Online Travel Agencies: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you must make your peace with them because they are not going away!
Not too long ago, in order to acquire rate information and reserve a room, a customer had to call a hotel directly or utilize a traditional Travel Agent. These days, the internet, mobile devices, and apps have made it possible for any of us to be our own travel agents!
The Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have made this process even easier by offering a ‟one stop shopping” experience for a customer: airfare, hotel, rental car, vacation package, attractions, even restaurant reservations. And the OTAs are doing a great job creating the perception that the customer will get a better deal through them because they have A LOT of money to spend on marketing themselves this way! It is important to understand that OTAs do serve a purpose, which is to increase a hotel’s visibility online, and assist you with filling your rooms during off peak times. Empty rooms still cost a hotel money, so even if you have to pay a commission to an OTA (25% on the average), you are still coming out ahead…assuming that the customer is satisfied with their OTA experience. If they are not satisfied, then it falls on you and your team to make it right.
So, how do you make your peace with the OTAs and prepare your team to ensure that the customer will be satisfied with their stay at your hotel? Allow me to share some best practices with you…
- Take advantage of those “OTA inquiry calls”—the calls in which a customer wants to double check on their OTA reservation, or they want to know if you’ll match the OTA rate they see online.
- Educate your staff to take the customer’s word at face value, and agree to navigate to the OTA site.
- Engage the customer in a fact finding conversation, using open-ended, qualifying questions: “Have you had the pleasure of staying with us before?”; “How many adults and children will be traveling?”; “Are you a member of our loyalty program?”; “What is bringing you in to our area?”
- Once you locate the rate on the OTA site, demonstrate your knowledge with the OTA by explaining to the customer why there may be a difference in rates: advance purchase rate; different room type; etc. Also, share the terms and conditions when using the OTA site versus confirming directly through your hotel: cancellation policies may vary; OTA may require full payment with no refund or changes allowed; additional fees such as parking, resort fees and taxes may not be listed.
- Use the information that you gathered in your fact finding conversation to build value and convert the reservation at your published rate. This is easily done by informing the caller about packages and/or accommodations to which the OTA site doesn’t have access.
- Explain to the customer that if they are a member of your Loyalty Program, they may not receive their hotel points or airline miles if they reserve through the OTA. And, if payment for their stay is made directly to the OTA, they will not get a receipt for their room charges from you!
- Empower your team to offer perks as a way to incentivize the customer to reserve with you: offer a complimentary upgrade to a suite at the traditional room rate; offer to waive additional charges such as parking or resort fees; offer to include complimentary meals.
- As a last resort, match the rate! Even though you may be ‟giving away” a little bit of your ADR, you are still winning as you don’t have to pay an OTA commission, your customer gets the accommodation they need and want, and your customer will appreciate how hard you worked for their business!
I spend a lot of time watching TV, and I see those OTA marketing dollars hard at work. Hotels.com has the snarky Captain Obvious, Travelocity has the Roaming Gnome, and then there is the “Trivago Guy”. His first commercial, according to ABC News, “…sparked imitations, a fake twitter account along with many tweets and comments. The reactions, calling him everything from sexy to creepy, stemmed from a [sic] unshaven Williams who donned a rumpled shirt and pants without a belt in the first commercial.” He has evolved since that first commercial—his clothes are pressed, he is clean shaven, and in the commercials where his shirt is tucked in, he is wearing a belt! ABC News suggests, “…whether you love him or hate [sic] it doesn’t seem Williams will be leaving your screen anytime soon.” So you had better make your peace with him too!
*abcnews.com October 22nd, 2015