1 year ago
 

Why hotels should fight back against online mirror marketing

So, I bet if I ask you what your main concerns are as hoteliers when battling the online travel agencies, there would be two responses…

  • The level of commission
  • The stranglehold of rate parity

Well, you have actually more to worry about. Let me point it out – in the small print I mean…

NB: This is an analysis by Adrienne Hanna, founder and CEO of Right Revenue.

This issue is known as Mirror Marketing – the fancy term for bidding on your name on the search engines.

Yep, you know the way these pesky OTAs always seem to appear above you on Google when you search for your own hotel brand name – that is Mirror Marketing.

RR1

(the search term here entered into Google was “Ritz Hotel London”)

So, right above your own brand name, OTAs are claiming that top spot. And guess what, not all our customers realise that they are not on your own site and are in fact being pushed off somewhere else.

Reality

I recently conducted a survey in a fantastic four-star resort hotel.

Every guest who booked through an OTA was identified before check-in and asked (politely, of course) on arrival, why they had chosen to book online with another online provider and not with the hotel directly.

Overwhelmingly most guests confirmed that they didn’t even realise that they were not on the hotel’s own website.

Now that may seem crazy to us, but don’t forget, the link the OTAs are using with our hotel name at the end, takes a customer right through to information and availability on that specific hotel and NOT a search page with multiple hotels.

So it could be within the realms of possibility that a lot of these people – if they are not frequent travellers, actually don’t understand the world of online travel agents and might just think they are booking directly.

In short, we are all suffering in the name of mirror marketing.

But the fact is this: you own your own name – your brand… your identity… your customer service and your guest satisfaction – so why do we allow these OTAs to use what is effectively our reputation to outshine us on Google?

And let me make one thing abundantly clear – all these juicy commission cheques we write each month are not paying for the CEO’s Maserati or the posh, shiny offices in Silicon Valley – both of which they may have, but in fact the commission you are paying is actually funding their Pay Per Click campaigns to bid directly against you.

You are actually paying them to outshine you on Google!

Now, let me be clear: I am not against the OTAs. They provide us with marketing and customer reach we might never be able to achieve but shouldn’t we control what happens to our own brand online?

Google’s role

We also all know that the Google landscape has changed and will continue to change.

The room for paid ads has dropped with no advertising appearing on the right side now at all and only three ads instead of four at the top of the page.

Yet if we go back to The Ritz example, you will see that Google is presenting so much information about our own hotels right at the top of the page that often guests don’t even need to come to our own site.

Key information is right there – upfront and central, so we are again losing traffic to our own site. It is almost as if Google wants to keep our customers right where they want them. You think?

RR2

Then you have the metasearch sites, and they are also hogging the next prime real estate.

So where are you? Under the fold (meaning your customers need to scroll down the page to find you) if you are lucky, and if you are paying for that first page visibility.

But please don’t be under any illusion… unless you are paying for the privilege, even on your own wonderful name, you seriously risk not appearing on the first page at all.

And what does that mean? Well ask yourself when you shop, just how often do you search for anything past the first page?… and there you have your answer.

Make no mistake, this is something that we can all challenge with the OTAs.

Read the small print and challenge those clauses in the contract. Maybe it is time we all stepped up and were brave enough to be counted.

NB: This is an analysis by Adrienne Hanna, founder and CEO of Right Revenue.

NB2: Hotels mirror image via BigStock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.

 

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  1. Vyara from Clock Software

    “Maybe it is time we all stepped up and were brave enough to be counted.” – This is it. OTAs won’t stop, Google will keep battling for hotel ads, generally said – hotel search and OTAs are here to stay. So, the only way to resist is to challenge them an request more favourable contract terms.
    Congratulations for the good post, Adrienne.

     
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Thank you Vyara – your feedback and comments are really appreciated.

      Like I said in the article, I am not against the OTA’s – they do provide us with unrivalled marketing in countries and destinations, we as individual hotels could never reach. However, what I do challenge is their right to bid on our name, as smaller hotels will never have the marketing budget for a face-off on PPC. We as hoteliers gave that control away – often unwittingly and we ‘ran with the crowd’. We saw our competitors taking market share due to OTA business so we grabbed the OTA contracts, signed them without consideration and now this is the place that we find ourselves in – caught in legacy contracts where we have signed away control of our brand. I feel that we need leaders to ‘fight the good fight’ – I am just hoping that they are somewhere out there…

       
      • Vyara from Clock Software

        They are, Adrienne. We have customer hotels that are doing a really great job and enjoy a lot of direct revenue. And I see in the comments here that there are others to play smart and protect their online presence.
        As you probably know, I am also writing on this subject a lot and I am of the same opinion – Hotels need OTAs and they are not so bad for business. But the relationship between them is not so healthy any more and hoteliers need to wake up and stop blindly giving so much control over their distribution to third parties. If there is rate parity, there should be something like “keyword parity” or “bid parity”as well, to keep things fair and justified.

         
        • Adrienne Hanna

          Totally agree with you Vyara and Keyword Parity and Bid Parity is definitely an interesting concept. Please keep me posted with any articles you write and I am happy to share if I can.

          Very interesting topic 🙂

           
  2. Art Klep

    Can’t a big brand like The Ritz afford to petition google to disallow use of its trademark in AdWords?

    from https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/6118?hl=en

    “Google’s approach to trademarks
    If a trademark owner submits a complaint to Google about the use of their trademark in AdWords text ads, Google will review the complaint and may enforce certain restrictions on the use of that trademark. More help for trademark owners

    There are multiple factors that determine when trademarks can be used in AdWords text ads. Along with the factors described below, these policies apply only when a trademark owner has submitted a valid complaint to Google.”

     
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Art

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments and I do feel that this is a double-edged sword. You are quite correct in that individual businesses can approach Google if they feel their trademark has been compromised, however few hotels will actually have gone through the process to Trademark their name. Also, what many hotels don’t understand or read in the small print is that we as an industry are actually signing contracts which have clauses that allow these OTA’s to mirror market and use our brand name. It is very difficult for even an exclusive brand to challenge the OTA’s on this as the threat of being ‘unlisted’ is often too much. Their hold over hotels due to the level of business they provide is dominant. And of course this is much more difficult for smaller, independent hotels to challenge.

       
    • Art Klep

      Hi Adrienne,

      A conundrum indeed….
      I am such a small independant accommodation (www.PoppyHostelCuracao.com)
      I have almost no marketing budget and am listed on 3 OTAs all of whom use my non-trademarked brand name “Poppy Hostel Curacao” for PPC adds lining to my profile on their site.
      I have considered the opportunity cost of either: Trademarking my brand name and petitioning google to block the use of it and paying for a PPC campaign. The costs of both are prohibitive for my budget hostel.

      However, through clever use of my channel manager, I have found a way to push booking commissions owed to the OTAs by adjusting my prices (and making wifi a surcharge) so that booking directly of my official website. Investing in SEO for my site has pushed me to #1 on Google for high competition keywords on all search engines. I now collect more than 50% of reservations directly. Guests booking via an OTA effectively pay the commission I owe OTAs at the end of the month.

      I do not buy into the “best price guarantee” indicated by OTAs AT ALL! Neither have I received any warning from OTAs that they want to unlist me. I may not be on the radar, being such a small operation, but I have found this an effective way of winning back customers and at least forcing those who choose to book via an OTA to pay for the convenience. Guest who, after the fact, discover that they could have saved by booking directly always have the option of canceling their reservation made through an OTA and booking directly.

      Let me know if can explain my methods in greater detail.

      Cheers,

       
      • Adrienne Hanna

        Hi Art

        First of all, well done on winning the battle! You are one of the lucky few who have and I am delighted that you are gaining over 50% of business direct. However, in the European market I operate in, independent hotels do find this much harder. OTA’s such as booking.com are scrapping sites daily for rate parity discrepancies and hotels are very much called to order. However, there are ways around this. I have published 4 articles on ‘customer facing’ book direct strategies which I am more than happy to share with you. But one of the main winners for my portfolio of clients is to always have the best rate direct on their own site. Now they do need to adhere to the rate parity clause of always having the same ‘like-for-like’ rate (eg B&B) but I often put an ‘Internet Exclusive’ or ‘Book Direct for the Best Rate’ slightly lower, but that does need to come with terms and conditions to ensure it sits outside your rate parity agreements. Or you can retain a certain room type that sells slightly cheaper on your own site so that these rooms are never released to the the OTA’s. There are lots more tips which I am happy to share but it sounds like you are doing a great job there and in a fantastic location! Here’s to your continued success – Adrienne
        (oh and you can sign up for my weekly blog for tips and occasional ranting 🙂 at – http://www.rightrevenue.co.uk)

         
  3. Mark Burke

    Clearly Ms Hanna the simple solution is to pay to play and that it’s nothing new to bid for your own brand keywords to stay on top of the fold and many companies and seo agencies invoke the “bid for your own brand name keywords” policy. Google is in the Ad business. The local search and SEO is going to get you organically listed but that does not give any brand the exclusivity of not paying for ad space. If you want total dominance, then you have to pay for the privilege, you’re after all not the owner of Google, you’re advertising your brand on it.

     
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Mark and thanks for your feedback

      As I mention in my article, I am absolutely not against the OTA’s – they do after all provide us with much needed business. And my argument was absolutely not against Google – you are quite correct, they are an Ad Company and as a hotelier I absolutely should be bidding on my brand name to ensure top spots. I also feel that being found organically on the first page will shortly be a thing of the past.

      What however I find uncomfortable is that OTA’s with huge budgets affectively ensure that we sign away our own brand name when we contract with them. There are many independent hotels with limited budgets who because of they way they contract and advertise will never have the budget to appear above them on the rankings with what is actually their own name.

       
      • Marcus Norman

        @Adrienne, you actually do not sign away anything. You are choosing to have the OTAs bid on your brand because they can drive more traffic. It costs them more to bid on your brand than it does you.

         
  4. Peter Winkler

    I have to admit that I’m quite surprised that this is still an issue in 2016. Way back in the early 2000s we started adding an addendum to all our OTA contracts that prohibits distribution partners and their affiliates to use our trademark and any variation thereof (i.e. Hotel name, Hotel name + City, etc.) in search engine advertising. And this was not with the big chains, but all at independent hotels.

     
    • william beckler

      Even when you negotiate it, it doesn’t enforce itself. You have to follow up and do test searches from multiple locations in multiple language versions of google to confirm that OTAs and affilliates aren’t brand bidding. There are services that monitor these things for you if you don’t know how to use geo proxies.

       
      • Adrienne Hanna

        Hi William

        I totally agree and as you can imagine is this an almost impossible task for smaller / independent hotels and these are often the hoteliers that take a massive hit on commission.

        It would be good to understand how you manage this

        Thanks again – Adrienne

         
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Peter and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment

      Yes, still an issue and difficult for a lot of small or independent hotels to enforce unfortunately. And to be honest, many of them don’t read the small print on the contracts and many of them feel they need to rely on OTA’s and that ‘everyone is doing it’. I come from a traditional travel agent background, so I am absolutely not against them. They provide a much need business boost but I firmly believe that we as hoteliers have given away too much control and that our brand name should be ours…. Well done you for putting your head above the parapet and challenging these clauses. I would be really interested to understand the kick-back if any and also which markets you trade in.

      Thanks again for your feedback – really interesting

      Adrienne

       
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Peter and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment
      Yes, still an issue and difficult for a lot of small or independent hotels to enforce unfortunately. And to be honest, many of them don’t read the small print on the contracts and many of them feel they need to rely on OTA’s and that ‘everyone is doing it’. I come from a traditional travel agent background, so I am absolutely not against them. They provide a much need business boost but I firmly believe that we as hoteliers have given away too much control and that our brand name should be ours…. Well done you for putting your head above the parapet and challenging these clauses. I would be really interested to understand the kick-back if any and also which markets you trade in.
      Thanks again for your feedback – really interesting
      Adrienne

       
  5. Shannon DeFries

    Good Article, glad to see others advocating this strategy. Many hotels do not realize that they even have the ability to negotiate and prohibit the OTAs from bidding on their branded keywords on platforms like Google Adwords. Hilton and Marriott have done this very successfully but its freed up budget for OTAs like Expedia and Booking to now bid on independent properties. In 2015, branded CPCs increased by 40%. Best way to combat this is bid for top spot, use ad extensions and sitelinks to take up as much real estate as possible and really focus on a high quality score for your ppc ads. The better your score, the higher you’ll rank and less you will pay.

     
    • Evan Davies

      I would argue that you really should not compete with OTA’s for the top spot even on your own brand name. It’s like catching a falling knife. I would say that the number 2-3 spot can be claimed for very little money and i have seen CPC as low as 25p. Even at 25p per click many of these customers searching for the hotel name will not be looking to book but will also be customers who have already booked and need some more information before arrival. Bear that in mind when calculating the ROI.

       
      • Adrienne Hanna

        Hi Evan

        Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and I love your ‘falling knife analogy’. You are right that there are spots further down that cost less and are worth considering but my feeling is that with the dominant OTA’s, then the Meta Sites and Google Hotel Finder, there is very little space left to bid effectively. Those top spots are becoming crowded and the space for any kind of online marketing for an independent hotel is often below the fold. I think the world of Google is changing weekly and to appear anywhere wth any significance requires a budget – and that budget is getting bigger – even for our own name!

         
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Shannon

      Some really good advice here – thank you

      I am just finding it difficult within the market I work in to ask hotels to enforce amendments to contracts. I operate within a market that is heavily owner/managed and un-branded so they feel very much out on their own when it comes to negotiating. And to be honest, a lot just feel they need they business so they hand over control with very little thought of the consequences. That said, it is brilliant to see the brands fighting back and what they do now, the others will follow shortly. There is definitely safety in numbers!

       
  6. Adrian McLaughlin

    Great piece. Have to suggest that the benefit of marketing reach is due to OTA’s is slightly flawed. The pro active travel industry is huge with €m’s being spent on promoting countries and regions. I have yet to see ota’s active in this strategy. I do see country marketing companies such as tourism Ireland seeking new customers regularly. These companies are funded by our taxes and therefore suppliers should demand a country driven and funded ota that suppliers part fund and remove the need of the traditional ota’s. This self funding and controlled supply route offers better value while retaining customer choice.

     
    • Adrienne Hanna

      Hi Adrian

      A great reply and I would love if all our tourist authorities were active in this area. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case and certainly within the area I predominately work in, our own tourist authority is being rumoured to be in talks (again!) with a meta site to provide the booking service for their tourism portal! What chance to hotels have – never mind smaller providers who would need to contract with the OTA’s – when their own tourist board might push bookings off to an OTA rather than to the providers directly!!!! I do however strongly agree that country and regional marketing campaigns should be battling hard to help

       
 
 

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