All posts by Paul Manzey

Metasearch Trends Shifting Supplier Balance of Power

metasearch

How metasearch is shifting the balance of power

Metasearch engines in the travel space have made great strides towards becoming a user-friendly, cost effective way to search for travel accommodations.  According to Pia Vemmelund, the managing director at Momondo, “we’re going to see further mass adoption across new geographies – and explosive growth”.  This has the potential to drive further consolidation in the metasearch sector in the coming months and year, with smaller players finding bigger bedfellows.

Let’s take a look at a few key trends that have helped metasearch grow in recent years, and will continue to foster growth in the future.

Metasearch aims to be a convenient tool for travelers.

How are metasearch engines fulfilling the convenience factor for travelers?  Metasearch players have focused on ensuring that search technology renders results quickly and accurately, in an east-to-use display.

By working closely with travel suppliers and OTA partners to improve the booking process, metasearch engines have been able to dramatically increase their product over a short period.  These players have also strived to improve their website experience across every possible screen, allowing for an optimized experience across all devices.

Personalization is a mega differentiator.

As we discussed in an earlier blog post, the millennial generation views personalization as a form of loyalty, and there is a growing trend towards personalizing search results to offer all users a more targeted results.

Vemmelund believes that metasearch engines will attempt to branch out from ‘pure’ search, and those seeking a blend with booking.  Ultimately, this could change the business model of some major players.

Going forward, it will be important to establish brand loyalty among potential travelers with the right mix of push notifications, bonuses and retargeting.  No single person is the same, which will place an added importance on acquiring as much meaningful data about a customer as possible.

Just having this data is important, but another goal for metasearch engines will be to integrate this data across multiple channels.

Finding new ways to boost revenues is important.

How can metasearch engines generate additional revenue?  Here are three opportunities:

1) Selling new products – airport transfers, insurance, physical goods (travel bags), tours and activities.

2) Cobranding with other verticals – partnerships with financial institutions for co-branded credit cards is an example.

3) Selling meta-metadata – statistics on queries, purchases, destinations, etc.  Selling these analytics to suppliers has the potential to be a tremendous revenue booster.

The balance of power is shifting back to the supplier.

Most industry experts believe that metasearch engines will continue to bypass OTAs, and this will be due in large part to forming direct contracts with end suppliers.  Why does this make sense for metasearch engines?

-Because metasearch sites are implementing changes faster than most OTAs, they are able to do more for the supplier in less time than OTAs, or at least do it cheaper.

-Metasearch sites are a cheaper channel for suppliers than OTAs.  Use of metasearch shifts the balance of power back to suppliers.

-The end user experience is better in a direct model.

Key Points

-Recent metasearch improvements have made them a favorite choice among consumers when planning to travel.

-The next step for these metaseach engines is to form direct connections with the suppliers as they have the potential to be a more cost effective channel going forward.

-Integrating consumer data across a multi-channel travel space will make metasearch engines a more powerful and cohesive tool.

The Rise of Mainstream Mobile Analytics

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Google Analytics are a great resource for finding out how consumers are using your website.  The next step in the analytics field is attempting to unearth some valuable information regarding a user’s mobile interaction with an application or a mobile website.

EyeForTravel’s Ritesh Gupta conducted an interview with Seshadri Krishnan, co-found of Trip38, a location aware mobile app, about the role mobile analytics plays in an emerging, yet critical, business area.

Krishnan explains that 2014 is the right time for mobile analytics to take off because of major technology players starting to offer this as part of their overall analytics value proposition.  Because of all the recent front-end growth of the mobile platform, it makes sense that it would take time for backend aspects to gain traction and scale.

Areas that continue to gain traction or tools that are not quite on par with traditional web analytics tools include:

1. Conversion – mobile conversion is still lower than the web conversion models.

2. Tracking Mechanisms – these are still rudimentary given the limitations on the app footprint and limited fallback options unlike on the web where cookies and other behavior targeting aspects have been perfected over the years.

3. Brand Names – bigger players focused on mobile analytics are set to emerge as leaders in this space.

Google Analytics in the Mobile Channel

The same Google Analytics that are used in the traditional web model are still valid in the mobile platform including statistics such as app usage time, time spent per session, time spent on various paces and user activity.  Trip38 is able to track these analytics because they have built a tracking code into their app that allows greater insight into user behavior.

Despite how far the market has come in the past few years, there are still strides to be made in this arena.  Aspects like a single dashboard across all devices, enterprise-wide access for analytics in the corporate setting and lightweight built-in mobile analytics are a few of the innovations Krishnan expects to see going forward.

Key Criteria for User Engagement

Trip38 currently measures user engagement in terms of time spent on the mobile app, features they use such as reviews, ratings, or social likes that they do using the platform.  Krishnan emphasizes the importance of the social and search aspects of the app in creating a network effect to get more users.

The read the complete EyeForTravel interview, and to learn more about mobile analytics, click here.

Analyzing Hotel Operating Profitability

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STR Analytics recently analyzed the 2012 profit and loss data from more than 6,000 hotels across North America to determine what the most profitable establishments have in common.

Dividing the total survey between full-service and limited-service (hotels with less than 5% of revenue coming from food and beverage as compared to revenue), and comparing these groups as a whole with the top 10% in each category, STR was able to glean some important information hoteliers should consider going forward.  Here is a brief overview of the analysis findings.

Key Statistics

-Room count differences between the Top 10% of hotels and survey average is not striking in the limited-service category (Total-114, Top 10%-123), but they are in the full-service category (Total-287, Top 10%-183).  This might attribute to smaller full-service hotels typically having leaner food-and-beverage operations, which lend toward greater profitability.

-Chain affiliation lends to a hotel’s profitability in both the limited- and full-service categories.  When comparing limited-service properties, 96% of all hotels of this type were brand-affiliated while 98.1% of the Top 10% fell under the brand umbrella.  In the full-service category, the Top 10% showed similar brand-affiliation as the limited-service category (98.4%), while industry-wide this number was only 88.8%.

-The most telling statistic in this study found that the average daily rate (ADR) was lower and the average occupancy was higher in the Top 10% of both limited- and full-service hotels than across the industry average.

During the past few years, demand has recovered from the previous peak of 2007 at a faster rate than ADR.  As demand continues to break records and ADR plays catch-up in the markets where it has yet to reach previous peak levels, there is an expectation of a positive impact on overall U.S. hotel industry profitability.

To dive deeper into the numbers and to read more about what makes the top hotels in the U.S. profitable, click here.

Getting the Most Out of Multi-Channel Marketing

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A problem for hoteliers in today’s multi-channel world is having a database full of guests with which you cannot effectively communicate.  Whether this includes linking data from your mobile platform to your customer relationship management system, effectively using social data or combining online and offline information, a clear marketing plan starts with having all this vital information centralized.

No hotel company wants to base their marketing strategies on unsound data, but to overcome these challenges, hotel companies need a way to pull all of the data related to their guests into one system.

Why is integrating data from online and offline channels a challenge?

1) Understanding the emerging channels that comprise online data, bringing together that data and making sense of it all is no small feat.

2) Even traditional channels, such as guest profiles and loyalty program data, can produce problems because of missing or duplicate data.  Consider every time a brand new profile is created for an existing guest who makes a reservation through a new channel.

In a recent SASBlog post, Natalie Osborn, examines how using data integration and data quality capabilities can help pull your data into one system.  Osborn explains that data integration helps you consume the online data you have coming in, while data quality helps you match the online data with your offline customer profiles.

What are the benefits of a solid data management system?

Once you have your system in place, you can add to it with new sources of data and analytics.  Combining offline profile information with social media data may give you a clearer understanding of your guests’ needs.  The key is to have the data quality and data matching in place to maintain an accurate profile of your guests.

From here, you have the opportunity to take this data a step further with a preference center.  This allows you to manage interactions with your guests across a variety of platforms.  Preference centers can help you understand important information about your guests, such as email addresses and social media profiles.  You can learn ways in which communicating with customers is appealing to both sides.

To learn more about integration of data from online and offline sources, click here.

Death of the Cookie: 2014 Edition

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When someone says the word cookie, inevitably everyone thinks about chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and maybe even Christmas.  However, in this case we are talking about the online tracking device that may be on its way out.  Nearly a year ago, we wrote a blog post detailing how cookies affect your individual business listing and call tracking ability.  This time around, we’ll discuss why consumers are against the tracking code and who stands to benefit from their diminishing existence.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are small pieces of code that websites drop onto your browser as you surf the web.  They record what sites you have looked at.  Online advertising companies use this information to customize your online experience with ads generated off your browsing history.

There are two different types of cookies online:  first-party and third-party.  Almost every website serves a cookie, especially if you have to log into it.  Take online banking as an example.  The cookie reminds the bank’s website that you are logged in correctly.  If it were not there, the site would forget that you logged in and lock you out of your account.  Essentially, the web does not work with these first-party cookies.

The third-party cookies are currently under threat of extinction.  These cookies are served by other companies through the webpage you are looking at.  Going back to the banking example, the bank’s website might allow dozens of third parties to drop cookies onto your browser.  When you go to another site after the bank’s, those cookies will signal to other advertisers that a person with a recent history of checking their bank account has arrived.

Who is Attempting to do What to Stop Third-Party Cookies?

Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) are all planning to launch browsers with default “Do Not Track” settings.  These settings will be rigged to reject cookies or to signal the user does not wish to be tracked.

Paul Cimino, VP/GM of Brilig Digital Data Solutions at Merkle, said that his company found the number of machines you can see on the internet versus the number that you can cookie has been decreasing over the past three years to around 50%.

Much of this has to do with the fact that mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) cannot be cookied, and these have become a preferred way to “surf the net”.

Why are Cookies such a Taboo Subject?

In their simplest form, cookies are a breach of privacy for internet users.  Although they technically do not give away any personally identifying information about you, they do give advertisers an idea of what your interests are including what you are shopping for, where you live and into what demographics you fit.

The more web users who look at the internet with third-party cookies turned off, the fewer users there are for advertisers to target.

Privacy advocates hate cookies because they carry information about what you search for on the web.  Organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Abine have anti-cookie stances because, as EPIC puts it, “a cookie is a mechanism that allows a website to record your comings and goings, usually without your knowledge or consent.”

Who Stands to Benefit from a Cookie-less Internet?

James Lamberti, vice president of the device recognition firm AdTruth, says the upshot here is that the data companies get from first-party cookies will be of much higher value as the third-party cookie becomes obsolete, and members of the online advertising ecosystem who do not have the first-party data could be left out in the cold.  This becomes a “rich get richer” proposition in the grand scheme of things.

“This could create a situation where you could have a couple of players, namely Google and Facebook, just take over and have so much power where it’s not good for the industry,” said Lamberti.

How Does This All Apply to ResortsandLodges.com?

When shopping for a unique travel experience, leisure travelers typically visit a website multiple times.  If these consumers are accessing sites from different channels like a smartphone or tablet, there are no cookies to track where they have already been.  Ultimately, this decreases the perceived lead conversion rate for a given property.

Another effect seen at ResortsandLodges.com, which is referenced in last year’s “Death of the Cookie” post, has to do with Phonalytics, our state-of-the-art call tracking system.  Cookies enable us to direct a tracking number to a property’s website when they reach the site through ResortsandLodges.com.

If travelers are making multiple visits to a site, they may bypass our site and head directly to a property website.  Without these cookies, we are unable to re-direct the user back to the proxy site (your site with the tracking in place), and the transaction occurs without being attributed to a specific advertisement that generated the booking.

Based on the data, an argument could be made that nearly 42% of calls being generated by ResortsandLodges.com to our partner properties are not able to be tracked or reported on.

Using YouTube to Generate Bookings

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Content may be king of the marketing world, but the modern consumer is less interested in text-based advertisements and more interested in video.

The video content site YouTube claims to host more than one billion unique user visits to its website each month.  These one billion viewers spend more than six billion hours watching videos.  These numbers may seem astounding and nearly incomprehensible, but it follows the trend of a tech-savvy population looking for the quickest and easiest way to digest information.

Nielsen, a company known for producing television ratings, has noted that YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18-34 than any cable network.  Seeing that this age group, commonly referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, will become the core customer within the hospitality and travel industries over the next five to 10 years, it is important to understand the best way to reach them.

If these numbers are accurate and video marketing is the key to attracting attention of hospitality’s largest audience going forward, why is video so underutilized today?

According to DJ Vallauri, Founder and President of Lodging Interactive, hoteliers simply “need guidance as to how to create videos for search engine marketing and guest engagement.”

Marketers must continue the evolution from keyword proficiency, to content-driven marketing that helped maximize search results for websites.  Now similar practices will be required to optimize video.

Valluri believes that the best way of turning lookers into bookers is found in delivering creative, yet relevant, content that informs and entertains travelers and prospective guests, and there is no better vehicle to do that than video.

Why is Video Effective?

“Authentic, compelling and informative video content will entice travelers and convey a hotel’s unique experiences to online visitors,” said Valluri.  “A video embedded on the homepage of a hotel’s website and also uploaded to YouTube and the other leading social media channels can be what sets your property apart from other destinations.  Video conveys visual and emotional touch points which are present in almost every travel offering, and that is what drives bookings.”

Facts and Stats About Video

-Bookings are 67% more likely to happen when a video tour of your property is available.

-Internet shoppers who view your video are 89% more likely to book.

-Google purchased YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion when the video site was only a year old.

-Both Google and YouTube offer tools such as “Google Trends” and “YouTube Videos Keyword Tool” to help hoteliers identify keywords to use in video titles.

– When it comes to engagement, Comscore says online video is 5.33 times more effective than text, and, site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% closer to purchase.

Three Keys for Effective Video Marketing in the Hospitality Industry

1) Increase Awareness

2) Generate Buzz

3) Boost Bookings

To read more about the role of video marketing going forward, click here.

How to Make Metasearch Sites Work For You

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Metasearch engines are a topic that gets a lot of attention on the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog because they play such an important role in the supply-and-demand principles of the hospitality industry.  They enable consumers to search all the major online travel agencies (OTAs) at once through a single website simultaneously.

Metasearch channels are fantastic booking tools for the modern consumer, but they can also be a game-changer for hoteliers.  What remains to be seen is whether metasearch engines will have a positive or negative effect, and this depends on an individual property’s revenue management system.  Let’s take a look at a couple factors you will need to consider as your metasearch engine use progresses.

Metasearch engines expand your property’s compset exponentially.

By definition, your compset is a group of other brands offering a similar product or service to the same consumers.  Your traditional (geographical) compset is typically going to be quite small.  However, metasearch engines expand your compset to every hotel listed on every OTA on the internet.  Even if a property is only listed on one OTA, metasearch sites will present that OTA listing to consumers as well, turning that property into a direct competitor.

This drastic increase in competition forces hoteliers and property managers to constantly offer the most competitive prices.  These prices also need to be updated in real-time as the market changes.

Jean Franois Mourier, a contributor at Hospitality Net, explains that without a sophisticated revenue management technology necessary to update pricing as the market changes, and without channel management technology to manage your rates on all online channels, hotels will find it almost impossible to keep up.

If done properly, metasearch engines can drastically increase your online visibility.

Having the necessary technology mentioned above will allow your property to have a much greater online visibility without have to sign up with additional OTA channels.  You may be asking yourself, how does this work?  By having a presence on the major OTAs, your rates will be pulled into the metasearch engine results and will be visible to any consumer using that site to book a hotel stay.

Metasearch OTAs enable you to direct bookings through the channel of your choice.

When a consumer decides to book a room at your property, they will likely be looking for the channel charging the lowest rate.  Travelers using a metasearch engine will see multiple rates, and will (almost) always book through the least expensive site.

This is where you have an opportunity to direct consumers to the booking channel of your choice.  Advertising the lowest daily rates on OTAs that offer the lowest commission will allows you to maximize your revenue potential.

The modern consumer is tech-savvy, and focused on being more efficient with their search efforts.  Metasearch engines create a real demand as the potential “OTA of the future”.  In order to capitalize on this expanding online resource, you will need to adjust your revenue management strategy now to get the best possible results from this highly profitable channel.

Just How Big a Deal are Same-Day Hotel Bookings?

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Mobile devices have taken the travel and hospitality industries by storm in recent years with companies focusing their efforts on creating mobile websites, applications and more to help attract a new generation of travelers:  millennials.

Mobile and same-day booking trends are transforming the user experience in hotel bookings, but the travel research and booking experience is still very much a multi-device phenomenon.  Desktops, phones, tablets and even walk-ins all still play an important role in the booking process.

A recent Skift travel article looked at the user behavior from partners of Sojern, including major brands like Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton.  Sojern’s data showed that in Q4 of 2013, 29% of U.S. hotel bookings were done on the same day – defined as within 24 hours – of their stay.

These numbers clearly demonstrate a shift in the timing of hotel bookings, as well as the way rooms are booked.  Brad King, Sojern’s vice president of sales and marketing, says his company’s numbers do not necessarily portray the U.S. hotel-booking sector as a whole.  They are, however, worth considering for the directional trends they depict.

Why is this Important?

Although same-day and last-minute bookings, especially on mobile devices, area a resounding trend, it is still a multi-device environment.  Consumer behavior varies widely with some individuals and groups preferring to book much further out.  The accommodation type also typically has an effect on consumer behavior with travelers looking to book at luxury and all-inclusive resorts typically planning their getaways over a longer period.

Hotel marketing that focuses overwhelmingly on last minute and mobile would likely bypass a majority of bookers.  This is why travel marketers and revenue managers need to craft their campaigns to take this diversity of booking patterns into account.

To read the full Skift article and to learn more about what major players in the OTA industry had to say about the Sojern report, click here.