Is there a thawing in the hotel and OTA relationship?

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There’s been a subtle change in tone from some quarters when you ask hotels about the power of online travel agencies or how those OTAs feel about hotels driving business direct.

What used to almost incite rage has softened with a few hotels starting to refer to the likes of Expedia and Booking.com as partners.

Some in the OTA community even go as far as to dismiss the direct sell efforts of the hotels as just PR which might not sound conciliatory but, OTAs say, behind the scenes it’s a different story.

During a recent presentation to media, Cyril Ranque, president of lodging partner services for Expedia Group, spoke of previous investment being all about the customer experience, but now shifting to investment in driving growth for partners.

He was alluding to initiatives such as its white label with Marriott Vacations which, he says, is driving a twofold improvement in conversion in package traffic.

Expedia’s partnership helping to drive loyalty for Red Lion Hotels is another example, as are its TravelAds which used to direct consumers to the hotel page on Expedia but now direct them to the hotel’s website.

Ranque says:

“That’s the change in mindset and it means removing friction for consumers. We know they are clicking around so we’re facilitating that and we’re probably removing a click from Google which is good for the industry.”

There are other examples of initiatives that have been built into Expedia Partner Central that the OTA says are about helping its partners such as Rev+ which enables hotels to monitor competitors and optimise pricing.

Ranque talks about making the whole industry more effective and efficient with these tools and therefore enabling it to grab “more share of the traveller wallet and make the industry more profitable.”

But, is it all completely one-sided?

Expedia says not and points to the recent deal with Best Western Europe for its MeetingMarket portal as further proof.

Ranque flashes up a quote from Best Western marketing chief Dorothy Dowling who says it’s thinking about OTAs in terms of strategic partnerships.

He maintains that there’s the “PR view” in terms of the direct booking campaigns from the big hotel chains and there’s “the reality behind the scenes.”

“There is a realisation from the big chain partners that we can help them. Their job is to drive more direct bookings. Our relationship is about bringing them new customers that they can’t reach, their job is to get them to rebook direct because that’s their promise to their owners.”

Ranque also says “common sense will prevail” given the disconnect of hotel chains keeping the “best rates for members” who would likely come direct versus investing in attracting new business.

He says Expedia isn’t targeting the group who know where they want to go but going after where the growth is i.e. those booking a couple of trips a year.

“There’s confusion from the industry in terms of where the competition is taking place.”

To be fair to Expedia, another hotelier mentioned the word partners in connection with booking.com earlier this month at World Travel Market.

Responding to a question on direct bookings or a closer relationship with booking.com, Daniel Wishnia, ecommerce manager, GCH Hotel Group, said the company does see the OTA as a partner.

But, he added, that consumers also copy and paste the hotel name into Google and end up on the hotel website thereby providing properties with the opportunity to capture the customer by showcasing the best images, video content and pricing via their own sites.

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