OTAs – The Big Box Store of Travel?
While I am the Virgin Innkeeper, i.e. I’ve never kept an inn…, I am an experienced traveler. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot by some folks’ standards, minimally by my standards. My favorite destination is Italy and my adopted hometown of Pienza. In previous blogs, I have mentioned my friend and fellow Innkeeper, Isabella Moricciani, who is a successful Innkeeper/entrepreneur in southern Tuscany. Her farmhouse, Cretaiole, was my inspiration for the Casitas. Anyway, I digress….
When I am planning a getaway, domestic or international, I do my research. That includes Trip Advisor Travel Forums and the OTAs (On-line Travel Agencies). Some popular OTAs include Booking.com, VRBO, AirBnB, Expedia, and there are 100s more, most owned by or affiliated with Expedia or Booking.com. They are great for research as you can compare many hotels, for example, and their rates, amenities and reviews. All extremely helpful.
What you may not know, especially if you are not in the business, is that these OTAs charge the property a commission, roughly 20%. Some charge the guest a service fee too! Some OTAs are now offering loyalty programs which is a nice perk. Hill Country Casitas will be launching our loyalty program soon –stay tuned.
I refer to the OTAs as the Big Box Store of Travel….as the big box stores often push Ma & Pa business out of the market. Living in a small Texas town, we are quite familiar with how that works. It’s a little different with travel, because the OTAs do bring us small hoteliers business, but the OTAs definitely can impact a Ma & Pa hospitality business' bottom line. We can adjust for that much of the time and can write it off as the cost of doing business. But I would say the majority of the time, the guest will find a better deal when booking directly with the Ma & Pa hotel.
What is your experience with OTAs?
Here's my advice: compare and consider booking directly through a hotel’s website. Google is our friend! If you see a lower price on an OTA, the hotel will more than likely beat it. But I bet the hotel will have a lower rate on their website or some great special they are running. Also booking directly with the hotel will typically provide you with more direct and effective customer service.
As my buddy Rick Steves says….”Keep Traveling!”