Leading hoteliers have spoken out about their relationships with the Online Travel Agents, calling for the booking engines to rethink their rates and loosen their control on the industry.
Speaking at the Good Hotel Guide Forum, held at The Peartree at Purton, top hoteliers and business owners from across the country had their say on a range of pressing sector topics, with the session, OTA: Friend or Foe?, uncovering some interesting views from attendees.
While hoteliers agreed that OTAs have their place in the market and bring custom to a hotel that would otherwise be untapped, some argued that the sites have ‘too much control’ and make it impossible for smaller properties to negotiate a good commission rate.
Nick Davies, owner of The Cottage on the Wood stressed that OTAs needed to ‘rethink their pricing structure on fees’, as percentages increase, and noted that a lot of the tactics used by OTAs can be ‘very aggressive’.
One hotelier explained how the hotel had stopped using OTAs altogether after bringing in the ‘wrong type of business’, adding that guests often aren’t given all the facts on OTAs, which can lead to poor reviews. The hotelier said that continued high occupancy levels since removing any OTA listings has backed up this decision.
However, Alix Young, general manager at The Peartree in Purton said that using OTAs was crucial in securing corporate bookings, especially those coming in last minute, and stressed the hotel would be ‘foolish’ to ignore them.
She said: “They are a necessary evil for us. We are very business-focused mid-week and switch to leisure at the weekend; on Tuesday nights in particular the OTAs are essential in bringing last minute room bookings our way.
“From a leisure point of view it’s not so great, despite us contacting the guests when they make a booking we rarely have any interaction before they arrive. This means that we are less able to work out why they’re with us, what they want and we think it impacts on service levels. It does bring us more international guests though which is great because we wouldn’t have access to them any other way,” Young added.
The session also focused on ways hoteliers can try and claim more direct business, with suggested ideas such as making the most of the free tools provided by Google Analytics and giving those who have booked through an OTA the ‘royal’ treatment when they arrive, to encourage loyalty.
When questioned on the future of hotels’ relationships with the OTAs, Davies said how quickly the industry, and consumer buying habits evolve, will have an impact on how OTAs will operate going forward. “Every new technology has its market edge and then something else comes along and counters it,” he explains. “All this has an impact on how the OTA landscape will look and how we will operate in it.”
Young added that while she hoped the OTAs won’t take over, she admitted they ‘may well do’ and the percentage share of bookings via OTAs will keep on increasing.