The #BookDirect Guest Education Day, recurs on the first Wednesday in February. The Second Annual Book Direct Guest Education Day is February 6, 2019. It surprises me how many times a guest thinks they are on our website, but they are actually on a Online Travel Agent’s (OTA’s) website.
Then I learned of a Google survey conducted by a collaboration of bed and breakfast industry professionals. The results of the study indicate that 70% of travelers think that Google’s Book a Room button goes directly to the hotel or they do not know where it goes. We decided it was important to take this opportunity to educate potential guests.
Book Direct Guest Education Day
Book Direct Guest Education Day is an online movement where independently owned bed and breakfasts and other accommodations instruct the traveling public about the benefits of booking direct with the property owner. At the Hawthorn Inn, guests have the following benefits when they book direct
- Can book any available room
- Have access to all specials and packages
- Get the best rates including Military and AAA discounts
- Can speak to someone who knows each room intimately and can answer all questions about the room
- Room descriptions are explicit so the guest can select the room that best meets their needs
- Overall have more flexibility and a better booking experience
- Keep their dollars local and support a small business
- When there is need to change or cancel a reservation, we can take care of it for you quickly and efficiently.
OTAs are the booking sites such as Expedia and Booking.com. The OTAs distribute inventory to their partners, where we have absolutely no control, no oversight and no ability to prevent this distribution.
OTA Description Limitations
As these companies have a global reach, they try to make all properties conform to a standard set of descriptors to describe the rooms. This standard language makes it easier for translation into multiple languages. However, it does not provide us much flexibility in accurately describing each room. The OTAs also try to maximize their conversion rate so they are constantly changing the platform. They are most interested in the guest purchasing, not necessarily that they guest finds the perfect room for his/her vacation. A guest may never see a description because on the OTA site it is buried 2 or 3 levels deep. We stopped putting some of our rooms on the OTAs because we are not able to completely control the description to ensure it accurately describes each room.
The OTAs use marketing tactics to facilitate conversion. Sometimes these tactics are somewhat misleading. As a bed and breakfast, each of our rooms is unique. We only have one room that matches each description. In the screenshot to the right, there is pressure to hurry up and buy because there is only 1 room left. There was only one of that room type to begin with! As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, we are made to confirm to their parameters. Our refund policy is if you cancel 14 days out from your stay, we will refund the deposit minus a $30 processing fee. This OTA does not have any way for me to configure the same policy. As a result, we state the policy as non-refundable.
Guests sometimes tell us that they believe that they get the best rate on an OTA. The reality is that our contract with the OTAs say they cannot offer our rooms at a lower rate than we provide to them. As you see in the screenshot below, the price is the same regardless of the OTA. If you see a rate lower on an OTA, please call us. We will honor whatever rate they are advertising. Google does not display the rate found on our website. You need to click the Website link to find out.
Why list on an OTA?
So you are probably asking yourself if I have so many negative things to say about OTAs, why do we list on the OTAs?
- On the plus side, the OTAs have a global reach. The sites are translated into multiple languages. We have the opportunity to reach travelers that we may not reach otherwise.
- There are guests that travel frequently for work and as a result have perks with an OTA because of the volume of their stays. We would like to be relevant to these guests as well.
- The biggest reason, we have no choice. Google ranks the Local Listings based on OTA availability. If we do not have room availability for a desired date advertised on an OTA, then our visibility in the results of a search on “bed and breakfast in Camden, ME” is lower. Same is true on TripAdvisor.
Innkeeper Tips for #BookDirect
When you are planning travel,
- It may be helpful to look at an OTA for an aggregate of availability in a location.
- Narrow your selection to your desired lodging options
- Go direct to the lodging website to check availability and rate.
These tips are useful no matter where you plan to travel or what lodging accommodations that you choose. Test it for yourself, search on your favorite OTA, then Check Availability and our Promotions page. You will find more options and flexibility on our website than you will on the OTA. Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.