• Protecting your brand from Online Travel Agencies

As the Internet sets to take over the world and online travel reservations soar, it becomes critical in this day and age for brand owners to protect their patch of the online marketplace.

It’s a turf war between Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and tourism businesses as we fight to maintain our direct bookings.

In 2017, the giants of Expedia and Booking.com dominated more than 80% of the OTA market and inbound travellers booking through these sites increased almost 30% year on year according to stats published in the Herald.  Based on this it’s clear to see why OTA partnerships can be advantageous – helping boost our sales in the off-season and provide an avenue for flogging unsold inventory. However a balance between direct and commissioned sales needs to be sought in order to maintain our business competitiveness and longevity.

An argument against the OTA landscape

They hold excessive market share

The online market is dominated by a relatively small number of OTAs who are using their market share and bargaining power to charge an unfairly high rate of commission. Forecasts show that the Priceline Group (which owns Booking.com) and Expedia will control 94 per cent of all online hotel and attraction bookings by 2020.

There are many other players in the online distribution landscape, including Viator and TripAdvisor – which is becoming less of a review site, and more an integrated booking solution for everything related to travel experiences: hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals, attractions, etc. With some many aggregators, why wouldn’t consumers shop around?

Commissions can reach as high as 30%

OTA’s like Expedia, Travelocity, Viator, Kayak and Priceline charge commissions as high as 25% just for serving operators their bookings on a golden platter.

It is this high level of commission which has prompted the recent wars between brand name hotel chains and OTAs. They’re so sick of paying out that they’re investing in advertising campaigns to encourage direct bookings via their sites. Check out the “Stop clicking around” campaign by Hilton and the “It pays to book direct” by Marriott.

We lose control over the consumer journey

OTA platforms have a profound effect on the online experience. They act as gateways to our websites and apps, as intermediaries and as sellers of our tourism services. This places them at the heart of the huge numbers of transactions undertaken online.

When selling products over these platforms it is impossible to tell our full brand story. The confirmation emails, pre-travel updates and marketing material that we’d usually send are lost within the system and we rely on the intermediary to deliver this. Whereas if we have direct bookings we’re in direct contact with the consumer from the outset and can ensure their digital experience is managed.

They can muscle in on your brand name

Operators can often find OTAs are bidding on their brand name in online advertising. This concept is known as ‘brand hijacking’ and strikes a difficult balance as, whilst you would want the OTA to be successful so they can deliver you more business, you don’t want too much traffic to be diverted from your main service website.

You would assume that your website would be the first result in Google search if you typed in your full brand name and hit enter – provided your site is SEO friendly and has no reason to be penalised by Google. Why shouldn’t you appear at the top?

Yet this isn’t how it works.

Google places pay-per-click (PPC) ads first, and shows organic search results below these adverts. AdWords users are paying to receive premium placement, so Google rewards them with prime placement in search results. Even if your business’ website comes in as the first organic link in Google search results, there may be 3-4 PPC results above this. Some of these may have bidded directly on your brand name, which is a problem for many big-name tourism businesses.

So how can you protect your brand?

Bid on your own brand name with Google AdWords

Bidding on your own company name is considered a very effective form of brand protection, and generates the highest level of return on advertising investment. Doing this will allow you to appear in the PPC slot at the top of Google search results, and control the first messaging that a consumer sees about your company. Think about what your unique selling points are and communicate these in the advert text to clearly show the value you can offer by booking direct.

Bidding on your own brand name might feel counter-intuitive – after all, you are most likely #1 in organic rankings. But as OTA’s get more and more aggressive online, it’s one of the key ways to make sure your users find YOUR website (instead of theirs!)

Improve your quality score

Quality Score is how Google rates the quality and relevance of your keywords and PPC ads. It is used to determine your cost per click, and multiplied by your maximum bid to determine your ad rank as part of the auction process.

It is developed by analysing your website landing pages and accessing how closely these match the key phrases you are bidding on. It can also be influenced by click-through rate (CTR) and the historic performance of your AdWords account.

Quality Score = Lower Cost per Conversion

By optimizing your Quality Scores you’ll be setting yourself up for a higher ROI – because these scores also correlate to a lower cost per conversion. Cost per conversion is different from cost per click. It’s not how much you pay for each click, but how much you pay when someone takes the action you want them to take, whether that’s signing up for a free trial or making a product purchase.

Try the following to help improve your quality score:

  • Keyword Research– Discover new, highly relevant keywords to add to your campaigns, including long-tail opportunities that can contribute to the bulk of your overall traffic.
  • Keyword Organization– Split your keywords into tight, organized groups that can be more effectively tied to individual ad campaigns. Use the right keyword groups for each product/service you are promoting.
  • Refining Ad Text – Test out PPC ad copy that is more targeted to your individual ad groups. More effective ads get higher CTR, one of the best ways to improve Quality Score.
  • Optimizing Landing Pages – Follow landing page best practices to create pages that connect directly with your ad groups and provide a cohesive experience for visitors, from keyword to conversion.
  • Adding Negative Keywords– Continuously research, identify, and exclude irrelevant search terms that are wasting your budget.

Include local search ads in your marketing campaign

Local Search Ads show on Google search in the “local search results” section of the page, or on Google Maps when users are searching for nearby related businesses. An example of a search that may trigger this ad format would be  ’Show Hotels Near Me’.

These are great because they allow you to take up ad space within the local search results section of the page, where OTAs won’t be able to compete for.

Grab consumers with a retargeting strategy

Retargeting ads help bring back and convert guests who abandoned a website or shopping cart.

For example: a couple may visit your website while doing research for their honeymoon. They browse through your image gallery and check out the services on offer, before getting distracted and leaving the website. You can then use re-targeting campaigns to display adverts for your business on other well-known websites that the couple visit. These ads help bring them back and eventually complete their reservation.

You can also employ social re-targeting strategies to target consumers who have interacted with your website or social media accounts. This is effective if your brand has a strong social media presence – however you don’t want to encourage users to check out your business on social media if your last posts were in 2012!

Tell a deeper brand story

The Internet has become invaluable to attracting customers within the tourism space – and sharing your story can help you to pique interest. How? Instead of focusing solely on information about your tourism products, give your customers the opportunity to dive into what’s behind your company and your offerings. A family tradition? A personal goal to build a business? Your own travel experiences? Provide them with content that’s actually emotive instead of the sea of marketing jargon they’re bombarded with daily.

There’s also a wide range of formats to tell your story online, including videos, photos, other visuals, music, and text. Choose the ones that your business is strongest at, that your staff enjoy, and which flatter your brand the best.

Remember the best stories seduce and trap us. Build up grand imagery of your destination that inspires tourists; grow their desire to travel to your region and experience your products naturally. Then include compelling calls to action that allow you to close the sale.

As the travel distribution landscape continues to change, what remains key is that technology is the machine driving it all. In order to maintain competitive, tourism operators must master the digital space and walk the fine line between direct bookings and intermediaries.

So – how will you choose to navigate it?

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    The Maverick team has a clear passion for tourism, a wealth of knowledge with online customer experience, online marketing & ultimately booking conversions. We are very pleased with the results we have had so far.
  • Whakarewarewa

    The way you do your business is exceptional - you are all ‘can do’, love to go the extra mile, and get really excited about our product. Only two months in, our conversion rate is double what it was this time last year with our old website. I think that speaks for itself?

  • Rotorua Canopy Tours
    We have been working with Alex and the Maverick team for 5 years now - their dedication to making our business successful has never been doubted and as a result our business has gone from strength to strength because of their work.
  • Destination Coromandel
    We have to be focused on reaching our target markets with the right content in order to maximise our spend. Maverick Digital provide the expertise to make this connection work cost effectively.
  • Southern Lakes Helicopters
    Alex and her team at Maverick have been fabulous in putting together our new website – which we love, and are proud to show to the world. At all stages Alex kept in touch and listened to our thoughts and ideas and built these into the site, along with all the enhancements that the Maverick design team brought to the table. We are delighted with the end result!
  • Hobbiton Movie Set

    Working with the Maverick team has been a breeze. They understand our business needs and have quickly become a trusted and expert source of information on all things Digital. The monthly reports, regular comms and calls from Alex and the team ensures we are close to the data and are getting the best bang for our buck.