Contributed by Drew Rosser, V.P. of Sales, SHR

It’s time to rethink relationships with OTAs. Too many hoteliers are still taking an adversarial approach with these companies, but hard feelings can be put aside, a strong OTA relationship can be very helpful to a property’s business mix and its bottom line.

During a roundtable discussion held in Washington, D.C. last month and hosted by Hospitality Sales & Marketing International, SHR was honored with the opportunity to share with attendees a critical message; leveraging sites such as Expedia and Booking.com enhances and completes a well-rounded distribution strategy.

How OTAs Became Prominent

The OTA’s were born out of a confluence of technological advances, but also because the general hotel industry was never tech-savvy until recent years. This gave entry to disruptors to come in and reinvent how customers made hotel reservations. It’s easy to forget, but during this era, hotel company websites were little more than electronic brochures with limited booking capabilities. In aggregate, this created an adversarial relationship that’s never completely gone away.

But there are ways to use these sites to your advantage.

Change Your Thinking

Stop looking at OTAs as simply a quick source of incremental revenue, or a place to sell distressed inventory. It’s a dead end that’ll keep you thinking negatively about maximizing opportunity here. These companies have more marketing dollars than even the largest hotel companies; they are just that big. So you must find ways to leverage this reality to your advantage.

Plus in many cases, your hotel won’t ever appear higher in organic searches. The entire OTA business is constructed around getting eyeballs on their sites. And they have done a tremendous job in this regard. Essentially, the customer sees OTAs as a brand as much as the one on your hotel. It’s inexorably changed the rules of customer engagement.

Instead, think of them as part of your demand strategy for distribution. Have a goal in mind for target acquisition of new customers, and again, do not limit this to distressed inventory.

Make Customers Love You

Remember, your expertise is about creating great customer experiences. When a customer appears at your hotel’s front desk, and they happened to book a room on an OTA, you will have a perfect opportunity to make these people loyal customers. Do not treat them like they’re the OTA’s customer, treat them like yours.

Give these customers the same dedication you would your most loyal guests. The room they paid for probably cost the same as the one on your dedicated website, so why treat them as something lesser?  If you treat them differently, they’ll never return. But if you make them feel special, you can win their hearts.

Tip: be sure to ask those guests for their email addresses, then market directly to them so they’ll book direct the next time they come your way.

And ensure that your distribution tools and strategy allow your booking engine to match the experience and value they had when they booked via the OTA.

Leverage OTA Programs

Build a relationship with OTAs. They all have programs designed to help you achieve better visibility, perhaps better ratings, and most definitely more business. Ask your regional representative to discuss how you can better leverage OTA resources to your advantage.

Even major hotel companies are seeing this as an opportunity, and are looking to turn adversarial relationships into vibrant partnerships. Red Lion Hotels Corporation, now one of the top 10 largest hotel companies in the world after their acquisition of Vantage Hospitality Group last month, completed a landmark deal with Expedia.

Now Expedia site seekers can access Red Lion member-only rates that also gets customers registered with Red Lion’s Hello Rewards guest recognition program. As an added bonus, customers also get access to benefits from both Expedia.com or Hotels.com.

Remember, it’s up to you to have a comprehensive guest acquisition strategy. Smartly leveraging the power OTAs have achieved with customers will set you up for heightened business success. Use all the tools available to you, and you’ll find thinking a new way about OTAs puts you in control of your hotel’s future.

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