Online travel agencies (OTAs) have dramatically changed the game when it comes to getting the word out about your property and inventory, and even booking rooms. However, for a small hotel, learning how to use these tools and even finding the right OTAs can be more than a little challenging. In this article, we’ll address what you need to know to find the right ones and then rank highly.
What Are OTAs and How Do They Work?
There are plenty of examples of OTAs in today’s world. Booking.com, Expedia, Despegar – these are all online travel agencies. They allow you to share information about your property and your room inventory and even allow customers to book your rooms through their platform.
In exchange for connecting you with customers, OTAs charge you a commission that comes out as a percentage of your sales on the platform per month. Every OTA has its own commission basis and it can even vary within the same platform. For instance, you’ll pay between 20% and 25% with Expedia in OTA commission rates.
How to Find the Right OTA
Finding the right OTA website(s) for your small hotel is not as simple as it sounds. Each one has tradeoffs, and they are not created equal. Here are a few considerations you will need to make:
- Property Type – These days, there’s an OTA for every small hotel type out there. The problem is that some will only accept specific types of properties and not others.
- Geographic Location – Some OTAs are specific to particular regions of the world, or they’re actively seeking properties in those areas even though they represent hotels in other nations.
- Target Audience – There’s an OTA for just about every need these days, from people looking for a fun weekend away to the savvy business traveler who needs a place to stay for a month or longer.
- Commission Payable – Take great care when choosing your platforms to check the OTA commission rates for each. There’s little to be gained by going with a platform that offers plenty of exposure if you’re overpaying in commission. Remember that every dime in commission affects your bottom line.
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all OTA that’s a great choice for every small hotel. What works well for you might be a very wrong choice for another property even in the same geographic region. Choosing the right online travel agencies is something that requires considerable strategy, time spent comparing the platforms and their pros and cons, and a deep understanding of their commission structure and ensuring you can improve your OTA ranking. Developing an OTA strategy for hotels should be one of your top priorities.
Cracking the OTA Ranking Problem
For any small hotel, cracking the OTA ranking challenge is critical. Just getting listed is the first step, but you need to ensure that your property shows near the top of the page for relevant searches. How do you do that?
OTAs rank your hotel based on website information, so ensuring that your property’s website is completely fleshed out (and thoroughly modern) is of critical importance. What should you focus on in your OTA marketing strategy? Let’s break it all down for you.
First, make sure you fully discuss your hotel type. Are you a B&B? A midscale luxury boutique? A destination primarily for business travelers? A stopover for weary road warriors on their way to elsewhere? Highlight your property and what makes it unique.
Booking and Cancellation Policies
Of course, it goes deeper than just ensuring your website explains your booking and cancellation policies well. You also need to develop policies that benefit the guest and that do not place undue burdens on them. OTAs will knock your rank if you try to sneak in hidden fees or otherwise mislead guests.
Check-in and Check-out Times
Other than your room types and rates, what do you think is the most frequently sought information by potential guests? Your check-in and check-out times. This will affect your guests in many different ways, from when they can arrive and get checked in to the time that they’ll need to be packed and loaded when it’s time to leave.
Depending on your times, guests may need to revise some of their travel plans. Make sure this information is front and centre. We recommend putting it right on the front page of your website so that it’s highly visible.
No one will consider your small hotel if there are no photos. However, the wrong photos can be even worse than having none. Make sure that you have professional-quality photos of each room from multiple angles. Include the bathrooms, balconies, and other interesting features.
Don’t stop with the rooms, though. Photos of your lobby, front desk, dining area/venue, spa (if applicable), and all the rest should also be included. This is particularly true when it comes to your pool and the grounds. Try to get photos of these in full sunlight, as well. Photos taken on an overcast day can make your outdoor areas appear drab and dull.
Many guests have specific amenities they want to see and they’re not prepared to hunt through your entire website to find them. Our recommendation is to put a list of amenities in every room description, as well as on a separate page of the website.
Tell your guests what’s nearby – you can go as in-depth as you like here. In fact, we’d argue that the more information you include about area attractions and points of interest, the better. It’s also important to include a Google Maps link so that guests can see the distance from the hotel to various points of interest or attractions.
Make sure that your rates are on par from one OTA to another and with your own website. Rate parity is part of your overall pricing strategy and a critical element in achieving success. You should also use a channel manager to make sure that your rates and inventory are updated in real-time across all OTAs.
Participation in Partner Programs
OTAs run a wide range of partner programs and promotions throughout the year. By participating in these programs, you increase the chances that your property will rank highly in user searches. For instance, Booking.com runs one called the Genius loyalty program that allows guests to access discounted rates as well as premium benefits like room upgrades and free meals.
Bringing It All Together
There are no shortcuts here. Take your time and choose the right OTAs. Once you have, make that your website is up to speed. Remember that quality, accurate content is the single most important factor in driving your OTA ranking. It can take time to create that content and you cannot afford to cut corners, either. Finally, make sure you enrol in partner programs that can boost your visibility with potential guests.