a deep landing page using a mobile device. If a URL is quite lengthy, we can safely assume that users haven’t directly typed it into their browser, particularly on mobile. In the previously mentioned example, you could do a deep dive in Google Analytics to analyse mobile traffic after the offer was posted on Facebook.

It will be increasingly important to engage with this level of analysis to get a true picture of the effectiveness of your digital marketing strategy. Hard work, but definitely needed.

4. Voice Search Optimisation

Google Voice Search is not new - its first release was May 2012, with a multilingual update a few months later . Since then, Digital Marketers and SEO Experts have been proactively experimenting with new ways to exploit Voice Search, especially as mobile grows.

The main difference between voice search and typed-in search is the length of the query and the nature of the sentence. Voice search queries tend to be longer and often a natural question, e.g. “What are the best hotels in Dublin city centre for families?”, versus a typed-in search like “family hotels Dublin”.

As a consequence, these searches belong to what’s known as the “upper funnel”, where users are researching broadly with little immediate commitment. The key for hotels is to ensure that the results of such searches present your property as part of the so-called “evoked set”, that small selection of hotels that users see, and then may recall later and preferentially favour once they are in the second stage of the research process. As voice interfaces proliferate, specifically targeting voice search is therefore increasingly important.

What to do?

  • Write content in a natural, conversational voice and it is far more likely to match voice search queries. When writing, ask yourself what question is this content trying to answer? The Search Queries section in both Google analytics and Google Search Console can help you find what your users are already asking.
  • Build a set of user intent queries based on your hotel’s unique selling points. For example, if your hotel has a spa, go to Google Search and start typing a few sentences with using spa a few related keywords to see what Google suggests as typical searches.
  • Estimate search volume for your user intent queries to determine how many users might result and prioritise your content based on that. But also consider the quality of the search to ensure it is likely revenue-generating for your hotel.
  • Make sure that structured data, known as Schema Markup , is present in your website, essential because it is now one of the key signals used to power search results.

5. Chatbots for the Hospitality Industry

We’ve all probably interacted with a chatbot without ever knowing it was a machine. Machine learning and artificial intelligence methods are now letting programs interpret users’ typed or spoken requests and are directing or answering the user automatically without human intervention. We’re now seeing chatbots assist with customer service in a number of business channels, including websites, within apps, and on messaging platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others.

A recent survey by Oracle predicted that by 2020, 80% of top marketing professionals are expected to turn to chatbots for customer services and more. Chatbots will be programmed for proactive customer engagement, tracking purchase pattern of consumers, the creation of personalized content and ads, providing feedback on site UI/UX and providing data for customer relations. Chatbots could even be online salespeople, nurturing and generating leads.

Expedia has already launched chatbots on Facebook, Amazon Alexa and for Skype. Other big players in the travel sector like Booking.com, Kayak, Cheapflights, Skyscanner, are already experimenting with ChatBots to find flights and hotels at reasonable prices for their clients. And Hospitality groups like Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt have all been testing chatbots for some time now. Expect to see more chatbots competing for your customers’ attention.

6. The Impact of Video Advertising

Video content is consumed more than any other content type currently on the internet. Video content totally dominates the smaller screens - mobile and tablets – giving undivided opportunity for brand projection without distractions. In fact, every smartphone owner watches at least one video every day seeking knowledge, aspirations and entertainment.

And it is effective. Bookassist’s own recent success story for hotels is a case in point. Harbour Hotel in Galway, Ireland, needed to stand out more from the crowd. Realizing their competitive edge lay in their own passionate staff, the hotel created a series of videos showing their love for Galway and the unmissable local places to visit. As a result of working with Bookassist digital, Harbour Hotel’s videos successfully reached thousands of potential customers on YouTube. This boosted their direct sales by 50% year on year and made their channel everyone’s new favourite destination.

Now that’s an effect!

—-

This article is condensed from insights of the Digital Marketing team at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide. Contributors are (1) Lucia Ribagorda, (2) Sara Santos García, (3) Jason Kelly, (4) Donald Piccione, (5)(6) Rumenigo Fernandes.

Bookassist is The Direct Booking Expert™ and is a certified Google Premier Partner and a Bing Ads Accredited Professional.


Time is ticking for hotels as GDPR deadline approaches

By Editor | On Thu, December 14, 2017

About GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) coming into force in May 2018 are a major overhaul of EU data protection law. These regulations give new rights to individuals and place an enhanced compliance burden on organisations that process personal data.

The GDPR will have major implications for the hotel industry given the volume of personal data and credit card information processed by hotels.

Hotels need to upgrade their data protection processes as failure to comply could be very expensive – with potential fines of up to 4% of annual global turnover or 20 million Euros, whichever is the greater

The legislation brings in a large number of changes and the level of effort involved in preparing for GDPR compliance is significant. Hotels must not only comply with the requirements of the legislation but must also be able to demonstrate and provide evidence of that compliance.

GDPR


Bookassist - Your partner in GDPR compliance

Hotels accepting credit card payments must already be compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Bookassist, as a key data processor for hotel customers, is PCI DSS certified and has been PCI DSS compliant for many years. Bookassist was one of the first in the online bookings business to be compliant.

Bookassist is working now with GDPR legal experts to review all data processing activities. Before May 2018, Bookassist will be fully ready with the necessary changes to policies, procedures and contracts to ensure that the company is GDPR compliant in how hotel customers’ personal data is handled.

Bookassist will provide a new “Data Protection Agreement” that will describe Bookassist’s responsibilities as Data Processor for the hotel’s customer data.

For further information on GDPR and the additional steps your hotel must take to be compliant, visit: gdprandyou.ie


Bookassist CEO Des O’Mahony discusses Cost Per Acquisition

By Editor | On Wed, September 20, 2017

Bookassist CEO Des O’Mahony discusses the metrics of Cost Per Acquisition, what hotels can do to measure it properly, and how they can leverage the knowledge it brings. In particular, the fact that hotels often hamper their own ability to drive direct business is discussed. The interview is with Stephen Dudley from Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority.

The interview is a follow up to Bookassist’s contribution to the Fáilte Ireland CPA report released in late 2016.


Mobile Marches Forward - Is Your Hotel Ready?

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, August 14, 2017

Mobile is increasingly becoming the dominant avenue for information access and is increasingly strong in the decision-making process in travel.

​Mobile internet access continues to move to “the norm” versus desktop/laptop access. This is hardly surprising given the advances in mobile devices and access capability, as well as the reduction in access costs. Mobile is particularly critical for the travel sector, since it combines key elements of the experience in a perfect storm, i.e. the ability to geo-localize information, to research and to book, as well as the ability to share travel experiences in-the-now via mobile-dominated social media.

What we’ve looked at

We’ve analysed traffic and revenue generation across hundreds of hotels in the European marketplace for the first six months of 2017 and compared with the equivalent period in 2016. In order to be sure of a representative and comparative sample, we focused on the top 200 hotels in each of the following catchment regions that we manage with our local Bookassist teams, namely UK & Ireland, Spain & Portugal, Italy, Austria & Germany, France, Czech Republic & Slovakia.

Traffic on Mobile in Selected European Regions

In every market looked at, desktop traffic as measured by average user sessions per hotel has shown a decrease for the first six months of 2017 versus year ago, and the smaller tablet-related traffic element has also decreased. This drop has been taken up by strong double-digit growth in mobile phone traffic in all markets in terms of user sessions (see figure 1).

Mobile phone alone will surpass 50% of sessions in our Ireland and UK sample by the end of 2017 based on the current trend.

Visitor sessions by platform
Figure 1: Visitor sessions by platform on Bookassist client hotel websites in Europe from January to June 2017, together with the relative change (in brackets) compared to the same period in 2016. Mobile traffic is significantly up universally.

Revenue Generation on Mobile in Selected European Regions

With revenue generation data, we see quite a different story. For the same hotels, mobile revenue generation also shows strong double-digit growth year on year, but this is coming off a very low base of mobile revenue generation in many cases (see figure 2). The volume of mobile business is increasing in all our European markets, and again Ireland and UK is proving to be in a strong position with this trend.

The ratio of mobile to desktop traffic however is far higher than the ratio of mobile to desktop revenue generation, indicating that customers are still far more comfortable committing to hotel booking transactions on desktop despite researching on mobile. At least for now.

Revenue share by platform
Figure 2: Revenue share by platform on Bookassist client hotel websites in Europe from January to June 2017, together with the relative change (in brackets) compared to the same period in 2016. Mobile-generated revenue is significantly up universally but doesn’t capture the same impressive slice that mobile traffic does.

What does it all mean?

The data presented here are just the tip of the iceberg in our analysis, but there are two key points here for hotels: the obvious growth in mobile access and the need to cater for it, and the questions around the relatively slower pace of mobile revenue generation.

In terms of access, hotels need to be fully mobile-aware online right now. It’s no longer something for the future. The industry must also recognize that a full user experience is increasingly required on mobile, and must move away from having lower-level content and weaker experience on mobile versus desktop. There is a trade-off here in terms of what you can present to the mobile visitor and the bandwidth requirements for it. But the key is to always have information optionally available should a visitor take the active decision to access it, rather than taking pre-emptive action by stripping out content to satisfy online speed tests but leaving yourself with a fast and useless site. Active access decisions are less influenced by mobile speed issues than relatively uncommitted browsing for example, so optimizing everything to match a browsing or search-oriented mobile speed test could be detrimental. This is a complex area of debate that we continue to study and try to quantify.

Regarding revenue generation, there are a number of factors at play. It could be that difficulty with credit card entry or payment models on mobile could negatively impact mobile conversion versus desktop. But in our data we do not see an appreciable increase in cart abandonment at the payment stage on mobile versus desktop. Bookassist’s mobile booking engine does allow credit card scanning for example, as well as the possibility for “book without credit card” in some cases. But there is no doubt in general that the industry struggles with credit card entry and/or payment as a higher barrier on mobile. Fixing this as an industry will certainly help trends.

Another factor often touted for relatively lower mobile revenue generation is that people book last minute and cheap on mobile. In our data, this is not so. There is no significant difference in the individual transaction values between mobile and desktop in our preliminary data. In other words, people tend to be booking the same kind of thing whether it is on mobile or on desktop. In fact, for one of our 5 star resorts outside Dublin, we saw 36% of their booking engine revenue come via mobile in July 2017, so “expensive” bookings are not immune to mobile at all.

Right now, it seems that many people may simply be more comfortable booking on desktop, or may be in a different frame of mind (i.e. at a different stage of the decision process) when on mobile which reduces their tendency to complete a transaction there. If so, this habit will certainly change soon.

Not the Complete Picture

It’s important to realise that bookings on mobile in particular are not confined to the web, though this is the only really viable channel on mobile for the independent hotel. In-app booking on mobile is on the rise, but publicly-available data on the area is difficult to find. In discussing bookings via OTAs with a number of hotels, it is clear that OTAs are not sharing information on whether bookings for their clients are coming from in-app on mobile or from mobile web. Thus OTA figures in the public domain regarding mobile booking need to be treated with some caution in terms of their exact interpretation. See https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/in-app-booking-worrying-endgame-hotels-one-enabling-des-o-mahony.

Bookassist Keeps You Prepared

Bookassist solutions have been mobile-ready since our first mobile booking engine launch in 2010. All web design and booking engine products are now responsive/adaptive or tailor made for mobile. Our mobile booking engine is the fastest and cleanest experience out there - and is set to get even better with a new release in late 2017.

Bottom Line

Mobile is increasingly becoming the dominant avenue for information access and is increasingly strong in the decision-making process in travel. But for now, revenue generation on mobile for hotels falls short of desktop. Continuing improvements in mobile user experience, and in payment methods should redress this shortfall in time.

(Note that there are more specific data for the Island of Ireland in the news post “Are Irish consumers more avid users of mobile?”)

—-

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.

—-

Bernhard Böhm is Product Research & Development Officer at Bookassist.


Learning from the Giants: how Booking and Expedia build their traffic online with Metasearch

By Jacopo | On Mon, June 26, 2017

Metasearch is no longer the wave of the future, but of the present. it is now a strong reality that can be no longer be ignored by independent hotels in the quest for direct booking business.

It’s always good practice to look at how the big online travel agents (OTAs) behave operationally in order to identify what best practices can be taken away for your own everyday hotel business operations. From how they build their visibility online through to their cutting-edge conversion tactics, OTAs are highly optimised and very good at what they do, so there’s always something to learn.

Visibility at the core of OTA strategy

In recent months there’s been considerable noise in the industry after Priceline Group Inc released its Form 10-K 2016 Annual Report detailing the unimaginable sums of money they spent in online advertising in 2016. It wasn’t only the $3.5B that impressed, but also the fact that it represented an increase of nearly 30% year on year. How could it happen that such a big group that already owns the largest market shares in most of the markets it operates in saw fit to increase its own online advertising spend by such a margin? What changed market dynamics so dramatically?

The reason why Priceline has kept putting - and indeed increasing - spend in online advertising is actually clearly stated in its Annual Report and is no secret. It is the exact same goal that every hotelier in the industry also faces:

Performances advertising expenses increased [...] primarily to generate increased gross bookings and gross profit

Generating bookings is the ultimate and definitive goal as this is the only road to profitability: and how the goal can be pursued in first instance looks very clear to Priceline: make a massive investment in online advertising.

Where is the spend?

However it’s not really about the quantity of the spend but the quality. How is this huge amount of money actually spent by Priceline? On what campaigns? Which platforms are they capitalizing on in terms of generating visibility? This information is also conveniently stated in the report, namely:

…advertising expenses consist primarily of the cost of
a) search engine keywords purchases;
b) referrals from meta-search

Now this sounds interesting. We know OTAs have been spending a fortune on Google AdWords for years (with Priceline Group Inc. and Expedia Inc. actually accounting alone for about 5% of Google overall revenue, some estimate). But seeing referrals from meta-search specifically listed here is actually a big change in Priceline’s visibility strategy. In other sources, Priceline is said to have spent about $350M on Trivago cost-per-click based advertising in 2016, representing about 10% of overall Priceline online advertising spend.

Metasearch-wise, we actually see Priceline brands (Booking.com primarily, then Agoda, Priceline.com, etc.) regularly advertised through cost-per-click based advertising across other metasearch websites too, primarily on Tripadvisor. We expect this visibility to grow now that Tripadvisor is said to be reducing emphasis on their direct-to-hotel instant booking effort. It’s reasonable to assume then that another 10% of overall online advertising budget is allocated to Tripadvisor cost per click (CPC) campaigns (or potentially more, as costs of traffic acquisition in Tripadvisor are far away higher than Trivago average CPCs). In addition, perhaps another 10% is split across other metasearch websites that Priceline still regularly dominates in terms of CPC visibility, for example Google Hotel Ads, Kayak, etc.

This analysis leads to our first conclusion: that OTAs have been allocating from 20% to 30% of their online advertising budget to metasearch advertising. This is also confirmed by looking at the OTAs’ online traffic. We can use SimilarWeb functionalities to benchmark metasearch traffic vs other traffic sources, as shown in Figures 1 and 2 for Booking.com and Expedia respectively. Metasearch appears to deliver at least the equivalent to paid search for the OTAs, and it’s growing.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Booking.com in March 2017: Looking at search, 34.38% of all traffic is search, and 54.82% of search is paid. Therefore 34.38% x 54.82%, or about 18% of traffic is paid search. Top referral sites are TripAdvisor, Kayak and Trivago in that order, accounting for 18.29% of traffic. It appears that metasearch is therefore accounting for a similar traffic share percentage as pay-per-click in Booking.com online visibility (SimilarWeb).
Figure 2: Expedia in March 2017: Looking at search, 34% of all traffic is search, and 27.49% of search is paid. Therefore 34% x 27.49%, or about 10% of traffic is paid search. Top referral sites are TripAdvisor, Trivago and Kayak in that order, accounting for 22.72% of traffic. It appears that metasearch is accounting for a much larger traffic share percentage than search pay-per-click in Expedia online visibility (SimilarWeb) compared to Booking.com.

The growing maturity of Metasearch

Contrary to some uninformed discussions in the industry, Metasearch has continued to grow over the last few years and has clearly moved from an early innovation to a majority-adopted platform (See Figure 3).

When Metasearch first disrupted the industry many years ago, OTAs were first to tap in and engage with the Metasearch movement not only by participating from a marketing perspective, but even from a mergers & acquisitions perspective with solid acquisitions. Priceline was first to innovate with their Kayak acquisition and then closed the loop few weeks ago with the Momondo purchase. Other OTAs have also been playing a role in the meantime with Expedia taking major stakes in Trivago and Chinese giant Ctrip acquiring Skyscanner.

Today Metasearch is an area that OTAs cannot afford to ignore, but the question for us is how are independent hotels positioned for benefit from Metasearch?

Figure 3
Figure 3: Innovation adoption curve for Metasearch, and Bookassist’s view on where hotels are positioned.

Metasearch for Independent Hotels

At Bookassist we’re proud to work with some very smart and excellent hoteliers that immediately understood the potential of Metasearch and worked with us as early adopters to tap into it immediately. These hotels today generate significant amounts of direct bookings through referral links from Metasearch with a Cost per Acquisition consistently below 10% and a contribution to their overall direct business of between 20% and 30% generally or even up to 40% in some excellent cases (see Figure 4).

These excellent hotels have been participating in Metasearch for well over a year now and their “early adoption” allowed them to totally understand the challenges of Metasearch as it continues to evolve, with both its opportunity and threats.

But we still see a majority of hotels that remain sceptical of Metasearch, hotels that don’t get it and are reluctant to embrace the change it represents. Hotels really need to change their mindset here and embrace the opportunity that Metasearch can present. Otherwise, the big risk for the slow-adopting hotels is in their attitude, which will bring them to Metasearch only in its Late Majority phase or even later when most of the opportunity has been taken already by earlier adopters.

Figure 4
Figure 4: The results of Metasearch usage by early adopters, the excellent independent hotels who embraced Metasearch and have been able to leverage it in partnership with Bookassist.

Bottom Line

Metasearch is no longer the wave of the future, but of the present. it is now a strong reality that can be no longer be ignored by independent hotels in the quest for direct booking business. A change of mindset is needed by hoteliers who need to move now to assign budgets and adopt Metasearch as a key customer capture opportunity.

—-
Jacopo Rita is Metasearch Manager at Bookassist (http://www.bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels. Bookassist is The Direct Booking Expert™ and a Google Premier Partner.


« Previous page      Next page »
bookassist - technology & online strategy for hotels

Address: 1st Floor South Block, Rockfield Central, Dublin D16 R6V0, Ireland
Phone: +353 1 676 2913 Fax: +353 1 676 2916
Email:
Web: https://bookassist.org/en