The hotelier-OTA relationship has always been a slightly troubled one. On the one hand OTAs bring in customers who would not have been reachable in any other way. On the other hand, however, they try to make away with customers, SEO traffic and commissions — the nerve! Still, if used correctly and with a bit of cunning, they can add great value to your business.
It's all about framing
From one angle OTAs can look like greedy money-grabbing villains who want to undercut your business. Of course that only holds true if you position yourself in direct competition with them and that makes no sense — why would you pay money to your direct competition?
Look at things from a different perspective and OTAs morph from competitor to powerful marketing tool in this way, they offer a range of features that your marketing budget may not allow. With the size and grandeur of the heavyweights behind you, you can reach new customer bases, analyze your business and even try something new once in a while.
Be clever, be cunning
Making the switch from OTAs as direct competition to marketing and revenue tools requires a bit of brainpower. It's all about exploiting what the OTAs have without giving up too much of what you need. Here are seven ways to do just that:
1. Know your guest
You should already know the type of guest who typically stays at your hotel. What you want the OTAs to deliver is someone you haven't managed to get through the door yet, but would like to. Get a clear idea of who that is so you can focus your OTA strategy on reaching that type of guest.
2. Pick the right OTAs
Not all OTAs were created equal; there's a whole science behind picking the right one for you. The gist is: figure out which OTAs add value rather than compete with you. You want the ones that can grant you access to your ideal customer so look into their marketing, positioning and analytics.
3. Build good relationships
This is very important — particularly considering the current environment. It's all about who you know. Establish good connections, communicate your goals and objectives and get the OTAs working for you in the way you want.
4. Don't spend a bomb on commissions
On the rare occasion, it might be worthwhile to throw all of your money at an OTA. Most of the time, however, you want to find the sweet spot where the business you get adds value beyond the commission you pay (and the money you lose). Don't be shy about asking an OTA to show you the value behind a particular commission.
5. Don't list too many rooms
Don't give the OTAs all of the good stuff. Invest in figuring out expected occupancy and make sure you keep some rooms for the more profitable direct channel.
6. Negotiate for special allowances
Be bold, be brazen and ask for benefits. If you know your hotel always books out at Christmas, negotiate for block-out dates. Lacking in the big data department? See if you can get access to guest data or analytics. Try to jump on board a marketing campaign or get access to marketing tools. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.
7. Put your best foot forward
Do everything in your power to make your OTA listing as attractive and relevant as possible. Anything beyond the first page barely gets a look, so do what you can to climb the rankings.