A Queensland tourism authority has hit back at claims of incompetence over its partnering of US OTA giants on regional tourism promotions.
Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD) came under fire last week for its decision to promote the region in tandem with Expedia, through an arrangement requiring providers to discount rates already subject to the booking platform’s 15 percent commission.
The authority last year launched a similar promotion targeting Melburnians by linking with Booking.com. Both OTAs were named in a UK crackdown this month on platforms using misleading marketing practices.
Tourism advocacy group Port Douglas Direct (PDD) accused the authority of “pure negligence”, spokesperson Gerry Ireland saying: “The executive officer and directors of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree have entered into an irresponsible collaborative promotional campaign with Expedia and Wotif.”
The authority’s executive officer, Tara Bennett, told AccomNews: “Within the current distribution climate, TPDD has a balanced marketing plan which includes strategic engagement with significant online partners such as OTAs, particularly in high need periods.
“The tactical activity with Expedia enables an agile response to negative media coverage of recent weather events and region-wide soft occupancy to drive bookings for the April to June shoulder period.
“There are more than 140 properties in the Douglas region who currently utilise Expedia within their distribution strategy and who will have the opportunity to benefit from the activity, but also have the option to close out dates to ensure optimal yield through direct or other distribution channels.”
Ms Bennett went on to outline other direct-to-consumer promotions such as the Discover Paradise publication, TPDD website, and promotions such as the upcoming Show Me Your Paradise campaign running across social media and traditional channels.
“TPDD will continue to make its partnership decisions on the basis of maximising our potential audience reach, value to our members and marketing footprint,” she said.
However, Gerry Ireland argues the Discover Paradise publication is outdated and the TPDD website offers no option to book and pay for accommodation, so customers have to exit the site and book through commission-charging platforms.
PDD set up its own OTA last year as an alternative to Expedia and Booking.com, some critics suggesting its stance is about self-promotion and pointing out that the collective also lists Expedia among its distribution partners.
But Ireland argues PDD has no option but to work with the two bookings giants that control 70 percent of the distribution market.
“We aim to work with OTAs on our terms by creating an assertive tourism collective that has regional scale and expertise, and can deal with OTAs using the clout our regional collective will have,” he said.
And he has suggested an alternative approach to that put forward by TPDD to counter the soft tourism market in Port Douglas.
“Partnering with Expedia seems to be a reflexive and easy option to an urgent need to drive bookings and occupancy,” he told AccomNews.
“January to March is low season and April to May is shoulder season. Why not work with the 140 resorts or more and collate the 140-resort collective tourist customer database (of guests) who visited Port Douglas in the same period 2018 and 2017, including those who booked with any OTA.
“Coordinate a collective 140 resort promotion to each of those tourist customers incentivising a return visit, reminding them of the unique experiences they had – retention and re-activation.
“However, the incentive should be based on booking direct with each resort since our first priority must be to get them back, and make money for each resort.
“The planned Expedia promotion denies the 140 resorts (the ability) to make money since neither TPDD nor Expedia are funding the -25 percent discounted promotion, the resorts are, or if they inflate the room rate to cover the cost of the promotion, the tourist customers are!
“Worse still Expedia will own and control any tourist customers who respond to the promotion and book, not the resorts”.
Asked about the decision to promote the region through an Expedia tie-in, Douglas Shire mayor Julia Leu said the council had full confidence in the TPDD board and argued the authority was doing a “terrific job”.