It's Time to Re-imagine the OTA / Hotel Relationship

By Bill Linehan Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Red Lion Hotels Corporation | June 18, 2017

The Marketplace is Changing and OTAs are Growing

The hospitality marketplace is changing. We all have heard about the hotel brand consolidation, from Marriott and Starwood to RLH Corporation's very own acquisition of Vantage Hospitality's brands last fall. But it is not just hotel brands consolidating, so are Online Travel Agent ( OTA ) marketplaces.

The average consumer visits 140 different travel sites during the purchase journey, with 30% of these sites being OTAs; Expedia and Priceline Group now control over 70% of the OTA market; Expedia's sites, which include, Travelocity, Orbitz and Hotwire, among others, attract 94 million unique visitors per month; more online travel bookers visit OTAs than sites the week before and the week of their booking; OTAs are the most influential online resource in bookers' destination decisions; American leisure travelers visit OTA sites more than when researching on personal computers, smartphones and tablets; the facts go on and on.

The OTAs are using different channels to target various buyer personas across virtually every segment and demographic. This means hotel companies need to focus even more on delivering the total guest experience and leverage marketplace opportunities to connect with consumers like never before. Websites and mobile apps should create an optimal shopping experience that instills confidence in the consumer. And we must continue to achieve best-in-class omni-channel marketing while focusing more on how and what we communicate to build consumer-brand relationships, rather than simply focus on the transaction.

Omni-Channel Marketing

So, what exactly is omni-channel marketing? The term refers to a significant shift: marketers now need to provide a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device. Consumers can engage with a company in a physical store, online, via their phones or tablets, through a catalog, or through social media. Each piece of the consumer's experience should be consistent and complementary, and, when properly deployed, the approach can drive sales, create brand equity and achieve best-in-class margins.

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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.