3 ways to compete with OTAs
3 ways to compete with OTAs
14 JANUARY 2015 3:51 PM
Your competition can’t know your own guests better than you. Use that familiarity to your advantage.
Management companies, chains, and property owners alike often ask me for advice on how to compete with online travel agencies. It’s a fair question in a world where guest acquisition costs continue to rise and loyalty continues to decline.
First, it’s worth noting I remain convinced OTAs provide a valuable service to hotels and guests alike, and, used properly, remain an important part of your overall distribution strategy. Given their deep pockets and broad reach, taking OTAs on head to head is a losing strategy for all but a few. At the same time, recent moves by OTAs around engaging with guests throughout the travel experience threaten to undermine the essential relationship between property and guest. There’s nothing wrong with working with OTAs where it makes sense and also wanting to hold them at arm’s length. 
How do you do that?
Simple. Here’s how.
1. Recognize the world has changed
On average, you host more devices in your rooms each night than you do guests. With most guests carrying at least a mobile phone, tablet or laptop while traveling—and, according to technology company SITA, one in five carrying all three—your guests live in an always-on, ever-connected world. We’ve long since passed the time to take mobile seriously. Today, it’s a simple fact of life. OTAs recognize this fact and have invested heavily in mobile platforms to support guests throughout their journey. To the best of your abilities, you must do the same.
For example, your guests can and will find the information they need to satisfy their needs and enjoy their trip, with or without your help. Even if you employ the most brilliant concierge or friendly front-desk staff, your guests carry an ever-ready concierge in their pockets. Set up your Wi-Fi login screen with links to relevant, helpful information about the services and amenities your guests need to support and enhance that behavior.

And, please, don’t try to block your guests’ access. It’s poor hospitality and, as some are learning, even worse business.
2. Build an actionable guest database
I’ve mentioned before nothing reinforces your brand value proposition as much as your guests’ overall experience when dealing with your hotel. And the data you have available to you provides a strategic differentiator. Your competitors simply don’t know—can’t know—everything you do about the guests who research, book and stay with you.
And, if you already have a good collection of guest data, great. Now think about this:
  • How many people on-property can actually put that data to work to help your guests?
  • Does roomservice know that your guest’s daughter is vegan? 
  • Does housekeeping know that the business traveler in Room 318 has a nut allergy and should receive a different turn-down amenity?
  • Does your front-desk associate know the couple arriving tonight is on their first getaway in years without the kids and really doesn’t want to be disturbed?
Creating an active, actionable database about your guests—and potential guests—offers you the best opportunity to talk directly with customers and limit your reliance on third parties. And, by leveraging that data to provide a higher level of service, drive repeat stays from highly-satisfied guests.
Clearly, you need to ensure you protect your guests’ privacy while also freeing relevant data for use among your staff. But OTAs are already beginning to explore and experiment with mobile services to aid guests while on-property. Shouldn’t that be your job?
3. Encourage guests to share their great experiences
Your guests have built a large collection of friends, family, fans and followers across their many social networks. I think we’ve all learned social hasn’t lived up to its billing as the “end all, be all” of marketing. But, we’ve also all learned guests like to talk about their trips with the people they’re close to—and even some folks they’re not so close to. Why not encourage them to talk about you in a meaningful, positive way?
You know what makes that happen: great experiences driven by deep guest insights in a world of constant connectivity.
The simple reality is “beating” the OTAs isn’t about fancy booking engines, clever marketing campaigns or shrewd distribution agreements. It’s about meeting and exceeding guest expectations, using technology to forge meaningful relationships and enlisting guests in the process of telling your brand story to their friends and family.
In other words, it’s about hospitality.
Tim Peter helps companies put the Web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs across multiple industries. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.
Prior to founding Tim Peter & Associates, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm to help hotels and resorts achieve more than $2 billion in online revenue. He can be reached at timpeter.com/hotelmarketing.
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