As the Big Players in Travel Diversify, Hotels Pursue New Strategies

The Race to Be the One-stop-shop for travel planning, Reknown Travel Marketing
By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown

Way back in the swinging sixties of the internet age (about five years ago), the roles of the major players in the travel industry were quite simple. Google was for search, TripAdvisor was for reviews, and Expedia and Priceline were for shopping for hotel rooms.

Today, as these companies look for new ways to satisfy shareholders’ insatiable appetite for growth, they are increasingly delving into each other’s territories, and traditional roles are changing.

The question is, will travelers follow? And how can hotels adapt to the new playing field?

It’s not always easy to determine where the big players are heading, but comments made by executives during quarterly earnings calls, when they must explain financial performance and reassure investors, are often revealing.

Growth of Alternative Accommodations
One of the most ominous signs for the hotel industry is the proliferation of the so-called sharing economy, which turns people’s homes into miniature hotels.

After years of tremendous growth, Expedia and Priceline have experienced a slowdown in hotel room bookings and are turning to alternative accommodations as a source of growth.

Last year, Expedia purchased vacation rental site HomeAway, which owns VRBO, and announced plans to “expand aggressively” in this market. During Priceline’s first quarter 2016 earnings call, interim CEO Jeffery Boyd reported that the company lists over 400,000 alternative accommodations. “We couldn’t be more enthusiastic for these types of accommodations,” he said.

And let’s not forget about Airbnb, whose listings make up an estimated 8 to 15% of hotel room supply in major cities in the U.S., according to a study from Bank of America Merrill Lynch late last year. (qz.com.)

The growth in alternative accommodations has been made possible by a combination of technology, which allows travelers to shop, compare and book offerings online as easily as hotels, and by guest reviews, which remove a lot of the risk and worry out of staying in a stranger’s home.

As the comfort level increases, the non-hotel sector will continue to expand beyond leisure travelers and vacation destinations to business travelers and urban destinations. The next great frontier? Group travel.

How big is the threat? Think about it. If every traveler rented out their home while on the road, there would be little need for hotels. Hotels may lament the commission they pay to OTAs, but it’s better than no booking at all.

The hotel industry may not feel the pain of a few points in lost occupancy when travel is on an upswing, but when things slow down everything falls under greater scrutiny, and that’s when people lose jobs and brands lose contracts.   Read more »

Important Updates to TripAdvisor’s Popularity Ranking Algorithm

TripAdvisor Popularity Ranking Algorithm Update - Reknown Travel MarketingBy Daniel E. Craig, Reknown

During my seminars in online reputation management to hospitality and travel businesses, participants often express frustration to me that their business is being outranked on TripAdvisor by a newly-opened business that raced to the top soon after opening its doors.

I’ve seen this time and again. Veteran, tried-and-true businesses that have worked hard to climb the ranks suddenly find themselves unseated by a newcomer that has shiny new facilities and services but has yet to prove itself over the long term.

In some cases, hotels that have earned thousands of 4- and 5-bubble reviews over numerous years have been unseated by a new hotel with only a handful of reviews.

Often the change is only temporary, but it makes business managers wonder exactly what ingredients go into TripAdvisor’s powerful and mysterious Popularity Ranking.

This week, TripAdvisor provided some clarity to the Popularity Ranking and announced changes to the algorithm that should put an end to the problem of “fast risers.” The changes are intended to ensure that new properties settle in to a stable, accurate ranking more quickly.

“We designed the enhanced Popularity Ranking algorithm to value the quantity and consistency of reviews more significantly than we have in the past,” TripAdvisor states. “Doing so helps stabilize the ranking for all businesses, reduces fast-riser behavior and creates a more accurate overall ranking for our travelers.”

The enhanced algorithm was rolled out for restaurants and attractions in January and for hotels between February and April of this year. If you noticed unusual shifts in rankings during this period, this could be why.

TripAdvisor also clarified several key areas related to the Popularity Ranking:  Read more »

Positioning your hotel for optimal visibility and appeal in search results

ReviewPro Google Webinar - Reknown Hotel MarketingFor hotel marketers, Google’s search algorithm is a mysterious and powerful gatekeeper to the global community of online travel shoppers. As soon as we think we have it figured out, it changes.

Recently, Google confirmed that local search results are based primarily on relevance, distance and prominence. Further, “Google review count and score are also factored into local search ranking—more reviews and positive ratings will improve a business’s local ranking.”

How do recent changes at Google impact hotels, and what should you do about it? In my next webinar with ReviewPro, How to Optimize Your Hotel’s Presence in Search Results, we’ll bring in the experts to discuss how search has evolved in 2016, the key factors in search rankings, how to manage your Google My Business page, the paid options for hotels and the role of reviews in rankings.

I’m excited to confirm the following guest speakers:

  • Cliff Galitz, Partner Development Manager, Google
  • Shannon DeFries, Director of Search & Analytics, Tambourine
  • Tim Towle, Co-founder and Director of Product Development, ReviewPro

Click here to reserve your spot for the March 23, 2016 webinar.

Hope to see you there!

 

Making Sense of Big Data for Hotels

Big Data for Hotels - Reknown Travel MarketingBy Daniel E. Craig

“Big Data” is a hot topic in the travel industry today. It refers to the massive amounts of digital information available to businesses today to help them identify patterns, trends and associations and make smarter decisions.

Big Data is particularly relevant to the travel industry. Everywhere they go, travelers leave digital data trails, providing opportunities for hotels and travel businesses to gain insight into behavior and preferences, to predict future behavior, and to personalize marketing activities and the guest experience.

In my next webinar with ReviewPro, we’ll be tackling this topic with a special focus on three areas: marketing data, revenue data and review data. We’ll explain what Big Data is, why it’s important to hotels, the tools available, and how you can use data to optimize guest satisfaction, revenue, expenditures and profitability.

ReviewPro - Reknown Webinar Panelists - Big Data for HotelsOur special guest panelists are Paolo Torchio, VP, Product Management and Consulting at Sabre Hospitality Solutions, Martin Soler, Chief Marketing Officer, SnapShot, and Fiona Gillen, VP Marketing at ReviewPro.

This free webinar is on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 8:00 am PST, 11:00 am EST and 5:00 pm CET.

Click here to register. Hope to see you there!

 

Just For You: Latest News, Data & Insights from TripAdvisor

By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown

There have been a lot of changes at TripAdvisor recently, and if you’re not keeping up you’re probably missing out on opportunities. In this exclusive interview with Reknown, Brian Payea, TripAdvisor’s head of industry relations, brings us up to speed on the latest developments on the world’s largest travel website.

From Business Listings fees to Instant Booking to the new Just For You search filter, Payea discusses the latest data on worldwide travel trends, TripAdvisor’s evolution as a total trip planning and booking site, and how hotels and travel businesses can adapt and thrive.

Brian Payea, TripAdvisor - Reknown Travel MarketingDaniel Craig: TripAdvisor just keeps on growing. Can you share the latest stats?

Brian Payea: It’s true, each quarter we see significant growth across multiple areas of the business. Currently, TripAdvisor attracts a remarkable 375 million unique monthly visitors and has more than 250 million reviews across over 5.2 million accommodation, restaurants and attractions listed on the site.

You and I have been talking about reputation management for years, and it seems the industry is finally listening. In a recent TripBarometer Survey of over 10,000 hospitality businesses worldwide, online reputation management was identified as the top investment priority in 2015. How should this investment be prioritized?

Online reputation is something business owners have really started to address over the past five years and if anything, its importance is growing. As you mentioned, this year three in five hoteliers globally reported that they were planning to invest more in online reputation management, the most notable increase in investment of any aspect reported on in our annual TripBarometer study. In fact, one in four (26%) said they planned to spend ‘much more’ on this area in 2015.

The reason behind this dramatic increase in investment is clear – when asked which elements they feel are central to the future of their business, online reputation management is cited as important by 95 percent of hoteliers.  Read more »

Independent hotels & the untapped potential for local content marketing

Editor’s Note: With OTAs and big brands all but shutting out independent hotels and small groups from both paid and organic search results, content marketing has grown in importance as an effective and affordable means of gaining visibility and traffic. Recently I read a smart article on Tnooz by Matthew Barker called SEO is Alive and Kicking in Travel, and I asked Matt to prepare this piece as part of Reknown’s guest post series. Enjoy! – Daniel E. Craig

By Matthew Barker, Founder, I&I Travel Media

Matthew Barker - i&i Travel Media - Reknown MarketingIn a recent Skift interview, Gray Shealy, executive director of the Master’s of Hospitality Management Program at Georgetown University, discussed how hotel chains could follow Airbnb’s lead to better connect guests with the local neighbourhood and provide a more immersive stay in the area:

“…what Airbnb allows a user to do is really have an accessible localized experience… People are looking to relate to people… and get away from the touristed restaurant establishments and things like that.”

Shealy argued that hotel groups should aim to provide a similar degree of connection to their locality, as an extended, hyper-local concierge service. In his view, hotels should become a “knowledge hub, a place, a resource, a library for the traveler.”

The interview was primarily about major hotel groups trying to improve their appeal against the onslaught of Airbnb-style competition. But we’ve been saying exactly the same thing to smaller, independent hotels for many years.

With their intimate local knowledge and expertise, these companies are much better placed to provide true connections and insights to their surrounding areas.

Not only that, but this knowledge can also be used as a powerful marketing asset to drive new bookings. Read more »

Digital Marketing Demystified

Rekown Travel Marketing - Digital Marketing Strategies

By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown

If you struggle to keep up with the dizzying array of acronyms, buzzwords and references used by marketers today, you’re not alone.

Well, I’ve got good news. In the next installment of Reknown’s webinar series with TripAdvisor for Business, we go back to the basics to explain the essentials of digital marketing for hotels.

In Digital Marketing Demystified: Everything You Need to Know but Are Afraid to Ask, we’ll discuss:

  • What is digital marketing?
  • What’s the difference between:
    • Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)
    • Social media and online reputation management
    • Online travel agencies and metasearch
  • Plus the latest news from TripAdvisor, and a live Q&A with the experts

For the webinar I created the above chart as a quick reference guide to four key digital marketing strategies and how they differ in terms of earned, owned and paid content.

In addition to Brian Payea, Head of Industry Relations at TripAdvisor, the webinar will feature special guests Martin Soler, Chief Marketing Officer at SnapShot in Paris, and Mark Hayward, Digital Marketing Consultant in Puerto Rico.

Reknown & TripAdvisor - Digital Marketing Demystified Webinar

Click here to register. For the full library of TripAdvisor webinars, visit TripAdvisor Insights.

For those wanting more, we’ll cover advanced topics in digital marketing in the fall. Watch out for announcements on Reknown’s Events page.

Also, stay tuned for my next webinar with ReviewPro: We Hear You! Guidelines for Responding to Guest Feedback. We’ll discuss tips, best practices and examples of how to respond to all types of customer feedback, from in-person complaints to guest surveys to online reviews.

 

Bravo! The End of Rate Parity As We Know It

Freedom from online travel agencies - Reknown Travel Marketing

By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown

There’s a revolution happening in France that could send shockwaves across the international hotel industry.

If the French government succeeds in passing the “Macron” Bill in August this year, online travel agencies in France will no longer be able to enforce rate parity on hotels. The practice has been cited as anti-competitive behavior and not in the consumer’s best interest.

Nor has the practice been in the best interest of hotels. For years, hotels have been bullied by powerful OTAs like Expedia and Booking.com into giving heavily discounted rates and access to inventory at steep commissions ranging from 12% to 30%. If hotels want premium positioning in OTA search results, they must pay even more.

Travelers love OTAs because they allow them to compare pricing in a destination, as do metasearch channels. OTAs have also opened up markets for hotels they might otherwise not be able to reach. But they have become too powerful and too aggressive.

OTAs have grown exponentially in recent years, reaping huge profits on the backs of hotels. In turn, they use this money to aggressively advertise in order to lure travelers to them, often bidding against hotel brand names. Expedia and Priceline, which owns Booking.com, are two of Google’s top AdWords clients.

Fair game in a free market, and in many respects hoteliers have only themselves to blame. But this has not been a free market. OTA contracts have imposed restrictions that limit hotels’ ability to manage their own rates and inventory.  Read more »