Owning a Tourism Business is awesome

24 Jan 2011

OTA Participation to Partnership

OTA Participation to Partnership

Here is how to manage your OTA relationships to drive maximum value.

Friday, January 14, 2011
Kristi White

OTAs have the ability to attract shoppers. Deep advertising pockets place OTAs in front of millions of consumers every day. To benefit from their substantive spend, hoteliers need to strike a balance. With OTAs, the key is to move from a participant to a partnership mindset, leveraging these relationships to drive maximum visibility and value. In other words, full and active participation in building and managing the relationship is critical to its success. To make this transition, you need to understand the success factors for developing a strategically sound partnership with an OTA.

If your hotel is properly positioned, advertising dollars spent by OTAs can benefit your hotel both directly and indirectly. Let’s start by looking at the real value of that presence.

Benefiting from the billboard effect: the first-page advantage

In October 2009, Cornell Hospitality Report published an article titled, “The Billboard Effect: Online Travel Agent Impact on Non-OTA on Non-OTA Reservation Volume.” A well-researched document, it presented the reservations value of hotel placement on an OTA. Four test hotels (three branded properties and one independent property) spent 7–11 days cycling on and off Expedia over a three-month period. In the 7–11 days each hotel was displayed on Expedia, it appeared at the top of the first page. On the off days, the property was not available on the OTA site.

During these periods, average daily bookings were monitored. The study found that when the hotels appeared on Expedia at the top of the first page, their average daily bookings increased—from a low of 7.5 percent at a branded hotel to a high of 25 percent at the single independent hotel—versus the days where they were not displayed on the site. In total, the billboard effect was estimated at 20 percent. In effect, a hotel that receives 10 percent of its overall contribution from the OTAs also receives another 10 percent in direct web bookings contribution by being promoted on the OTAs. This halo effect of direct bookings would in theory cut the margins paid to the OTAs by half.

At face value, this study implies that just by being on the OTAs, your hotel gains a 10 percent direct web contribution. However, we need to look more closely at the optimum page placement for the test hotels. How many hotels have the luxury of first-page, top-of-the-fold placement or even first-page placement? In any given market that number is probably no more than 20–30 hotels rotating regularly into those spots. So, if you are one of those hotels, you undoubtedly benefit from the billboard effect. However, if you are not on the first page, the billboard effect is probably not as strong, and the farther you get from the first page, the more diminished the effect becomes.

At the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit conference in early October, Brian Ferguson from Expedia lifted the veil on customer booking patterns. He told conference attendees that 95 percent of Expedia’s bookings occur on the first page, and 47 percent of those are in the top six spots. This reinforces the Cornell study finding that the maximum billboard effect will occur when you are in the top spots or at the very least, on the first page.

Being seen from the start: the OTA advantage

What is the major advantage, then, of participating in the OTAs that might outweigh the associated costs? Simply stated, it increases the likelihood that you will be seen at the onset of consumer research. Studies have found that travel shoppers use OTAs more for research than for booking. The chart below shows where consumers begin the booking process: 31 percent start on one of the OTAs. And many search engine and meta search results also direct consumers to OTA sites. So, by being on the site somewhere, you will potentially be viewed as shoppers begin their research, becoming part of the consumer’s consideration set.

Source: 2009 National Leisure Travel MONITOR

This effectively broadens your hotel’s marketing reach, as the average hotel doesn’t have the budget to reach millions of consumers at the point of research. From the perspective of reaching customers you couldn’t reach on your own, the OTAs definitely provide a boon for hotels.

Choosing the right program: how to make it work

As you consider developing a more strategic relationship with the OTAs, evaluate the programs in which your hotel participates. Multiple options are available, each providing a different opportunity to market your hotel, depending on your need:

Standard Merchant Rate – This is the base offer where your hotel signs a contract for a specific margin, and offers a rate that is discounted by this amount from your best available rate (BAR).
  • Advantage – This is the OTAs’ most common offering. Customers have full awareness of the hotel they are purchasing and can use these rates to help with their research process.
  • What to Do – Make sure you offer inventory when you need rooms filled and keep your long-term rates competitive. Also, make sure your hotel gets positive ratings to enhance your page placement. Be consistent in your strategy since most ranking algorithms use history to determine future placement.

Packages – With this program, your hotel can offer deeper discounts because the rate is suppressed as a part of the total package. Therefore, consumers don’t know what rate they are paying for each portion of the package.
  • ADVANTAGE –Your hotel can offer deeper discounts when you need to move distressed inventory. A segment of travelers prefer packages.
  • What to Do – Offer a limited amount of inventory as needed to build a base of business without damaging yield opportunities. Increase available inventory when projected occupancy is well below target. Make sure you look well out in the future when managing these rates, since dynamic packages have a much longer advance booking window than room-only rates, and longer length of stays.

Promotions – This option offers a unique merchandising opportunity to create excitement for specific offers such as length-of-stay discounts or value-add offers.
  • ADVANTAGE – This option improves site placement and enables your hotel to uniquely merchandise special offers that the OTAs showcase on their sites.
  • What to Do –Understand your booking window and average length of stay and ensure rates are properly fenced in order to prevent trade-down and rate dilution. Also, offer your promotions to all OTAs as well as your own proprietary booking engine for rate parity.

Opaque – These programs suppress your hotel’s identity until after the point of purchase.
  • ADVANTAGE – Your hotel can use these programs to move distressed inventory without eroding brand and pricing integrity.
  • What to Do – Actively manage your opaque rates as occupancy increases versus closing them out to maximize your RevPar. Either raise your rates or control discounts through use of length-of-stay controls. Use the pricing data provided by opaque sites to price your rooms to ensure that you capture demand as needed and that the incremental revenue contributes to your bottom line. Also, remember it is never too late to load opaque rates, since the channel has an extremely short booking window. A significant portion of opaque bookings are made on the same day as check-in.
Leverage your market manager: the key to a strong partnership

The foundation of a strategically sound partnership with the OTAs is building and maintaining a relationship with your market manager—the OTA employee assigned to helping your hotel use your OTA program more effectively. Manage this relationship the same way your hotel manages key corporate accounts. Developing strong OTA relationships can help your hotel move from being an OTA participant to an OTA partner.

If you can move from passive participation to active partnership, your relationship with OTAs can be advantageous for your hotel’s occupancy and profitable for your bottom line.

OTA Participation to Partnership: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

19 Jan 2011

Top Free SEO Tools

Search engine optimization involves various processes and tasks. In fact, website optimizers have to juggle links, anchor text, keywords and crawlers all at the same time. While the optimization process can't be totally automated, there are free SEO tools that can make the work easier.

The number of SEO tools in the World Wide Web is overwhelming, and many of them are offered absolutely free. To make the right choices, here's a detailed list of the best free SEO tools. These tools vary in the way they are being used.

These free SEO tools are designed for various purposes, but are nonetheless needed in the entire optimization process.

1. AddMe.com (No surprises here)

A search engine submission program, AddMe is one of the many free SEO tools that submit your URL to search engines so that Internet users can find you online.

It's perfectly fine to be listed by the major search engines only, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. However, if you want a wider online audience, try this search engine submission tool.

One good thing about AddMe is that it submits websites to 20 different search engines. With such free SEO tools, you don't have to go to each end every search engine to enhance your online presence.

After the search engine submission tool submits your site's keywords, description and URL, you will begin to receive website traffic. Just note that it may take time for all search engines to include your site in their listings.

2. Google Analytics/Google Webmaster Console

One of the most popular free SEO tools, Google Analytics provides comprehensive information and detailed reports about your website. Among these reports are your site's traffic behavior, funnel data and content visitation among others.

Analytics can also be considered another one of those website promotion tools. It lets you see which parts of your website are generating clicks and leads, as well as the parts to work on to improve website promotion. Tools like the Google Webmaster Console also provide similar information, such as crawling speed, crawling rate and how Google "sees" your backlinks among others.

3. Firefox with the Web Developer Extension

Firefox is a very flexible Web browser. It provides a wealth of useful extensions, including free SEO tools. The Web Developer extension lets you easily remove a site's javascript components and cascading styles. It also allows you to look at a webpage's external links. Perhaps the best part about the extension is that you can add your own website promotion tools and other SEO applications to the menu.

4. KeywordDiscovery

Another one of the free SEO tools that simplifies keyword research, KeywordDiscovery can generate top 100 keywords that can help improve your site's rankings. You simply type in a seed keyword on the tool's search term suggestion tool, and you get comprehensive keyword data gathered from more than 180 search engines.

5. SEO for Firefox

Other free SEO tools out there can't match the amount of information this Firefox tool provides. This program gathers data on a particular page, along with information regarding a search engine.

Unlike most free SEO tools, SEO for Firefox allows you to directly export information from the SERPs to CSV. Also, the tool gives relevant information, such as page rank, domain age, cache data, backlinks in Yahoo, number of cached pages and number of .edu links among others.

6. Google PageRank Checker

Google's PageRank Checker is one of the free SEO tools that are useful for just about anyone who has a site. It ranks a website according to how popular Google thinks it is. The highest score is 10 and the lowest is one. Furthermore, the ranking is based on the value of the links that lead to your site. The higher a link's value, the better your site's page rank.

A combination of these free SEO and website promotion tools is a great idea, especially if you're serious about your business and search engine optimization efforts. These tools are totally free, so don't hesitate to try them all out.

Top Free SEO Tools

6 Jan 2011

Making sure your URLs are user and SEO friendly - Dot Tourism

A URL is more than just the the location of your website and doesn’t just provide the navigation around your pages. A well thought out URL structure can bring with it search engine optimisation benefits as well as offering benefits to your users.

Anatomy of a URL

Before diving into what makes a good URL it’s important that you understand how they are made up.

The image above illustrates the different parts of your URL. It is worth spending the time when launching a new site to plan the URL structure as getting it right will have a positive effect on your online presence.

What makes a good URL

Keep it clear and descriptive
Ideally the URL should describe the content of the page. If a user can look at a URL in isolation of it’s page and know accurately what the content might include, you know you have a good URL. Keep your URL descriptive and try to avoid using numbers or generic descriptions such as page1.html. URLs that contain words relevant to your site’s content are far more user friendly.

Keep it short
While you can have URLs up to 2000 characters in length, in reality you shouldn’t reach anything near this. A short URL is far more usable and is more likely to be written down and shared. Avoid the use of unnecessary folders when planning your site structure; it’s important to avoid deep nesting of subdirectories. Search engines won’t crawl pages that are buried deep in your site as frequently.

You also should avoid having too many words in your URL. Aside from making them look like spam to human visitors it is generally recognised that search engines will give less weight to individual words when they are part of a whole string within a URL.

Use your keywords
You probably take every advantage to use keywords where you can and in your URL is no exception. The URL to your page is shown in search results and words within the URL will appear in bold if they also appear in the user’s search query. Another benefit is that when users share your URL, for example pasting it into forums, you will gain good incoming links with your keyword in the link text. However avoid over use of keywords - you don’t want your URL to look like spam to potential visitors.

Separate with hyphens not underscores
Make sure to separate words with hyphens. Although search engines won’t penalise underscores dashes are preferable as each hyphened word is seen as an individual. Using punctuation also makes the URL a lot easier for your human visitors to read and understand.

Use lower case
As URLs are case sensitive don’t ever use uppercase letters in your structure. Users will normally stick to lowercase and adding in capitals can lead to confusion.

Avoid excessive dynamic parameters
Ideally you should use static URLs which are preferable for both users and search engines. Dynamic URLs containing multiple parameters can cause a problems for search engines and you may find that your site isn’t fully indexed. Whenever possible trim unnecessary parameters and avoid the use of things such as the use of session IDs in URLs.

Avoid subdomains
Subdomains which will often create unnecessarily lengthy and complex URLs which users don’t always trust. You may also find that subdomains have the potential to be treated separately from the primary domain when it comes to passing link value. While this isn’t always the case advice tends to steer on the path of caution and recommend against their use.


Making sure your URLs are user and SEO friendly - Dot Tourism