According to recent studies, the Metasearch Direct Marketing Channel for Hotels is working well for small hotels. Using the latest technology, a hotel can now get listed on the metasearch engines to get more direct bookings at a lower cost than with the competing Online Travel Agents (OTAs).
As Max Starkov, CEO of HeBS Digital, says: “Direct online bookings are by far the most lucrative and cost-efficient bookings at any hotel… across the HeBS hotel client portfolio, the average direct channel distribution costs (property website) are 4.5%, compared to the hefty OTA commissions of 18%-25%.”
What is a Metasearch Platform
Metasearch is somewhere in between hotel direct sales and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) assisted bookings. Many hotels are now creating listings of direct bookings on these cost compare giants with the help of new Metasearch agents like Seekda.com. It is a smart way to market in the age of smart data marketing.
Metasearch platforms are the search sites that allow travelers to search for accommodation across many travel sites. They are the internet comparison shopping sites. You may be familiar with Kayak. It originally presented travelers with a spectrum of hotel booking options before sending a traveler to an OTA to close the sale. That model has evolved to include booking buttons directly within the results. It is called ‘metasearch’ because it consolidates info from several places. They work closely with OTAs like Booking.com.
Trivago is one of the newest and fastest growing of these platforms. It represents over 1 million hotels and compares prices from over 250 booking sites. These include all the OTAs as well as some major chain hotels, destination sites and a growing number of small hotels that hook up with meta agents like Seekda.
You may have seen Trivago in operation, on TV and in the news. It plays big in advertising and on the net. With Trivago and sites like it, users can search for hotels by name or by keywords, such as “San Diego” or “St. Lucia Villas”. They can sort the search results by price and feature to help them in their buying decision.
Often a hotel may show up with a lowest price on one OTA (e.g., Expedia) for specific dates, while a competing property may have a lower price on Booking.com. Users can pick and choose among many options. This means they do not have to shop around on the OTA sites, destination sites or hotel sites directly.
Well… that is in theory. Best Rates are never made public because OTAs tie hotels up with “Rate Parity Clauses” that forbid them to make a better deal public.
The Fallacy of Best Deals
What travelers don’t fully understand is that hotels are contractually bound not to publish prices that undercut the OTA. Hotels and other sites can, however, privately offer best deals that are not displayed to the public. More and more hotels are pushing the benefits of booking direct with a program that lets guests register to get best rates and special offers.
Google’s limited offer is an example of just that. Hotels on this program may discount the price significantly. However, searchers must be logged into their Google account to see the best deal. This is an addition to the normal search results that show hotels that match the search criteria (e.g., St. Lucia Hotels) and are ranked in Google search results.
The Special Offers displayed are only for the hotels in the program and require that the hotels are aligned with a Google booking partner. This is a little different to the Google Hotels Ads.
Google Goes Meta with Commission Based Hotel Ads
Today, Google Hotel Ads takes over from Google Places and Hotel Finder.
It lets travelers who are ready to buy click a Book button on the search results and get a display of rates and booking options.
In the details for a hotel, Google shows the OTAs and Hotel’s own website if the hotel is subscribing to the service through a Goggle-preferred booking partner.
With their partner booking engines, a user can book the hotel directly. The booking engine partner takes a small handling fee or commission and the hotel offers a minimum 10% commission to Google.
The whole arrangement is handled by the Google-preferred booking partner and does not include booking with OTAs. The booking is called a direct booking but it is, in fact, an agent-assisted transaction. It is very similar to a booking with Expedia, except in this case, the OTA is Google. That is not a word that “the big G” likes but it is pretty close to what they are doing. The fact is they are showing many options so, in reality, they are a meta search cost compare site. The difference is that they are also taking the lion’s share of the commission. This is not typical with other Metas, which send the bookings to the OTA or their own subscribers.
With Google Ads, commission starts at 10% but the partner engine and hotel customer can choose between 10, 12 or 15%. Commissions can be adjusted to get better expose as the higher commissions get better placement and more bookings.
TripAdvisor Moves into Meta Space
TripAdvisor, know for its Hotel Reviews, is also emerging as a metasearch platform, although its route is quite complex and filled with spikes. These ‘spikes’ include its instant booking, its ties with Booking.com and its own TripConnect that ties into hotel booking engines.
Although TripAdvisor started out as a review site, it has over the last few years moved into the bookings space aggressively. It works closely with Booking.com to offer instant bookings on all of the Booking.com properties and will also pull in rates from other OTAs. Its own instant bookings are also offered using the agent model of the OTAs. That simply means that they charge a commission if the guest stays at your hotel and you do not get charged either per click or if browsers see your listing on their site.
Although the commissions can be less, they will range from 8% to 20% based on the marketing package you choose.
Hotels get pretty frustrated when trying to understand metasearch and often think they are just OTAs. In some cases they are – for instance, Kayak is owned by Priceline and Trivago is owned by Expedia. TripAdvisor is closely aligned with Booking.com, so when your hotel shows up on one of these, you may get booked via the OTA.
Google is new in the bookings game and they are blurring the lines that were drawn between search and bookings. That was inevitable as OTAs have, over the years, become the search engines for travel. Cost comparison is imperative for a traveler looking for hotels and Google really had no option but to get into that game.
I wrote about this happening a long time ago and said then that Google had to compete with OTAs or lose their relevance as a search engine for travel. At one time small hotels were ranked on Google’s first page for relevant keywords. Today small hotel brands are ranking for brand searches but hardly ever for relevant terms. OTAs have filled that space.
Unless you show up in the metasearch results with links to your own website or to a friendly Metasearch agent booking service, you will get booked by an OTA or not at all.
Metasearch Management Systems
With today’s technology, we now have metaserach management systems that help hotels get displayed directly in the cost compare aggregator sites. Hotels can manage their experience across all metasearch engines. That means manage rates, availability, photos, content and appearance.
This is great for hotels as it now means that even small hotels, villas, apartments, B&Bs and resorts of all kinds can compete for direct bookings against the established OTAs.
It gives independent hotels and accommodation suppliers the ability to be seen alongside the OTAs. It is a chance for users to book directly on a hotel’s own site, thus shifting some away from OTAs.
Metasearch management with companies like Seekda sees a growing trend for shoppers to check out the direct booking option, especially if it is managed in a way that illustrates the advantages of booking direct.
These services lower the cost per client acquisition as metasearch rates are less than OTAs’.