Exclusive ITB Feature:
Competition is hot among hotel websites and online travel agencies and knowing how to make the most of online resources to get more bookings is becoming more of an issue as customers move increasingly to the internet.
Whether to use OTAs or to stick with a hotel website was the topic of a session looking at online distribution at ITB Berlin on Thursday as a panel discussed pricing and the impact of social media.
"Globalization has led to a change in client behaviour," said Mark Friesen, a pricing expert with Quinta Consulting. "In Germany, people are aware of price and look at that more than anything else. Hotels try to use price as a unique selling point…some hotels, which classify themselves as premium when in a situation of dire straits cut prices and then people get used to a lower price and this is really difficult."
Customer concerns about pricing have led to people looking increasingly for hotels and accommodations through booking websites.
"Customers are punished if they book directly through hotel websites because they get better prices anywhere else," said Alexander Pyhan, senior director of global e-commerce channels at Marriott International. "That's something hotels have to come to terms with."
Still, this can lead to a problem for hoteliers, who do not want to pay the fee for services such as Expedia.
"The hotel business is to blame," Pyhan added. "We shouldn't compete with online travel agencies. If people have booked through one of those services, when they enter the hotel, we should provide a service which means the customer doesn't only become loyal to the hotel, but also to the distributor."
However, he added that OTAs are not for everyone.
"Every hotel needs to set its own strategic priorities," he said. "You don't have to cooperate with everyone, not each distribution channel is the same. Define for yourself – they are not always appropriate for everybody."
And if hotels do want to do their own sales, they should make it simple, said Susanne Weiss, CEO of Ringhotels. "Customers want it to be simple," she said. "If there are pages of description, customers won't read it. Simple sales are what sell."
Still, the panelists agreed that one of the best ways to get bookings was to leave the marketing to previous guests who have enjoyed their stay and give reviews via social media channels – something that could also lead to higher rates.
But Pyhan said that any hotels wanting to do that should be careful in order to gain the trust of their customers.
"Better reviews mean higher rates that we can ask for. However, we realised that if we post our own reviews customers don't believe it," he said, adding that third party review sites such as TripAdvisor were better trusted and that links to such sites could help.
Whether through OTAs or via hotel websites, panelists said hotel offerings should certainly be online.
"Everybody should use the internet," said Michael Buller, chairman of the Association of Internet Travel Distribution. "It's important that medium-sized enterprises should have more internet skills."This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Louise Osborne is a correspondent and editor based in Berlin, Germany. She began her career working at regional newspapers in the UK and now works with journalists across the globe as part of international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). Living abroad for the second time, she continues to be fascinated by places both near and far, and boards a plane eagerly, as often as she can.
Louise writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com