Article from Meleri at the Falcondale Hotel. http://www.thefalcondale.co.uk/home

On-line third party agents are companies such as booking.com, expedia, laterooms, etc. These companies are the experts at getting guests to book through their websites spending millions on mail shots, TV advertising and clever pay-per-click advertising on-line. As smaller businesses we cannot compete on the same level, and so here at The Falcondale we try and embrace the inevitable and work with them using a business model that suits us.

Challenges

The commissions that these companies charge can vary from 15% to 25%, and as businesses we need to be aware of this. The majority of the OTA’s insist on providing them with either the best room prices, or at least the same price as all the other OTA’s. They even have clever technology that checks each other’s prices and sends you automatic emails if there are any discrepancies. We lose the personal touch with the customer as everything from the booking to the confirmation is automated on-line. How do we ensure that the availability for all the differing OTA’s are updated whenever we take a room booking?

Embracing

Here at The Falcondale the OTA that brings us most bookings is Booking.com followed by Expedia (which also encompasses Hotels.com, Venere and others). We found that the only way to manage availability and rates is to use a channel manager that configures with our PMS system. We use Guestline, but I know that Mid Wales Tourism are involved with Guestlink / NVG who have a channel manager, and there are other systems such as High Level Software more suited for smaller properties. Be aware that the channel manager may also charge you a commission of around 2% to 5%.

Remember with OTA’s that you are only paying for bookings that you receive – guaranteed rooms. You are not paying up front for an advert within a publication or on a website. It is in the interest of the OTA to sell as many rooms as they can. Although they are very strict on their on-line pricing policies there are ways around this. Nothing stops you from advertising a lower rate on your own website, in other publications, or within your own property.

Top Tips on how to use OTA’s

  1. Send them as many high resolution, high quality pictures as you can. Include images of yourselves as owners or managers, lounges, exterior, gardens, any special features as well as the bedrooms themselves
  2. Try and choose the most appropriate room descriptions as you can, highlight the special features of that room or room type. Specifically, four-posters, what type of view (gardens, lake, sea, valley, countryside), country, classic, modern. This makes a big difference to the guest when faced with many options in different properties.
  3. Spend time and complete as many of the questions that you can, even the optional ones, within their extranet systems. The more information you give the more likely it is to get to the customer. Some of the information they ask for may not be obvious to us as to why they need to know, but believe me the OTA’s are only asking questions that their customers are asking.
  4. Always, always, always check your listing on the public page of the OTA. If something doesn’t look right go back to the extranet and change it, or if you struggle to find how phone or email the customer service department. These details are normally found within the extranet. I’ve found them to be pretty good to deal with.
  5. Try using the public web page of the OTA to make an actual booking at your property. Understand how the customer is seeing your business. Are the images good enough, are the descriptions accurate, is it clear what’s included within the price i.e. room only, bed and breakfast? Is there an opportunity of selling a higher priced room, or extra items i.e. breakfast, dinner?
  6. Take a look at how other similar properties to you are advertising themselves on the OTA websites. I find it easier to pick a different part of the country, i.e. Devon, and see how easy it would be to find your type of property within that area. Compare with your own, you may find ideas or inspiration.
  7. The OTA websites are updated quite often. I would recommend re-visiting your page every 3-4 months to check what is new. You may find that you are missing out on a new opportunity.

 

Earlier in 2015 I spent a week on the Booking.com extranet re-configuring the Falcondale room types and updating the information. I am glad to report that the effort has paid off with on-line OTA bookings doubled from last year.

Our next step is to try and convert these users to book direct at a lower rate (no commission charges). My belief that this would be an easy conversion has been proven wrong. Having spoken to many of these guests it turns out that they have a strong connection with these sites, and that the price is not their only motivation when making a booking.

For example, when using Booking.com guests can overview all the bookings they have made, past and future, within the one app. Once the guest has set-up their account bedrooms can be booked literally with one click – very easy. The Booking.com app can also be linked to the guests’ calendar app or iphone calendar, and warns the guest if they’ve booked two different properties on the same night. Clever stuff!

It seems that these techno loving guests are going to continue using their gadgets to make bookings in this impersonal way, no matter what we try and do to tempt them away. Therefore, here at The Falcondale we will continue charging a higher price on the OTA websites to cover the majority of the commission charges that are associated with these bookings.