Let’s Keep It Real: The Truth About Hotel Meta Search
By Vikram Singh, Global Hospitality & Travel Strategist
Hotel marketing types love trends. Every day there is the same old story about a new thing that changes everything. It's always a thing that, if the hotels would only start doing it, or hire an agency to do it, or subscribe to a tool that would do it... the heavens would open and it would rain revenue.
If you want to get in on hotel meta search, first you need to understand it. Don't get your information from the vendor who's trying to sell it to you. Here's the truth about hotel meta search, and how you should use it. I'll start by debunking some sales-fueled propaganda.
It's Not Ground-Breaking Hotel Technology
Connecting your booking engine to Google Hotel Finder or TripAdvisor is not, in any way, shape or form, "ground-breaking technology." OTAs have been doing this for years, and making plenty of money. The new development is this: Some hotel marketing agencies have developed an interface between advertising platforms (Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, etc.) and a hotel's IBE/CRS (Internet Booking Engine/Central Reservation System); and now they want a nice return on their investment. By making meta search sound like an interstellar technological breakthrough, they hope to get hotels to sign up en masse and pay them a monthly fee.
Remember, Google's cost per click (CPC) based advertising − AdWords − has been around since the year 2000! Hotel meta search is just another way for providers to collect advertising revenue. Simple.
It Will Not Destroy Online Travel Agents (OTAs)
The agencies who are trying to sell you on hotel meta search generally focus on one of these three themes, each of which is backed by lengthy articles:
- Meta search is "shifting share from OTAs."
- Meta search is "leveling the playing field for hotels."
- Meta search is "going to destroy OTAs."
Reality Check: My long-time friend, partner, and online travel marketing superstar said it best:
"The only thing that will ever destroy an OTA is another OTA." − Ronnie Soud
Take a minute and let it set in. There you go...easy now. Let's move on to some facts about hotel meta search and OTAs:
- Some of the biggest hotel meta search engines are currently or previously owned by an OTA. TripAdvisor used to be owned by Expedia; Trivago is now owned by Expedia; Kayak is now owned by Priceline. The CPC or CPA revenue odds are ever in their favor.
- Hotel meta search is targeting a specific stage of the travel funnel; it does not control the entire travel purchase cycle. OTAs are doing much more than meta search. They are doing a brilliant job of targeting every phase of the cycle. From destination research to final purchase, they cover all the bases.
- At the end of the day, it's still battle of the clicks. When you are running a Google Hotel Price Ad, so are the OTAs. And as always, they are packing some serious firepower (ie, money). Hotel search engine marketing history (circa 2000-2010) clearly shows us how well OTAs can work those click-based advertising platforms.
I'm not saying that hotels have no chance, and should just give up. It's ok to get in the game. This is a new channel in which to buy advertising, and you should try it. But keep it real: No hotel marketing agency is going to be "defeating" the OTA's with their magical MetaSearch Gateway... ever.
It's Not a Return-on-Investment Slot Machine
I have previously written about the disasters of ROI-based marketing. Hotel meta search marks the return of hyper-inflated (and to a real marketing professional, sickening) 800% to 2,500% ROI promises. All you have to do is get a monthly "middleware" connection, allocate a small budget, and then revenue will be pouring in. Yes, hotels marketing agencies are now marketing meta search the same way they did search engine marketing. This kind of hype gives rise to things like the Hotel SEO Bubble.
It's really dangerous to fall for dazzlingly high ROI gimmicks. Meta search is not a loose slot machine. Exaggerated ROI numbers should always be a red flag and not an enticement. In fact, for every new marketing buzz, I have four words: law of diminishing returns.
As for the Encyclopedia Britannica link above, yes I am that old.
It Should Be Part of Your Bigger Revenue Picture
Make it a point to advertise directly with the hotel meta search engines whenever possible. Avoid retainer-style agency services. And, as a general principle, avoid automated bid management software, just as smart advertisers do with good old search engine marketing.
You need to focus on the bigger revenue picture and make sure your hotel meta search investment is supported by the following essential activities:
- Create Content: Update and experiment with your website and booking engine content.
- Take New Photos: When was the last time you did a property photo shoot?
- Revisit Pay Per Click: Tighten up your pay per click strategy. Are you optimized/spending enough?
- Do a Bubble Check: Check to ensure that you are not caught up in the frenzy. Assess how meta search is performing, and put your money where it really matters.
- Fix Your Booking Engine: Focus on sharpening your booking engine conversions. All your hotel meta click traffic will go there to convert. If visitors cannot book a room efficiently, at the right rate, then what is the point of all this?
The hotel meta search engines are doing what they do best: helping guests with price shopping and selling click-based ads. They will not make the full value proposition to your guests. You have do that for yourself . So, what are you doing to provide real value to the travel shopper, and ultimately to your guest?
Hotel marketing tools are useful, but they are never going to replace innovation at your hotel. The creation of value should rule everything you do − not only in your marketing efforts, but in your hiring decisions, pricing strategies, front desk policies, etc, etc. Embrace hotel meta search as one more tool you can use to reach potential guests. But then, make sure you are giving them something truly valuable: not just a good price, but the best experience they can get for that price.