Amongst the travel industry recently there have been many murmurings about the direction in which OTAs, metasearch and large travel review sites are headed in next. Such companies would typically include Priceline (who owns Booking.com, Agoda and other majoy booking websites), TripAdvisor and Expedia, who are already expanding their dynasties into the wider travel space to include in-destination services and amenities.
Recent acquisitions prove that this is where Priceline and Tripadvisor are headed: Priceline (the mother company of booking.com) acquired OpenTable, a large restaurant booking site, and Tripadvisor has acquired both La Fourchette, a smaller restaurant booking site (leading in the French and Spanish markets), along with Viator, an online tours and activities booking site. This push by Priceline and Tripadvisor is to fully engage their customers on-the-go, throughout the whole travel cycle, but more than that – it’s also about moving towards mobile.
Engaging customers on their devices when they are travelling is one of the biggest priorities of OTAs and travel sites right now. Priceline’s CEO, Darren Huston, said as much recently, explaining thatmobile is about engagement and not just about bookings.
“Much more importantly than a source of transactions, mobile is a chance to plumb the end-to-end user experience [and] in the longer term, increase our value to the customer” – Skift
This pinpoints that there really is value in understanding mobile habits in order to know the customer better; creating strong relationships with guests will increase their loyalty to OTAs andaway from hotels – something we’re already seeing with a diminishing number of direct bookings due to guests bookings through online travel agencies.
The crux of why this is a pressing issue is because guests want these services. 80% of travellers want to easily access local amenities on their devices (MCD study), and considering that 88% of guests travel with a device, that’s a big market that can be tapped into. There has also been an increase in the ‘silent traveller’ (Skift), who reserve their stay on the internet and who the front desk will only see at check-in and check-out. They will look to mobile as a first choice in solving travel problems and want little face-to-face contact with a hotel front desk. Having a digital offeringwhich presents concierge recommendations directly on the phones and tablets of guests will be fundamental in retaining these guests.
If an array of local information with booking options becomes available on the app of an OTA, who are already taking 20% of the price of hotel reservations made through them, the guest may well not go to the hotel front desk. If hotels lose the contact they have with guests during the stay, they really will feel the sting. Not only would their local partners lose customers sent to them from front desk recommendations, but hotels could lose the majority of human contact with their guests all together. Direct bookings would diminish further, and creating loyal guests could become a nigh on impossible task.
Hotels who are reluctant to provide a mobile offering to their guests may regret it in the near future. Large travel agencies and sites could implement an in-destination service quicker than hoteliers may think –
“Brett Keller, Priceline’s chief marketing officer, recently expressed the hope that the company will “expand into enabling hotel check-ins and on-site purchases” through mobile features.” – Skift
For those who believe that there is simply no way that an OTA could enter their establishment, they could be wrong. If one day a hotel were to receive an electronic room service order, made by a guest on their smartphone via an OTA’s third party app, would the hotel reject the order? It seems unlikely, when it would directly add to the hotel’s incremental revenue. This then poses the colossal danger of hotels losing control over their guest relationships, and losing contact with guests completely.
Independent mobile concierge solutions which offer tourist guides, booking services for hotels’ services (spa, restaurant etc), and direct booking reservations, will keep large 3rd party travel actors at bay, and assure that hotels keep contact with their guests. They also give hotels the opportunity to recapture guests who have come to their hotel through an OTA: personalisation of the guest experience helps build relationships, increasing guest loyalty. Here at LoungeUp we want to help hotels bring their guests close to their chests, not prise them away – we try to help hotels gain independence from OTAs, and increase future direct bookings from past guests. We also help hotels boost their revenue without taking any commission.
Hotels need to act quickly and implement their own in-destination mobile service for their guests. Refusing to act in the face of big online travel players could be a huge mistake for hotels, and they should take control of their in-destination services, before an online travel booking player does it for them.