IN THE FIELD WITH DAVID ESSERYK -Part 4 / Online Booking

It’s clear… the future of travel bookings is online

David Esseryk, the Accor Group’s vice president of consumer technologies, is in charge of guest-facing technology for all brands. In this regular report, he looks at how online channels, including online travel agencies and hotel websites, are growing dramatically in hotel bookings.

Together, brand.com sites and OTAs account for nearly half of all leisure bookings, while the number of travellers who prefer calling the hotel directly, calling the brand’s free number, walking in or booking through a travel agent continues to wane, according to recent data from TravelClick. Travellers now have access to far more information through comparison websites, search engines and online travel agents. Sales through these channels typically have high commission rates and are taking an increasing share of bookings across the travel and hospitality sector.

While the old-fashioned channels cannot be forgotten (as they still represent about half of leisure bookings today, and are often the most profitable), revenue managers are shifting their focus to the channels that are growing the fastest. So just how are distribution experts developing their strategies to keep up with the shift in booking demand?

Online channels may not be the most profitable, but it’s important for hotels to be present there because it’s most often where travellers begin their search. Most people use a number of sources—and devices—when planning their travel, with almost half moving across devices during their trip-planning process.

According to recent PhoCusWright research, travellers visit between 2.4-3.4 websites in each of the three booking stages: destination selection, shopping and purchasing. Therefore, hoteliers need to make sure their hotels are listed on many different channels.

INTRODUCING METASEARCH

Metasearch sites, which conduct searches across multiple travel sites and allow the user to comparison-shop rates and availability, are developing rapidly and threaten to shake up the brand.com and OTA dominance.

Metasearch is faster than hotel suppliers, optimising their content—specifically user-generated content—to appear more desirable in metasearch displays. Much of the advantage comes down to cost, where OTAs have traditionally had larger marketing budgets to spend on pay-per-click models. However, Hilton Worldwide, InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott International, to an extent, have made great strides in the arena.

Metasearch offers hotels the ability to raise awareness among potential guests, but given that Google has already become the largest metasearch provider, it’s likely metasearch is improving guests’ awareness of price more than property. Travellers increasingly want to shop at one place that provides all options. The one who wins will look beyond just pricing and focus on other value-added opportunities, such as better images, reviews and room type options.