Adding Google Hotel Finder to the mix
 
Adding Google Hotel Finder to the mix
05 AUGUST 2011 6:45 AM

Panelists at the Hotel Data Conference discussed how to better use OTAs to drive ADR and RevPAR, as well as how to add the new Google products to the channel management mix.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—The effect of online travel agencies on the distribution process is an inevitable topic in any hotel revenue discussion. Google’s recent Hotel Finder deployment gave panelists at the third annual Hotel Data Conference even more to talk about as they discussed the role the product will play in channel management.

Some hoteliers are concerned the product—which is essentially a build out of the search engine’s Google Places feature that allows users to search for and compare hotels by region, Google reviews and price comparisons—doesn’t always display brand.com rates during a search. Hotel Finder is still a very limited experiment, though, said Cara Shortsleeve, manager, online sales & operations at Google.

While anyone with a Google account can be involved, she suggested evaluating what it will cost in terms of time and effort and determining whether or not it is worth the return.

That notion of ROI is an important one in any distribution channel analysis, the panelists agreed. In an industry where pricing has become so transparent, hoteliers need to evaluate which channel is going to get the best returns, said Erich Jankowski, director of corporate revenue management for Host Hotels & Resorts. 

While many hoteliers bemoan the high costs of playing in the OTA arena, the panelists suggested leveraging the tools built into those costs to drive rate and revenue per available room.

Jake Stein, strategic accounts director at Expedia, summed it up in a few words: “Being able to command ADR is completely up to the supplier.”

Stein said Expedia provides data that helps hoteliers make these decisions. He used the example of this year’s Super Bowl in Dallas. They were able to draw from experiences during the previous year’s Super Bowl in Fort Lauderdale to provide comprehensive pricing strategies to help hotels in Dallas maximize occupancy and rates.

Any strategy must take the traveler into account, Shortsleeve said.

“When Google thinks of ADR, they can be that platform to communicate your brand to consumers. That’s helping hoteliers reach consumers whether they are on a desktop, thinking and researching, or whether they are on a mobile device, 10 miles from your property, thinking, ‘Where am I going to stay tonight?’” she said.

Flash sales and daily deals
The panelists had mixed reviews on the proliferation of flash sales and daily deals, such as Groupon. 

Lew Harasymiw advised attendees to use them only to get people in the door, at which point internal marketing strategies should be deployed to get them to stay.

“People aren’t going to stay in a hotel for one night because they are giving them half off, and then go to the next hotel because they are giving half off,” said the director of interface solutions at Sabre Hospitality Solutions. “People will continue to stay at the regular price if they have a good experience at the hotel.”

Host’s Jankowski prefers to see less of daily deals altogether: “Groupon rates are cheap, and then the customer’s perception is that that’s the price of the room. That’s what the value of the guestroom becomes,” he said.

The mobile channel
According to Stein, mobile bookings only make up a small percentage of overall bookings. Still, hoteliers are giving a lot of focus to creating efficient ways for their customers to book on mobile devices.

Harasymiw said the problem with apps is that no one will download a brand app, but they will download an Expedia app. The solution here is to create a mobile-friendly site that is easy for consumers to navigate.

Shortsleeve referenced a study that asked smartphone users how they felt when they navigated to a website that wasn’t mobile-friendly on their devices. The top answer is that it felt worse than waiting in line at the DMV.

“Don’t make your users wait at the DMV. It’s really hard out there,” she said.

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