OTA v/s Meta Search: The Battle Gets Bloodier

By Michael McCartan Managing Director Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Duetto | August 24, 2014

Let's start with meta-search – the new rising star. According to PhoCusWright, 54% of Chinese, 36% of American and 35% of British travelers use meta-search engines to compare rates. Kayak, which was founded in 2004, took four years to process 1 billion queries, but processed 1.6 billion queries in 2013 alone. This number is expected to triple by 2019. Qunar, a Chinese meta-search channel, processed 3 billion queries for flight and hotel rates in 2013 (Source: http://www.tnooz.com/article/Planning-to-step-into-China-as-a-travel-metasearch-brand-be-ready-for-the-grind ). No wonder that meta-search has attracted billions of dollars of investment in the last few years and is being hailed as the hottest thing in travel.

Until recently, savvy customers checked close to 22 sites to ensure they got the best price for their accommodation needs. Further, more than 60% of them began their searches on one device and finished on another (Source: Google Study http://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/the-new-multi-screen-world-study_research-studies.pdf). Meta-search is liberating travellers from this wild goose chase and information overload. Through strategic alliances with key channels, meta-search players are adopting semantic search, and ensuring near accurate customized price comparisons based on user preferences in an easy-on-the-eye display.

For hotels, knowing their guests and their online purchasing behavior has been of paramount importance for targeted campaigns which lead to improved booking conversions. According to a recent study by TripAdvisor, 50% of their respondents agreed that hotel price comparison or meta-search saves time and helps to find the right price for their preferred hotel. According to the same survey, hotel guests read between 6 to 12 reviews before booking. This is a global trend cutting across regions and a clear indication that user generated content (UGC) is having a greater influence over traditional marketing material. Meta-search channels, which place aggregated rates next to millions of hotel reviews, significantly reduce the number of steps and sites a consumer needs to visit prior to making a booking. The tremendous growth of this platform can be attributed to the value proposition these sites offer to the travel consumers – not only do they provide real-time availability and rate data, and enable price comparison – these sites are one-stop solution for travelers to research and consequently book their hotel stay.

Meta-Search vs. OTAs

In 2011, Google entered the hospitality business with the launch of Google Hotel Finder which allowed users to search for hotels based on name, location, property type and chain. Using its multiple platforms like Google Carousel, Google+, Google Local and Google Maps, Google offers property owners and OTAs the opportunity to attract the attention of potential guests at every stage of their booking journey. Working on the same premise as the Adwords model, it allows Google Hotel Price Ads (HPA) users the option to place their property on Google's different platforms, and charged on a cost-per-click basis. To compete with the search-engine giant, meta-search channels already in the market have had to offer an improved search experience, and they have taken the challenge head on.

Two years later, TripAdvisor followed the same model while also cross referencing with review types. With the arrival of TripConnect, independent hoteliers and B&B owners got a chance to compete in a market that was previously only available to OTA's and large hotel brands. TripConnect has now gone one step further, and has announced the release of a mobile booking platform for independent hoteliers at end of this year, dramatically improving the connectivity level of 65,000 hotels that signed up to the service last year. Google's recent integration with Room 77 also encourages smaller hotels to bid for their own inventory along with Online Travel Agents (OTAs). This signals the intent of the search giant to play a much larger role in the hotel booking space, but also gives both OTAs and hotels level playing field to attract traffic to their website. In theory at least but is this the case in practice?

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.