At the Direct Booking Summit, there was a sense of acceptance among hoteliers on panels that the third-party booking sites aren’t going away. So the question was how to work with what one speaker called “not the most loyal” group.
DALLAS—What hoteliers want out of a relationship with online travel agencies is collaboration, reliability and responsiveness, according to speakers at the recent Direct Booking Summit.
But loyalty isn’t a virtue hoteliers can expect in an OTA, warned Ted Schweitzer, who served as SVP of digital commerce at La Quinta Holdings before its hotel management and franchise business was absorbed into Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
“OTAs are amazing for acquisition, and they’re not going anywhere, but they do like to sleep around. They’re not the most loyal,” he said on a panel discussion about “Metasearch in 2018.”
Accepting it as necessary, hoteliers shared what they look for in a relationship with OTA sites.
The ideal OTA relationship is “a collaborative one,” said Alan Gonzalez, group director of e-commerce and distribution at Warwick Hotels & Resorts on a panel titled “The state of the hotel-OTA relationship.”
There needs to be a “quid pro quo,” he said, which means the OTA needs to have an understanding of what his company needs and the tools it can provide to meet those needs.
He said there has to be an “escalating point of contact,” from low- to high-level, to address his company’s needs, and those contacts have to be reliable and responsive.
“The OTAs have a wealth of knowledge,” said moderator Raheel Moolji, VP of revenue management at Remington Hotels. “From all of our standpoints, we like more data, we want more information, we want to know what’s happening in the market, where we can leverage … And our OTA partners can help to give some insight on that.”
But much of the time managing the relationship with OTAs is spent trying to alleviate issues imposed by the OTAs, he added.
“I do see a lot of our time being spent with parity issues, de-ranking issues, not being visible and thus losing conversion and the ability to book roomnights when you do need it,” he said.
“So at least from my perspective, I see a lot of time being spent on trying to get that placement or trying to pay for that business … trying to move forward from that so we can actually leverage the resources of the OTA market managers to give us more market knowledge.”
OTA market managers are “boots on the ground” for VRI Americas, which manages independent resorts in North and South America and Hawaii, said Bernard Tan, the company’s VP of revenue and distribution management.
On an operational level, the market managers provide intel to the company’s revenue management team. That can be more difficult from a central location that doesn’t have that local insight, he said.
“Those relationships with those individual market managers are very critical to a lot of our strategies,” Tan said. “We need to know: ‘who’s stealing your share?’ … Those market managers provide very valuable intel about what’s happening, (for example) are there special events going on? We have so many resorts to look at, we have so much data … but we have to collate all this data at the same time.”
Transparency is also a critical element in any hotelier-OTA relationship, said Johnathan Capps, VP of revenue at Charlestowne Hotels.
“Take those parity issues, our organization, we just don’t accept technology anymore as an answer, or connectivity. They give us scores, we have a content score, on rate parity, but what does that mean? What’s behind that?” he said.
“We all receive parity reports in our inbox daily. We (at Charlestowne) turn that around in reverse; we send those reports; we ask for answers the same way they would with us. Transparency is our goal. We’re pushing for answers.”