Something is stirring in the world of hospitality and it’s pretty hard to miss – a direct booking battle has emerged between hotels & online travel agencies (OTAs), with more and more chains getting involved. In this 2-part series we look at how hotels are fighting back, standing on their own two feet by withholding their low rates from major OTAs and keeping them for themselves, as both big and small hotel companies know that now is the time to win rate parity battles and inspire brand loyalty.
While OTAs have for several years been at the forefront of online travel bookings, a revolution, led by hotels, is beginning to unfold around us, using brand loyalty and member rewards. Big chains are working extremely hard to let their customers know the advantages of booking directly, getting the message across that surfing big OTA sites for lower rates is unnecessary.
Arguably Marriott have led the movement offering member rewards, providing discounts off the lowest available public rates, the catch being that this discount is only applicable for those who book directly through their website or mobile app. Although this has been a widely discussed topic this year, Mariott began the ‘book direct push’ with their campaign, It pays to book direct! in August 2015.* Additionally, in April they launched new hotel rates for Marriott Rewards loyalty members – hoping to dispel the myth that one can only get the lowest rates through other travel websites.
Marriott are not alone. Other large chains have made the move to take on the OTA’s, seeing the benefits of offering member rewards. Earlier this year Hilton launched their latest marketing campaign, Stop Clicking Around , which promotes direct booking - offering discounts of up to 10% on room rates for all of its hotels for Hilton HHonors members, who book direct.
Brand loyalty is not the only way hotels have attempted to secure direct bookings of late. Last November Booking.com began firing legal threats at its hotel partners who had installed a price check widget provided by Triptease which displays their room rates alongside the OTA’s, demonstrating that their rates are just as low, if not lower than OTA’s. The widget worked by sitting on the hotel website showing the price for the room at the property alongside different OTA prices -See below IHG displaying their own room rate, along with Expedia & Hotels.com.
Booking.com insisted that Triptease had not only been unlawfully accessing data, but the data was inaccurate and not representative of correct prices, demanding they remove the Booking.com brand and rates, or alternatively removed the widget entirely.
No other hotel-related topic has been as widely discussed over the past few months than that of the direct bookings push, with large chains getting increasingly aggressive in their marketing to achieve this. So now the OTAs and hotels stand well and truly in battle, we can only speculate where it will go from here. What seems most likely is that the hotels will continue to win more and more rate parity battles by simply inspiring loyalty, and the OTAs with a "if you can’t beat them, join them" attitude will not only start playing them at their own game but will begin helping hotel companies boost their own loyalty programs in a bid to end this war.