These days, hoteliers talk a good game when trying to convince travelers to book directly.
“Stop Clicking Around,” Hilton urges in a current campaign. “It Pays to Book Direct,” Marriott promises. “The Best Place to Book is Right Here,” proclaims Hyatt.
Most major hotel brands and many independent hotels now offer a best rate guarantee and incentives for direct bookings, including rate discounts for loyalty club members. It’s part of an industry-wide movement to change traveler behavior and reduce the amount of commissions hotels pay to online travel agencies. The underlying message of these campaigns is, “Trust us. Skip OTAs and book direct for the best deal.”
But can travelers really trust hotels to uphold this promise? As a traveler, time and again I’m dismayed to find better offers on OTAs than on hotel websites.
Most recently, I found a great deal on Booking.com for a five-star hotel in New York, part of a well-known brand. Like a good ex-hotelier, I went to the hotel’s website to book direct, but the rates were much higher there, so I called the hotel. The reservations agent was reluctant to match the offer, questioned its validity, put me on hold, and asked me to email a screen shot. Eventually, she agreed to match the rate.
Curious, I asked if she could offer an incentive to book through her rather than the OTA. She emailed back with an offer of a $25 minibar credit. The hotel would save hundreds of dollars in commission on my five-night stay, yet was unwilling to spend more than $5 per night to secure a direct booking.
I know what it’s like to forecast a budget shortfall and be tempted to turn on the OTA tap to meet the numbers. It’s so easy, so effective. But while the hotel may experience a revenue bump in the short term, in the long run it’s not doing anyone a favor, not the hotel, the management company or ownership. It’s teaching travelers, one hotel at a time, to not trust hotels, and putting even more profits into the pockets of OTAs.
As long as hotels allow OTAs to sell their rooms at lower rates, it won’t matter how much money they spend to try to convince travelers to book direct. Travelers won’t change their habits until hoteliers do.