Hotel metasearch has existed for over 20 years now (SideStep, acquired by Kayak), but has been elevated in importance ever since Google launched its Google Hotel Finder product back in 2010, which later became Google Hotel Ads (GHA).
For many years metasearch players used predominantly the CPC (Cost-per-Click) model (Trivago, TripAdvisor, GHA, etc.). Nowadays, most metasearch players use the CPA (Cost-per-Acquisition) model i.e. charge a fee in the form of a commission when a booking is done.
Last year, responding to the travel slump due to the pandemic, Google introduced its Pay-per-stay (PPS) model i.e. Google charges a fee in the form of a commission only if the booker actually stays at the property. Earlier this year Google even resorted to its masterful freemium model and offered hotels free booking link listings in GHA to lure more hotels into its metasearch program. By flooding each destination with booking options, Google is forcing hotels, OTAs and other booking sites to compete for visibility I.e. opt for the PPS premium listings.
The question is: Has hotel metasearch become a distribution channel that needs to be managed by the revenue management team like all commission-based channels like OTA, GDS, etc. or should remain as part of the marketing team's toolset?
False dichotomy. It's both.
The question takes a hotel-centered view of the channel. If you instead start with the guest and consider different moments in a buying journey, there are clearly times where it best operates as a marketing channel, a step in the research journey, and others where it is pure distribution.
As for CPC vs. CPA, yes, Covid has driven a big jump in the proportion of hotels who prefer to only pay for bookings (CPA). For small hotels or those with poor websites, then the simple Google PPS model is often the way to go.
However for hotels who have invested in digital and direct bookings (a good indicator is "do you get over 30 web bookings a month?") using Google's automated bidding, or 'treating meta like a distribution channel' is a mistake. With automated real time bidding tuned to perform based on guest details, search specifics, parity and more, meta becomes far more powerful. Not only can you double the revenue it generates, but you can also influence the guests' view of the hotel - imagine being listed in on Google when you're $10 more expensive than Expedia. That's like an advert to the world "don't book with us, we're overpriced" perhaps the worst bit of advertising you've ever done!