Not a month goes by without some major ‘story’ pushed out by an OTA, which when covered (even with a pinch of judicious editorial salt) on our website does not attract a flurry of disdain from our readers.
A feeling of disenfranchisement in the face of these websites’ power is near-proverbial in our industry. This month, the British Hospitality Association made a big splash of calling for a formal government inquiry into the issue, with tentative backing from the Competition and Markets Authority. It is the first time I have seen the BHA make any real progress bending the ear of government where this particular problem is concerned.
However, in the name of balance, is it not worth looking at it from the OTAs’ perspective, just for a moment? Could it be true that the mountainous marketing budgets and endless TV spots promoting OTAs surely mean both foreign and domestic tourists are being constantly primed to spend money in hotels?
There is very limited data from which to ascertain whether or not this marketing actually precipitates more trips and stays, but it is not a stretch to imagine that the promise of low prices and abundant choice will be driving some traffic to your hotel’s profile that your own website wouldn’t otherwise receive.
Could one go further and suggest that since OTAs are spending millions producing this traffic, it would actually be unfair for the hotels to partner with them and then list a cheaper price on their own sites? If it were common knowledge that you could get a cheaper deal by going direct in every case, that would make the OTA a free search engine via which every tourist would ‘bounce’ to the private website of their chosen hotel.
Would this not be a form of piggybacking by individual businesses? Indeed, how could an OTA survive in these circumstances?
Many regard the online travel agent as a ‘necessary evil’, and inherent in that description is an admission that they do at least perform a useful function – even if the terms and conditions are draconian.
Recalibrating the power balance between OTA and hotelier is a legitimate cause and one in which I would like to see the BHA succeed, but we shouldn’t wish for the demise of OTAs altogether. They deliver bookings after all.