Why Developing Your Distribution Strategy Matters for your Hotel

What's happening to your conversion rate?Hey, hotel folks. Do you hate your channel “partners?” Do you feel like they “force” you to sign agreements you don’t want to?

If so, you’re not alone.

And, that’s a shame.

Because most channel partners (OTA’s, traditional travel agents, group and meeting planners, etc.) are actually good folks trying to help place business in your hotel.

No, seriously.

Now, it’s not to say that every market manager from every OTA treats every hotel like they treat their best friends. But, usually, these folks’ success depends upon having enough inventory in their market to meet a wide array of guest needs.

And that need represents your opportunity to negotiate favorable terms. The challenge, of course, is that many hotels lack a cohesive distribution strategy. Instead of understanding their best customers and taking the steps to diversify the sources of those best customers — in particular, placing an emphasis on those guests delivered via direct channels — hotels often sign myriad agreements and pay the most attention to the channels delivering the most business. Some channel partners recognize this dependence and push for terms that both increase their profit (and, to be fair, what business wouldn’t?), while simultaneously increasing their hotel partners’ dependence on the channel.

So don’t do that.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. But there are ways to break the cycle. And that’s the point of my latest Travel Tuesday post over on Tim Peter Thinks: “How to Take Charge of Your Distribution Strategy.” Give it a read if get a minute.

If you need help developing your hotel’s distribution strategy (or some other part of your digital marketing), give me a call at 201-305-0055.

And if you’re interested in learning more about travel marketing and where it’s going—as well as lessons that apply to a host of other industries—register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” You can get your free copy of the report here.

Finally, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of these changes in the marketplace, including:

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Do Guests Search for Travel in Maps? Why They Will Now

Google maps flight search smallAlex Kremer on Tnooz highlighted the addition of flight prices to Google Maps earlier this week. To put it mildly, it’s a really big deal. A game-changer. For reals. I explain why in my Travel Tuesday post, “4 Reasons Why Google Metasearch in Maps Matters (Travel Tuesday)”.

One argument against this enhancement suggests people don’t search for travel on map services at all, so what makes this a big deal? Well, as I note in the post,

“I think it’s certainly true that people don’t search for flights on Google Maps. At least prior to today, why would they?

But once early adopters begin to gain the advantages metasearch has long promised, why wouldn’t savvy travelers search for flights on Google Maps? “

You can read the whole post here.

Interested in learning more about travel marketing and where it’s going — as well as lessons that apply to a host of other industries? Register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World” here.

And you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of these changes, including:

Why Meta-search, Search, Social, Local, and Mobile Conspire to Kill Conversion Rates

What's happening to your conversion rate?Paid search. Organic search. Metasearch. Email marketing. Daily deals sites. Ratings and reviews. Social and local and mobile. How in the world is a poor travel marketer to navigate the myriad choices facing your customers today?

For that matter, how is your poor customer supposed to navigate that landscape?

Anyone familiar with “The Paradox of Choice” understands why this creates a challenging environment in which to try and sell travel.

It’s not all bad news, of course. Savvy travel marketers are using these very tools to engage their guests and get customers to tell stories on their behalf. But, there’s little doubt this “paradox of choice” environment will affect one part of your online marketing: your conversion rate. I explain why in more detail in my latest Travel Tuesday post on Tim Peter Thinks: “Kiss Your Current Conversion Rate Goodbye.”

And if you’re interested in learning more, egister to receive a free copy of my new special report, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World,” produced in conjunction with Vizergy, here. While it’s targeted to the hospitality industry specifically, most of the lessons apply across verticals.

Oh, and, if that’s not enough, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of growing your conversions (and your conversion rate), including:

Booking.com just announced something amazing

The growth of mobile So, I don’t normally cover press releases, but this one’s worth mentioning:Priceline subsidiary Booking.com reported late last week that their mobile booking revenue tripled last year. Which would be impressive, until you consider that it tripled to $3 billion from $1 billion in 2011. That’s billion. With a “b.”

Um… wow.

I gave a talk this morning to a group of travel and hospitality companies about how big mobile’s going to be. And I referenced items like the growth of the millennial market, how to handle the iOS/Android debate, and all that jazz. But, by any standard, those are some impressive results. I’m thinking there might be something to this mobile web business after all.

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage of mobile, including:

What Are Your Customers Actually Buying?

Customer satisfactionWhy do airlines suck? That’s the question raised by the just-released Airline Quality Rating Report for 2012 [PDF link]. The report suggests that airlines increasingly get the operational details right. But, despite these successes, customer complaints also continue to grow.

Why?

Well, as NBC News notes,

“…rising customer dissatisfaction with the airlines goes beyond the basics of operational performance. While the AQR analyzes quantitative measures, there are obviously qualitative difference between the various carriers. After all, an airline can be on time, lose few bags and not bump a soul — and still provide a miserable flying experience thanks to cramped seats, lousy food and fees for everything beyond a seat belt and oxygen mask.

“The air transportation experience is suffering from issues that are not measured in the DOT [Department of Transportation] or AQR [Airline Quality Rating],” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. For Leocha, other issues, such as proliferating fees, confusing code-share rules and policies that make it difficult for families to sit together without paying extra, add fuel to the flames of passenger frustration.”

This is top of mind for me right now, as I’m talking to a group of travel executives next week about customer experience and the high cost of ignoring value (a topic I’ve addressed before).

Travel is an unusual product, in that, for the most part, there’s no tangible good. Someone buying a cashmere sweater at Saks or Target, a book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or a mobile phone from Best Buy or Verizon takes home a physical object, some thing they can touch and live with again and again, day after day.

Travel doesn’t work that way. You get one shot to get it right. The experience is everything. One bad experience might mean a lost future sale — or worse if they write an online review trashing your product/service and let the rest of the world know exactly how bad you treated them (whether justified or not).

Marketers offering hotels, airlines, rental cars, cruise lines, and rail — or packaging the whole shebang — to their customers have to continually look for ways to improve the experience. This isn’t about going above and beyond customer expectations; for many components of the travel experience, just meeting the customer expectation would be a step in the right direction. Sad, but true. As AQR author Dean Headley notes in the NBC piece, “The sad part is that when I get back from a trip and people ask me how my flight was, the best I can say is it was uneventful.”

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage of customer experience in marketing, including:

And, don’t forget, you can have me speak at your next event, too.

Facebook Hires Head of Travel – Lee McCabe | buuteeq

This isn’t news any longer, but it’s still worth noting that Facebook recently hired former Expedia exec Lee McCabe as its head of travel. As noted during the recent HSMAI Chief Digital Officer Roundtable, Facebook — and other players such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon — don’t have a significant presence in the online travel space… yet. But given the size of the online travel space (~ $120B in 2012, roughly 35% of all e-commerce), it’s no wonder Facebook has started to take notice.

Skift offers this insight from McCabe:

“A big part of the role is helping our travel partners reach existing objectives by connecting, engaging, and influencing consumers on the Facebook platform,” McCabe says. “We’re already doing that by identifying the right solutions for travel, such as Custom Audiences, Facebook Exchange and Offers. So far, our partners that have the most clear objectives and focus on core solutions are seeing the most success.”

How big is Facebook in your marketing plans this year? Does their attention to the space cause you to look at them more closely? I’d love to hear what you think.

What Google’s Flight Explorer Tells Us About the State of Travel Search

No sooner did I mention that Google will be able to explore lots of innovation and opportunity now that they’re free of regulatory investigation, than the company introduces its new Flight Explorer feature.

Google Flight Explorer screenshot

Just put in where you’re looking to go (the feature “auto-magically” determines your starting airport) and how long you’re willing to travel and the feature will show you the best flight options (best defined as cheapest) available to you.

At present, it looks like all the inventory is coming from the individual airlines, which they must love. Of course, the OTA’s probably won’t be happy. But it’s a fascinating move from Big G and one worth watching as we move forward.

Clearly, Google thinks this is an underserved way consumers want to search. I think they’re right—I’d have killed for this a couple of weeks ago while trying to plan an inexpensive getaway for my family. Google’s now free of the (immediate) threat of government involvement in their day-to-day product direction, which means this likely isn’t the last enhancement of this kind we can expect to see. While this one looks good for suppliers and competition for intermediaries, that won’t necessarily remain true for any future enhancements. I’d stay tuned on this front if I were you.

I’ll be exploring and explaining what features such as these mean for your business in the Biznology webinar I’m conducting January 15th: “It’s All E-commerce: How the Local, Social, Mobile Web Affects Sales Online and Offline”. We’ve still got some space, so register today and learn more about how all channels tie together in the social, local, mobile web.