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 thebenefits 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 Frustrated Trying To Understand the Differences
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’.
It’s not happened yet but MetaSearch is Evolving as a BookDirect Channel. The future looks bright as news services to help hotel list directly are coming online. Meta search is another name for the hotel comparison sites, like Trivago, that show multiple prices from multiple sources for the same hotel.
New Services help Hotel Get Booked Direct on Metasearch
Traditionally they get their content from OTAs, but that is changing as new hotel friendly booking services are evolving to help small hotel display their properties along site the OTAs in metasearch. An example is Seekda.com metasearch.To use it hotels signup and set an advertising budget. Seekda staff will setup the property, rooms, villa, seasons and rates.
The hotel manager then needs to show when a unit is available and when it is not. They set a budget which is used to advertise the hotel on the metasearch cost compare sites. It can be CPC (cost per click, like Adwords) or a CPA (cost per action which is usually a %). The management system charges a small % on all bookings transacted (usually about 4). It is a lot less than the cost through an OTA.
Return on Investment
The thing to balance is how much you are willing to spend on advertising and to calculate your expected return on investment (ROI). You can start by setting a budget at bout $100 US per month and see how that works. So lets say you get just 2 booking in the first month. Advertising has cost you $50 per booking. In addition you have 4% in fees. If your average stay is 10 days at $200 per day your revenue is $2000 x 2 bookings = $4000. It has cost you $160 (at 4%) plus $50 for a total of $210. that just 5.25%.
The equation can change based on actual room rates and length of stay. But at half the expectation the commission is still well under what OTAs charge. In some case it can be better to have a fixed rate per booking rather that a % and that is often negotiable with the Metasearch agent.
Good News for Hotels
This is good news for hotel that are looking to bolster their Book Direct strategies and are working to balance more direct booking with traditional distribution and online agents.
For More Details on Meta search in Tourism see our next blog where we will look more closely at how the meta-search engines work.
This blog covers how TripAdvisor and Google Hotel Ads are evolving as meta-search cost compare channels. It also compare these new meta channels with traditional distribution. More Details >>>
Keep tune we will be doing a more on this issue very soon.
There seems to be a growing interest in alternative accommodation and especially what is now being called the Vacation Rentals market. That terms was made popular by Flipkey and then became an established category on TripAdvisor when they took over FlipKey. All the while sites like HomeAway, Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) and dozens of villa rentals, and apartments for rent sites were competing for market share. Airbnb created a storm with its aggressive advertising and positioning. Now the German company HomeToGo, a metasearch engine for vacation rentals, is launching its USA service.
Part of the reason that vacation rentals are more attractive is the gradual shift away from cookie-cutter holiday to the do it yourself mentality of the Independent minded Traveller. This market has been around for ages but its more in vogue today as the travel market matures. It is also how the new millennials like to travel.
Many resorts are gearing up to cater exclusive to these travelers. An example is St. Lucia’s Ocean View Villa resort ; Poinsettia. Their website featuring private villa apartments for rent in St. Lucia has several pages dedicated to Independent travel and helpful tips for those who are looking for the authentic Caribbean holiday experience away from the crowds.
In the article HomeToGo points out that “Currently served by large home-share companies, the US online travel industry is fragmented in regards to vacation rentals with thousands of companies in the US alone. Searching and comparing vacation rentals can be time-consuming and confusing due to overlapping inventory and booking fees.
Tripping CEO Jen O’Neal says that the recent merger of HowmeAway with Expedia is good for business: “This is great news for HomeAway, Expedia, and the industry as a whole. It shows that vacation rentals are becoming increasingly mainstream and that OTAs need to have a solid stake in VR to remain competitive.”
The Meta-booking now established in hotel search, and especially on TripAdvisor, is now being adapted to vacation rentals. This, O’Neal adds that “Tripping will facilitate around one million meta-bookings by next year”. Tey are not alone: – There is lots of competion and many new entries such as the Vacatia with its resort rental marketplace which raised $8.8 million to launch.
1. A few things have been dropped from the 2011 Hotel Finder beta.
a. The ability to define a may area (with a mouse or touch) is gone. With it users could draw a circle, square or any rectangular shape on the map as a catchment area. All hotels in that area will then be listed under the map and highlighted on the map. It was an impressive technology feature but probably not all that exciting for the average user.
b. Google hotel content is gone, so to has Google’s own reviews. This indicates, I think, that Google is moving away from being a full service provider at this time. This is good news for advertisers and especially the Online Travel Agents.
2. The new Hotel Finder now links direct to hotels that are listed in Finder. It also shows costs for the various OTA vendors of the property. Hotels website are also linked in the OTA price list, they are at the very bottom of the list. Previously Google linked to the OTAs and the hotel link was to Googles own version of the hotel site. The change is a significant advantage for hotels.
3. The Hotel Finder list is short – 7 to 10 properties are listed. Google is selecting hotels that it ranks as authority sites. That is they are mapped, have good SEO and page authority. They are listed in local destination sites like Barbados.org and cited in directories like yelp.
Google has made some significant changes to its hotel finder listings. The details are covered in the video below. in summary herre are the key points How to get listed on Hotel Finder
Several companies are springing up to help local hotels get listed. Unfortunately the space is very restricted and not everyone will succeed. Our guess is that Hotel Finder will become a new standard for all of Google Search result, but that may take years to roll out. It is vital that hotels start to understand what it takes to rank on google and plan for it now. When you look at who is on Hotel Finder you get an idea of what it takes. We have a video on that but in a nutshell: Hotels that make it to finder or the first page of search results have quality content, use rich media, have social proof, have relevant quality backlinks and a site that people like.
The Trouble with Search Ranking
Hotels will still have difficultly in getting on the first page of search results for several reasons, most importantly they don’t have the content of OTAS who Google favours. OTAs have very fined tunes SEO strategies, good social engagement and all of the factors that create authority on search engines, they are also huge advertising partners with search engines. For more see the YouTube Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfxsMUoRcBI
Still small hotels can get be on the first page of results as we have shown. Hotels should move to get onto hotel Finder now. Space is limited and first in line do get a preference. What you do to get onto this spot will boost your search engine marketing, SEO success and organic listing well into the future.
Hotel Advertising Made Easier
At the same time as rolling out the new Finder, Google has made changes to its hotel adverting package, making it easier for browsers to click to hotel advertisers. Advertising is one way to get on top of the page. With the new pack Google has put Hotel Ads further up the page giving them far greater exposure and streamlined process.
Nicholas Ward, president of Koddi, sums it up as:
The old way:
Click the ad
View the hotel list on Google Hotel Finder
Click on a hotel selection
Click a Hotel Ad to navigate to the partner booking site
The streamlined process is:
Select the hotel
Click a Hotel ad
Romain Roulleau, senior vice president, ecommerce, at Accor Hotels notes: “I would say for everyone, the two leaders [in Europe] are Trivago and TripAdvisor,” says hotels. “That’s obvious. One of the fastest growing is Google Hotel Price Ads and Google Hotel Finder, especially with the way they are now putting more of the display in the Google search engine.”
The Biggest media player is Google:
Major online travel agencies have invested billions of dollars in TV advertising over the past few years. Now Google is offering a alternative that could erode their position, and it is doing it without TV advertising. “Google, after all, has something the meta-search players and online travel agencies don’t have — it has prime placement on Google.”… Romain Roulleau. The infograph is not included in the Skiff article that propted this review, but it will help you when reading the discussion on the Google Hotel Ads Pack.
How Paid Ads Supersede Hotel Finder
The InfoGraphics (below) is helpful in understanding the importance of Hotel Finder in search. Hotel Ads, however, don’t rely on the Finder as they used to. Paid Ads now link direct to the advertiser.
How interesting it is that time changes so much “For Expedia, which spun out TripAdvisor in late 2011, the issue comes down to transparency in that Expedia wouldn’t want travelers to be confused into thinking that TripAdvisor is actually doing the transaction.”
That made sense a few years ago but to day Expedia is “open to be a partner in TripAdvisor’s assisted bookings: so says Expedia’s CFO Mark Okerstrom.
Today now sites like Kayak and other Meta data aggregaters already offer assisted bookings where the traveler completes the reservation on their sites or apps. In all cases an OTA booking engine “White Label” is is actually providing the transaction service.
But TripAdvisor is making a big play on the idea tha it is a Hotel and Supplier friendly service – send direct bookings to its hotel partners.
How will it be different now to all other OTAS if it closes the booking on its site?
Seems to me they may be shooting themselves in the foot.