How to Eliminate OTA Price Undercutting on Hotel Metasearch

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It’s a familiar problem for most hoteliers – your direct channel is visible on metasearch and you’re ready to start generating bookings, but OTA price undercutting is driving traffic away from your website. With 61% of all direct prices that appear in meta-auctions are underpriced by at least one other OTA, it’s not something you want to take lightly.

It’s tempting to blame poor performance on your metasearch provider, but that overlooks the central role hoteliers need to play in controlling their rate distribution and improving their metasearch parity. A powerful metasearch campaign requires the cooperation of both hotelier and supplier.

In this article, we’ve collected some tips from our recently launched Ultimate Guide to Hotel Metasearch to help you combat OTA price undercutting and ensure your provider is in the best possible position to deliver strong performance. Want to learn more about what you can do to drive more direct bookings from this channel? Read all the way down and download the full guide by filling out the form.

Be sure to monitor the right price sources

Before you can seriously tackle price undercutting on metasearch, it’s essential to have a routine in place to monitor OTA pricing. We pointed out before that monitoring prices on metasearch is a different ball game than doing it on your booking engine. Since meta is an extremely price-sensitive channel, you’ll want to keep track of all participating OTAs (even “random.com” OTAs you may never have heard of). You will also need to analyze pricing in a way that reflects how customers actually perceive your direct price.

Doing this manually is an impossible task given that different clients see different metasearch results all the time. That’s why leveraging the right technology is so crucial. Triptease’s new Metasearch Parity Insights dashboard makes it easy to see how often you’re underpriced on metasearch, by analyzing every impression your direct price receives. The dashboard provides essential insights that can help you generate more direct revenue, with features like live reports on your most frequent OTAs and their impact on your click-through rate and booking volumes.

Source: Triptease
Source: Triptease

But are all the OTA rates analyzed by the Metasearch Parity Insights dashboard accurate? We often hear hoteliers complain about OTAs displaying incorrect prices. Some OTAs show rates for the wrong rooms — and even for the wrong properties — making them cheaper for customers. We are also seeing an increase in bait and switch, the situation where a rate displayed on metasearch is not available to book when clicked. This is especially common on small “random.com” OTAs.

Is it still important to address these inaccurate rates? The answer is absolutely yes. This is still a form of price undercutting and it plays an equally important role in driving traffic away from your website and reducing direct booking volumes. In what follows, we’ll share some tips to help you regain control of your distribution and improve your price parity on metasearch, even against malicious OTA activity.

Take back control of your rate distribution

Dealing with OTAs that repeatedly undervalue your direct price on metasearch is important in driving change. But remember that price undercutting can be symptomatic of deeper issues with your price distribution. It is essential to pay attention to this too.

Source: Triptease

Most of the underselling activity we see on metasearch comes from smaller “random.com” OTAs that source from third-party wholesalers and their affiliates. If you have access to the Metasearch Parity Insights dashboard, take a look and see which OTAs are undermining you most frequently – how many of them are you actively working with? If your rates are advertised by non-contracted OTAs, it’s a clear sign that something has gone wrong with your distribution. Here’s what you can do to start taking back control.

Be selective about the channel partners you work with

Always try to be as selective as possible when choosing distribution partners and stick to those that will have the most impact on your goals. Work with partners who are easy to do business with, and be sure to tighten your distribution clauses to clearly define pricing structures, flat rates, opaque pricing, and penalties for violations. The more selective you are with who you work with, the more control you will have over your distribution.

Inform your customers about third-party booking sites

Fraudulent OTAs aren’t just a threat to your direct booking revenue. They also pose a significant risk to customers who book with them – like showing up at your hotel thinking they have a reservation when there is no record of it from you. This in turn can cause long term damage to your brand. As a hotelier, you must commit to improving customer education on the risks associated with booking on third-party sites. Consider placing a banner on your hotel’s website explaining that booking direct is always the safest option.

Make test bookings to identify rate leaks

Test bookings can help you find out where OTAs are getting your rates from. When you make a test reservation, you need to assess what the reservation appears in your property management system (PMS). If you’re not sure where to start, search your property on metasearch to see who’s selling your rates, or use the Metasearch Parity Insights dashboard to find out who your most frequent OTAs are. When giving rates to partners, try to use different names for the same rate to help you easily identify where the rates are leaking from. When the rate appears in your PMS, you can easily correlate the name with the partner it was assigned to.

Reduce allocations for OTAs on key dates

If you know that demand for your hotel is increasing at certain times, be strategic in allocating rates to OTAs at those times. By reducing the attribution, OTAs will run out of availability before your direct channel. It’s a great way to eliminate the source of rate parity issues when it matters most and immediately increase your direct bookings.

Source: Triptease
Source: Triptease

Increase your direct booking incentives for customers

Price monitoring and accountability of OTAs is key to improving price parity on metasearch, but there’s also a lot you can do to make sure you’re offering the right direct booking incentives to potential customers. Here are some steps you can follow.

Use member rates and strikethroughs

On Google Hotel Ads, hotels can display member discounted rates in a unique way to better market their inventory. These rates may be offered to meta-users who wish to enroll in your membership program. When they click on the rate, users are redirected to your booking engine where they can register for the discount.

Source: Triptease

Hotels can choose to make these member rates visible or invisible. A visible member rate will appear in the meta-results under a “cross-out” containing the most expensive rate (see H-Hotels example to the right). An invisible member rate will contain a “get the price” option.

Submit your teasers on Google Hotel Ads

Callouts are unique to Google Hotel Ads. They allow you to submit a selection of short messages to your customers that can be displayed directly below your price list in metasearch results. This could include special offers and other incentives to book direct.

Source: Triptease

It’s important to keep in mind that Google’s call display process is quite random, so hoteliers have little control over which call messages are displayed and to whom. Best practice for tenders is that they should be short, clear and benefit-oriented.

Here are some examples :

  • Free cancellations up to 24 hours before check-in
  • Free breakfast when you book direct
  • Free WIFI connection available at the hotel

Offer a non-refundable rate to people who book direct

Free cancellations and flexible bookings have become the norm in the post-pandemic world. But many hotels are now offering cheaper, non-refundable rates to reduce their high cancellation rates. It is also a great direct booking incentive for customers. If a non-refundable rate is not an option, consider a “no breakfast” rate.

Source: Triptease

Non-refundable rates come with many other benefits in addition to encouraging customers to book direct, such as:

  • Reduces cancellations
  • Improve revenue management
  • Discourages customers from overbooking
  • Improve cash flow with upfront payments
  • Reduces your number of bad debts
  • Creates less damage to your brand than other types of discounts

Inflate the rates you send to OTAs

Use your channel manager to inflate the rates you send to OTAs with a big enough margin to offset the average amount they undercut. Whether this is possible will depend on how your contracts with OTAs are set up. If you both agree to a rate parity clause (which tends to be quite common in North America), then inflating the rates you give to OTAs is not going to be an option. In this case, you might want to use a member rate to make sure you’re getting a better deal.

If you’ve sent discounted rates and offers to OTAs, make sure they don’t undermine your direct booking strategy. Any booking incentive offered to an OTA should also be reflected in your direct offer to avoid giving your competitors an unfair advantage.

About Triptease

Triptease is a SaaS startup that creates cutting-edge software for the hospitality industry. The company was co-founded in 2015 by Charlie Osmond, Alasdair Snow and Alexandra Zubko and has offices in London, New York, Barcelona and Singapore. Triptease’s most recent funding was led by British Growth Fund alongside Notion Capital and Episode 1.

The Triptease platform is designed to help hotels regain control of their distribution and increase direct revenue. The platform identifies a hotel’s most valuable guests, then works across the entire customer journey – from acquisition to conversion – to ensure they book directly at the hotel.

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