The Battle for Direct Bookings

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Battling OTA’s for direct business

For over 20 years, hotels have been competing with OTA’s for direct bookings.  

The OTA’s are winning, and frankly, it’s not a close fight.

As hospitality digital marketing has progressed, so have the strategies and tactics used by hotels and OTAs to win customers. The newest battlefield is hotel metasearch, and OTA’s have committed an outsized portion of their attention and budget to ensure they dominate the field. The response from hotels has been tragically tepid.  

The case for metasearch

Metasearch exists at the bottom of the demand funnel; travelers on metasearch channels like Google Hotel Ads are often one click from booking. That alone makes the channel more valuable than most.  However, it's the targeting and management capabilities on metasearch channels that make them priority #1 for hotels and resorts. Metasearch channels provide advanced tools like bid modifiers, behavioral targeting, custom audience targeting, and much more. Not only are properties able to target bottom-of-funnel demand, they can do it in a way that best meets the needs of their property. No other single distribution channel offers that combination.

The result - hotel metasearch channels are the most productive, most profitable distribution channels available to hoteliers.  

OTA’s on metasearch

There are world-class media managers out there, and many of them work for OTA’s. Why? OTA’s deploy massive budgets through omnichannel campaigns that result in billions of dollars of transactions. It's the Superbowl of media management, and, as such, it attracts the best people. Those uber-talented professionals know that they compete against hotel/resort websites for direct bookings. Like any great marketing professional, they study our strategies, they position against our tactics, and, when all else fails, they use the brute force of their budgets to win bookings.  

Over the last several years, OTA’s have shifted the budget away from more legacy channels like paid search and focused more on metasearch. That pace has accelerated in the last six months. Amongst our clients, we’ve seen a consistent drop in the price-per-click (PPC) for brand terms on paid search, while metasearch PPC has nearly doubled.  

Hotels and resorts are in an existential battle for customers against well-funded, data-driven adversaries. 

How has the industry responded? With a race to the bottom.

Common hotel metasearch pitfalls

Too often, operators fall into a strategy of inertia. Instead of recognizing that Google Hotel Ads is a dynamic and evolving battlefield, they consider metasearch a box to be checked. As hospitality metasearch has grown, technology providers and mega-agencies have emerged to become the recipients of that checked box. They compete over the price of their offering, not the capability.  Instead of empowering hoteliers to fight a winning battle against OTA’s, they strip down their offering to a basic connection absent any of the management techniques that could actually result in success. Common pitfalls to this approach include:

  • Limited budgets that are exhausted early in a month, leaving OTA’s to capture 100% of demand for the remainder of the month
  • Lack of bid modifiers, which results in  wasted budget and lackluster results
  • Lack of reporting to provide insights and transparency to hoteliers
  • Lack of responsiveness, robbing properties of the opportunity to respond to dynamic market demand.  

Make no mistake, OTA’s are watching the hotel industry’s management of metasearch with glee. They’re recording record profits as they play chess against an absent and outmatched opponent. 

Level the playing field 

This all may seem overwhelming like individual properties are fighting a helpless battle against a goliath that can’t be defeated. However, the silver bullet that terrifies those superstar OTA media managers - all things being equal, travelers would much prefer to book directly with the property.  

According to Phocuswhright, 72% of travelers prefer to book their accommodations directly on a hotel’s website.  

If properties can simply compete for the direct customer, they are going to win more than their fair share.   It makes sense - customers don’t want to deal with an intermediary when they can work directly with the property. When they book direct, they expect they’ll get better treatment, more personalized service, and a better overall experience.

Yet, according to the same survey, direct providers only capture 48% of bookings. The difference of 24% represents the opportunity and arbitrage available to hoteliers. If a hotel-direct channel is so advantageous in the consumer's mind, then it stands to reason that better management will lead to incremental revenue.

Winning metasearch strategies

Understanding that metasearch channels are the most pivotal point of conflict with OTA’s, hotels and resorts must arm themselves accordingly. First, that means ditching the strategy of inertia. Change your perspective on metasearch to recognize that it's a dynamic channel in need of near-constant optimization and management. If that level of management isn’t available, change providers. Once you have the right partners in place, align your property goals and needs with your metasearch strategies. Then you’ll be ready to deploy some winning metasearch techniques:

  • Utilize bid modifiers to steer production where you need it the most
  • Use targeting capabilities to maximize your budget
  • Deploy smart merchandising to advantage your listing over that of an OTA
  • Stop limiting your demand capture with arbitrary budget restraints 

Why Metadesk

Metadesk was created by GCommerce, the premier independent hospitality marketing agency with over 20 years of experience working with world-class clients. The media professionals at GCommerce are responsible for one thing - results. Like OTA media managers, they are channel-agnostic and revenue-focused. They watched in real-time as traveler behavior shifted to metasearch channels, and they were dismayed to find the tools available to independent hoteliers didn’t provide the capabilities to compete.  And so, Metadesk was born.

Metadesk offers hoteliers the same advanced tools and tactics used by the OTA’s. As important, Metadesk employs hospitality media professionals who provide constant management and optimization of campaigns - thereby leveling the playing field with OTA’s. Those management and optimization techniques include:

  • Property Alignment - all Metadesk engagements revolve around the goals and needs of the property
  • Media Management by real hospitality marketing professionals who know how to win
  • Utilization of bid modifiers that include the length of stay, day of week, booking window, device type, and more
  • Custom 1st party audience targeting to maximize performance
  • Real-time reporting for real-time insights
  • Variable pricing to fit any property’s financial constraints

Hoteliers are waging a war for direct bookings against a well-funded, hyper-focused opponent. Metadesk is the great equalizer, returning control of direct bookings to the property where the travelers and hoteliers want it to be. To tilt the playing field in your favor, inquire here.

What Are the Most Popular Hotel Offers?

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We frequently get asked what are the most popular hotel offers. While we could have relied on educated guesses from client and team member feedback, we opted to dive into the data for concrete answers.

Our analysis of rate plan categories across our entire portfolio revealed some fascinating insights.

  1. Loyalty is gold

Outside of the standard BAR (best available rate), rates categorized under loyalty were the most commonly booked across our portfolio. We defined loyalty as any rate code booked as part of a loyalty/signup program such as email, SMS, or via member program rates like iPrefer, Stash Rewards, and Guestbook. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 5-star luxury resort or a smaller 2-star boutique hotel; these offer types drive bookings. Make sure you’re nurturing your most loyal customers and members, as well as finding ways to grow those lists - including incentives to sign up.

  1. Resort guests want to Stay & Play

We work with a lot of resort properties that feature amenities such as spas, dining, golf, and more. The 2nd most common rate type booked fell into a category we named “Stay & Play”. These offers included lodging plus credits to use at other outlets around the resorts. If your hotel has multiple entities or amenities on site, craft a package that entices the guests to enjoy them. It also helps advertising campaigns paint an experiential picture of how the potential guest can enjoy their time on the property.

  1. Consumers are swayed by discount deals

While we don’t think this is very surprising news, discount offers also topped the list for most commonly booked across our portfolio of clients. The most commonly booked being 25% off, followed by 35% and then 30% off. Our data shows these types of offers are less common at the 5-star luxury level, but used sparingly they can help drive bookings during need periods for all levels of hotels.

  1. We all want guests to linger longer

Who doesn’t love some great alliteration? Linger Longer, X night free, extend your stay - no matter what it’s called, it’s all centered around the same goal. This common goal that many hotel clients come to us with is trying to increase their average length of stay among guests. This is a big driver behind the widespread popularity of length of stay focused offers. These can include offering a free night when a guest books 3, 4, or more nights or focusing on a % discount when they book a certain number of nights. Play around with both approaches to see what resonates best with your guests.

  1. Seasonal Offers + Flash Sales

Consumers are conditioned to look for seasonal offers during holidays. In response, hotels are frequently offering discounts and other flash sales to capitalize on these periods when consumers are primed to purchase. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 5-star luxury resort or a 2-star hotel - these offer types are used across the board. These types of offers such as summer specials, 72 flash sales and Cyber promotions round out our top list of most commonly used and booked hotel offers.

Honorable mentions and other hotel offer ideas

Outside of the most commonly booked hotel offers from our portfolio. We also wanted to give a nod to some other great hotel offers that can help move the needle and produce stays during hotel need periods.

  1. Resident/Local rates

We see states like Florida lead the charge when it comes to deals for locals, but any hotel can capitalize on this type of offer. We saw staycations spike during the COVID era but they are still wildly popular. These can especially be helpful during off-season months as ways to fill your hotel or resort.

  1. Bed & Breakfast packages

Maybe it’s because consumers are motivated by their stomachs or maybe it’s because they want the ease of waking up and not having to hunt down breakfast options - but whichever the reason, this type of offer seems to be a mainstay in the industry. If you have on-site dining and the ability to package breakfast with a lodging rate, make sure to include this on your website offerings.

  1. AAA/AARP

AAA has a whopping 60 million members, while AARP claims 38 million members. This huge database of consumers is conditioned to seek out hotels that offer them discounts. A deep dive into the data shows that across our entire portfolio, these remain one of the most commonly booked rate types across every type of property, from large resorts to luxury properties and boutique hotels.

These are just a sampling of hotel offers and package types to inspire you as you craft the perfect package and offer strategy for your hotel based on the unique needs and amenities of your hotel. Please reach out if you are interested in diving deeper into your own GA4 data for custom insights and recommendations.

How Does Hotel Metasearch Help With First-Party Data?

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Hotel metasearch can help prepare your hotel for a world without 3rd party cookies. GCommerce’s MetaDesk explains how.

How Does Hotel Metasearch Help With 1st Party Data Collection

Chances are, you’ve come across articles and information about hotel metaearch before. It’s emerged over the years as a hybrid marketing and distribution channel, with Google Hotel Ads as the frontrunner. But did you know that hotel metasearch can help your hotel collect more 1st party data and prepare for the end of 3rd party cookies? 

Why do I need to worry about 1st party data collection for my hotel?

2023 is the year (for lack of a better, less cliche phrase) the cookie crumbles. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have personal data covered by privacy laws, up from just 10% in 2020. It’s also the year that Google has officially set the end date for supporting 3rd party cookies in its Chrome browser. What does this mean? It means that as advertisers and marketers we are going to be forced into a new era of how we can market to target consumers in a personalized way. Instead of relying on 3rd party cookies, we will need to lean on first-party data to deliver these focused, targeted and personalized messages to consumers that want to receive them from our brand. 

Consider it a trade. Their personal data in exchange for something of value from your brand. 

But how do we get more 1st party data for our hotels?

One very important approach to obtain more 1st party data is through direct bookings for your hotel. When a guest books directly through your hotel’s booking engine, instead of through an OTA, you are given this wealth of first party data to use for remarketing purposes. It can be used through email (continually one of the highest ROAS channels), as well as uploaded to platforms including Google Ads and Facebook/Instagram for remarketing and for creation of similar to/look-alike audiences.

While there are many other strategies and tactics to consider while preparing for a cookieless future (you can read our full e-book here), one channel has emerged as a game changer to help your hotel capture these direct bookings and reduce OTA contribution.

Hotel Metasearch.

Hotel metasearch includes the market leader, Google Hotel Ads as well as Tripadvisor, Bing Hotel Ads, Trivago, Kayak and more. 

How can metasearch help with 1st party data collection for my hotel?

Hotel metasearch ads exist (mostly) towards the bottom of the consumer purchase journey. OTA’s have been bidding, and owning, in this ad space since the beginning and they continue to dominate the space. Why? Because it is a tactic that has worked extremely well for them to own the guest booking and therefore own the guest data. 

To help drive more 1st party data collection, make sure you are active with metasearch. These ads drive direct, bottom of funnel traffic, directly to your booking engine with results averaging 5-8% of total website production. This shifts bookings away from OTAs and directly through your hotel’s booking engine, allowing you to capture 1st party data with each booking.

We want to help hoteliers prepare for a world without 3rd party cookies, but beyond that it’s about less reliance on the OTAs now and in the future by owning the guest data, lowering OTA contributions and that is best done by driving more direct bookings.

Want to learn more about MetaDesk? Reach out to one of our hotel metasearch experts for more information.

Click here to schedule a Metadesk demo

The Opportunity Cost of Metasearch

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As you read this, you're likely content with your hotel marketing and distribution strategy. But just under the surface, a battle rages for your customer, and many hoteliers are unaware.

They look at their media mix, replete with reasonable allocations to paid search, social media, display, SEO, and metasearch, and feel like they have covered their proverbial bases. Missing in that analysis is the amount of potential business they are ceding to OTA's or, worse yet, their competitors.  

For too long, the hospitality industry has managed marketing with an emphasis on the expense side of the ledger. Marketing's purpose is to capture business that drives new and incremental bookings.

The absence of marketing at key points in a traveler's booking journey due to budget restrictions should be recognized for what it is—opportunity cost.  

Opportunity wasted, revenue squandered. The revenue side of the ledger suffers quietly and without sufficient attention.  

Defining the opportunity for hotel metasearch

Hotel metasearch channels like Google Hotel Ads and Tripadvisor capture customers as they move down the travel booking funnel.

Hotel metasearch becomes particularly relevant when travelers have determined their destination market, have developed a consideration set, and are beginning to develop price expectations. Your marketing and distribution alarms should be firing - this is the most critical time for your property to be present in the booking journey.  

Simply put, hotel metasearch sites offer the most immediate access to customers as they are about to choose between your direct website and your competitor: an OTA.  

It's no wonder that hoteliers report that hotel metasearch advertising produces some of the most impressive returns of any channel. So much so that OTAs have devoted huge chunks of their budgets to these channels.  

Yet, our collective response as an industry is to tragically underfund hotel metasearch. The most common approach is to sign up with a hospitality metasearch provider that offers an inexpensive technology connection fee and then allocate a small amount of dollars (3-figure amounts) to the campaigns. We manage the expense side of the ledger and check the metasearch box.

Calculating the opportunity cost of hotel metasearch

The most common internal justification for an underfunded hotel metasearch marketing campaign goes something like this: 

We spent $500 on our technology connection and $700 on media, which resulted in $13,000 in room revenue. An 11 to 1 return on investment. Success!

Missing from that analysis is the cost of missed opportunity.

By capping media investment at $700, a hotel artificially limits its demand capture. They cap their revenue originating through metasearch at approximately $13,000. 

Imagine a scenario in which there is $100,000 worth of demand available to the hotel in a particular month. With arbitrarily defined budgets, the property is allowing $87,000 worth of business to arbitrage to OTA's or competitors. Under this light and taking into account the revenue side of the ledger, the property is not managing its strategy in a shrewd or calculated way. They are letting 87% of the revenue walk out the door.  

Missing at the point of conversion because of a limited budget is the real opportunity cost in hotel metasearch.

Maximizing revenue by minimizing opportunity costs

Metadesk offers a flexible and innovative hotel metasearch model. The platform places and pays for media on a property's behalf in exchange for a commission that is meaningfully smaller than an OTA. Better yet, as hotel metasearch production improves, the commission rate plummets.  

Metadesk covers the cost of media - and is not constrained by artificial budget limits. Opportunity maximized.

Because Metadesk is incentivized by direct bookings with hotel metasearch management, it is always willing to keep spending. The innovative audience targeting embedded in the platform, coupled with real-time analytics, allows our trained hospitality media pros to identify the full spectrum of demand for a property and ensure that the hotel website is ever-present in the battle to capture customers.  

Take the above example to demonstrate the difference:

Traditional Flat Fee + Media ModelMetadesk Model
Platform Fee: $500Platform Fee: $0
Media Cost: $700Media Cost: $0
Gross Monthly Revenue: $13,000Gross Monthly Revenue: $100,000
Net Monthly Revenue: $11,800Net Monthly Revenue: $92,000

The opportunity cost for the traditional model in this example is a whopping $80,200 per month!  

In many cases, that is the difference between winning and losing, between premium market share and living at the bottom of the STR report rankings. Under this light, we see the power of maximizing the metasearch channel with an ever-present approach.

Hoteliers have always faced limitations when managing the expense side of the ledger. It's a function of our industry and inertia. The promise of metasearch is that it offers us a chance to flip tradition on its head and run a truly revenue-focused approach. 

At this moment in time, few have gravitated towards uncapped metasearch marketing. Metadesk offers the opportunity to stand apart from the competition and generate real gains in market share.

Effective Strategies to Increase Your Hotel’s Direct Bookings 

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In the highly competitive hospitality industry, increasing direct bookings is crucial for hotels and other accommodation providers. Direct bookings not only help you reduce reliance on third-party online travel agencies (OTAs) but also allow you to establish a direct relationship with your guests, resulting in better customer satisfaction and increased profits. To help you maximize your direct bookings, we've compiled a list of effective strategies that can give your business a boost.

Optimize your Hotel’s Website

Your hotel’s website serves as the face of your property, and it's often the first point of contact for potential guests. Make sure your website is visually appealing, user-friendly, and optimized for mobile devices. Ensure that the booking process is simple and straightforward, with clear calls to action. Highlight the unique features, amenities, and benefits of booking directly on your site, such as exclusive offers or loyalty programs.

Offer Competitive Rates and Value-Added Perks

To entice guests to book directly, provide competitive rates that are at least on par with OTA prices. Consider offering exclusive discounts, packages, or value-added perks such as complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi, or room upgrades for direct bookings. Emphasize these benefits on your website to encourage guests to choose your property over others.

Leverage Social Media Platforms

Engage with your hotel’s audience on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Regularly share compelling content, including enticing images, videos, and stories that showcase your property's unique offerings. Run targeted ad campaigns to reach potential guests and promote direct bookings by highlighting the advantages of booking through your hotel’s website.

Implement a Robust Hotel Email Marketing Strategy

Build and maintain a database of past and potential guests, and leverage email marketing to stay connected with them. Send personalized emails with exclusive offers, seasonal promotions, and upcoming events. Use automation tools to send booking reminders, post-stay follow-ups, and personalized recommendations. Make sure your hotel’s emails provide value and maintain a consistent brand voice to nurture guest loyalty.

Invest in Hotel Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Optimize your hotel’s website for search engines to improve its visibility and drive organic traffic. Identify relevant keywords and incorporate them naturally into your website's content, titles, and meta descriptions. Develop informative and engaging blog posts related to your destination or local attractions. Encourage guest reviews and testimonials, as they not only contribute to your SEO efforts but also build trust and credibility with potential guests.

Provide Exceptional Guest Experiences

Deliver exceptional experiences that exceed guest expectations. Train your staff to provide warm, personalized service and ensure that guest feedback and concerns are addressed promptly. Encourage satisfied guests to share their experiences through online reviews and testimonials, which can have a significant impact on future bookings. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful driver for direct bookings.

Implement a Direct Booking Incentive Program

Create a hotel loyalty program that rewards guests for booking directly with you. Offer exclusive benefits such as room upgrades, late check-out, or discounts on future stays. These incentives not only encourage direct bookings but also foster guest loyalty, as guests feel valued and appreciated for their continued support.

Collaborate with Local Businesses and Influencers

Forge partnerships with local businesses, attractions, or influencers who can help promote your property to their audiences. Offer special discounts or packages for joint promotions, collaborate on social media content, or host events together. By leveraging the reach and influence of these partners, you can expand your brand's visibility and attract new guests.

Increasing your hotel’s direct bookings requires a multifaceted approach that focuses on optimizing your website, leveraging digital marketing channels, providing exceptional guest experiences, and offering value-added incentives. By implementing these effective strategies, you can reduce your reliance on OTAs, build a loyal customer base, and drive higher profitability for your accommodation business. Remember, a well-rounded approach coupled with continuous adaptation and improvement will yield the best results in the long run.

Need additional help increasing your direct bookings? Check out Metadesk.

How to Optimize Your Hotel’s Metasearch Campaigns for Mobile Devices

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Google Search started prioritizing mobile first back in 2016 as visitation and growth from users on mobile devices started growing. As of 2023, almost 60% of traffic on the web is from mobile devices. Visibility on mobile devices is crucial if your hotel wants to be present during important parts of the consumer journey to purchase. GCommerce’s portfolio of hotel websites sees over 66% of all traffic coming from mobile devices.

Hotel metasearch campaigns have become an increasingly important part of this journey, especially on Google search. It’s powering new SERP features visible down the continuous scroll page, such as this newer hotel listing feature (with rates from hotel ads) under organic listings shown below.

Learn how your hotel can best approach optimizing your hotel ads and metasearch for this device type and ensure you have the right visibility to reach your goals.

How do I optimize my hotel’s metasearch ad campaigns for mobile devices?

Campaign Adjustments

Metadesk recommends optimizing your hotel metasearch campaigns based on performance by segment based on your hotel’s objectives. Some platforms, such as Google Hotel Ads offer the ability to use a bid modification by device type. You can also opt out of certain device types on channels such as Google and TripAdvisor altogether. You can view reporting on how each device type performs in terms of clicks, bookings, impression share, and more within metasearch management platforms to better understand how each device type segment performs before making any specific adjustments. 

Optimize Your Landing Page for Mobile Devices

An important part of your hotel’s metasearch performance is the booking engine landing page where the traffic lands. Although most hotels work with 3rd party providers, making it hard to have control over things like page speed - optimizing this experience can improve performance from mobile traffic in your metasearch campaigns. Make sure your mobile booking page is easy to navigate on a mobile device. You could also test mobile-only offers or last-minute deals to appeal to mobile device users, many of whom tend to be more likely to be last-minute bookers than desktop users.

Optimize For Local Search + Your Google Business Profile Listing

A critical part of your Google Hotel Ads’ visibility in Google search results is how well you’re focused on local SEO ranking signals. This includes how built out and up-to-date your Google Business Profile listing is, how many reviews your hotel has vs the competition, making sure you're responding to reviews, and more.

What device type drives the most bookings for hotel metasearch?

Although mobile devices account for over 60% of site traffic on average, this traffic tends to be higher in the funnel during the consumer path to purchase. On average, mobile devices only account for 30% of a hotel’s total website revenue production. The trend is the same as we look specifically at hotel metasearch campaign production. GCommerce’s portfolio sees 58% of all hotel metasearch clicks come from mobile devices but only 35% of total revenue.

This data can help you optimize your budget allocation.

If you are limited on budget for these typically bottom-of-funnel campaigns and focused on driving higher impression share to the segments that produce more revenue, you might opt to increase bid adjustments for desktop or decrease them for mobile traffic.

Remember, though, even though most bookings come via desktop - it’s important to be visible on mobile since that’s where consumers are spending most of their time (and clicks) interacting with your campaigns while they are shopping and considering which hotel to stay at in a destination - they just tend to book on desktop. If you remove visibility and impressions from mobile, you might end up hurting your overall performance due to lowered visibility.

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