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Calls for national campaign against OTAs

Save our industry! That’s the call from one frustrated Queensland resort manager who wants to gather troops from around Australia for an all-out war against the tactics of online travel agents.

Kerryn Beck, who with her husband Peter runs The Shores Holiday Apartments at Blacks Beach outside Mackay, is calling for action against OTA “brand hijacking’’ and an Australia-wide promotion to encourage potential guests to call properties direct rather than book through overseas-operated internet sites.

“People need to know that so many sites on the internet for accommodation properties in Australia are actually `pretend’ sites run by the OTAs,’’ she said.

“It would be an enormous help to the industry if the general public was really made aware of what the OTAs were doing and if they instead booked directly with the property.

“The problem now is that people can’t find the property’s real website because OTAs dominate the Google searches.

“If you look on Google for hotels in Mackay the first page and a half are OTA sites or the really big players who can afford to pay big dollars to Google for a higher ranking.

“As a small independent operator we have no clout.’’

She says, though, that together the accommodation industry could mount a major campaign to educate holidaymakers.

Ms Beck said a search for her property resulted in “five sites that look like our site and pretend to be our site’’ but which were run by OTAs.

“It’s just bizarre that not only do they take over our property’s name, but we then have to spend 15 per cent commission that then goes overseas,’’ she said.

“We have guests coming in all the time who think they booked on our site but actually booked on a Booking.com site that looked like ours.

“If the practice [of brand hijacking] is banned in other countries why is it still allowed to happen in Australia?

“My husband and I have been in this industry for 20 years and under our management rights structure we get less commission on rooms than Booking.com and we spend all our time running the property.’’

Ms Beck said she stopped using Expedia “a couple of months ago because the fine print said they would find our cheapest rate advertised and sell our rooms for that rate’’.

“We were offering rooms $30 a night cheaper through direct booking with us rather than through an OTA, and Expedia was  going to use that discounted rate, tell us they were doing a great job, and  take their commission as well.

“In what other industry is someone else from overseas allowed to dictate to an Australian business owner what they can charge for a room?’’

Ms Beck’s complaints echo earlier claims to Accomnews from Ross Forbes-Stephen from the Cable Beachside Villas in Broome, Western Australia.

He told Accomnews he was furious that OTAs discounted his rooms without permission.

He said Tourism WA had run a campaign promoting the “book direct message’’ but with only limited success because brand hijacking was so powerful that it tended to obscure the property’s own website.

“It is only the really persistent people who actually find our phone number and ring who ended up booking direct,’’ he said.
“This hijacking issue needs to be resolved before even trying to convince people of the benefit of direct bookings.’’

Addressing the brand hijacking issue, a Booking.com spokesman told Accomnews: “Everything we do is in the spirit of not just giving customers access to the best accommodation options at great prices, but also bringing guests and incremental business to our accommodation partners, particularly as we support the continued recovery of domestic travel in Australia.

Search engines are open platforms where any business, including properties of all sizes, can pay to advertise. With a choice of different marketing channels to reach potential customers, the properties that choose to list on Booking.com are able to do so at absolutely no charge.

“We then invest in advertising to help them capture as much customer demand that exists in order to grow their businesses, ultimately helping to keep the larger travel ecosystem thriving over the long-term, including in Australia.’’

Grantlee Kieza

Grantlee Kieza OAM has won three Queensland Media Awards, two Australian Sports Commission Awards and has been a finalist for the Walkley and News Awards and for the Harry Gordon Award for Australian sports journalist of the year. In 2019 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his writing. You can find more of his writing in our upcoming Accom News print magazine!

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18 Comments

    1. It is great to read an article like this as it confirms OTAs are not popular with many small to medium accommodation providers.

      I have been selling accommodation for 35 years in the same patch in Dubbo and I can’t believe how we have handed over a big chunk of our margins to OTAs and continue to do so.

      This can be easily fixed and we have fixed it in our business and we would love to share our strategy with any accommodation provider that wants a chat.

      1. Hi Terry, very interested to hear your strategies to combat OTA’s.
        We have been here for 16yrs and are finding a larger and larger chunk of our business comes from them. I don’t mind paying the commission to them if their guest books direct next time, but we struggle to convert OTA customers into regular direct guests. They simply seem to just go back to the OTA to look for a cheap deal wherever that may be.
        Cheers, Jim 0431 093 566 or [email protected]

    2. Initially we used the OTAs to top up our own bookings but we all got lazy. How easy to hit the accept button. Twenty or so years ago, before OTAs took over everyones business getting a booking was quite a process:

      Print a brochure that included rates for all periods.
      Advertise the property.
      Post a brochure for an enquiry.
      Get a phone call and hold booking for 7 days while waiting for a deposit cheque.
      Receive the cheque, make the booking and post a receipt.
      Cash on arrival as cheques not accepted.
      Issue receipt.

      I have said for a long time that the local tourist information or ARAMA should promote the region and the properties for a small commission – say 5%.

      I have just driven 4000 km through Queensland and found excellent information centres in all towns. They are very good at promoting the attractions of the area and often the region but seem often unwilling to recommend or take a booking for accommodation.

      You must make it easy for guests to book with you and offer an incentive that does not necessarily mean reducing your tariff. Essential that you get the email address of all guests so you can follow up – this is not the email address provided by the OTA.

  1. Raised this issue with our Local MP and got nowhere really they claim to be on the case but they are far from it. I put the question to them why is the government not supporting us (Australian business owners) by doing a campaign to stop supporting overseas owned business and overseas economies by sending commissions overseas. I asked why is there no TV ads pushing direct bookings to keep money in the Australian Economy. I have had some guests say oh we thought we were booking with you, Another guest I asked why they used booking dot com his reply, I like using them. We give every guest that uses an OTA details on the breakdown of what they have paid a lot don’t bother to read it. And what really gets me is Locals will use an OTA before picking up the phone.

  2. Our solution………. trademark your name and then tell them they cannot use it in their adwords campaign or search terms.

    We too have given Expedia & Co the boot and assiduously collect email addresses for our own customer followup program. We also use a text messaging app to request email addresses from booking.com reservations as soon as it comes through. I don’t mind paying a commission for a new guest but it really peeves me when a returning guest books through them.

    Recently we had a commission rebated from booking.com when I complained about a feral guest and a big exit cleanup. It’s about time they started a vetting system for undesirables and accepted some responsibility for guest quality. That is one reason I like AirBnB as an OTA.

  3. Well said, been feeling the same for the last five years dealing with these bullies. They have been horrific during the pandemic, more so than before. Their last great idea to :help” us recover was to drop our rates by 40%, no thanks. Have wanted to start up a group or something for a while but being (hopefully) not too many years from retirement thought what difference could I make. Count us in, we are on the Gold Coast. We do lower rates booking direct as they are not allowed to force us to not sell lower anymore but people still book through them and pay a few dollars more. We need to change the public’s mindset.

  4. I fully agree. I have built up my brand name over 15 years, and if anyone searches for my business name, I can be found at the top of the list and for dozens of keyword searches EXCEPT for a page full of OTAs that I am listed with! These all appear above my listing with my business name.

    It is pure theft and hijacking.

  5. Recently, I had Agoda charge me the normal 15% commission + 10% for mobile bookings. When I queried the 10% commission on mobile bookings and asked ‘who authorised’ this deduction, they advised me that they sent an email about the mobile bookings and if you did not reply, you were automatically added to mobile booking and hit with another 10%! I instantly told them to deduct the money from their commission and cancel our property from their website.

    Beside your web address, get your IT person to add (OFFICIAL WEBSITE) as that may help people know that they are on your website.

    In my experience talking to guests, it is the same as others have stated. Guests look at the top of the search and don’t understand web addresses or look at ‘AD’ in front of web address. Others, including returning guests, continue to book on BKG dot com as it is ‘EASY’.

    There is a slow increase for guests to call and book direct.

    What about a marketing budget to get the ‘LOCAL SEARCH’ group to advertise on TV and have every accommodation property listed? Obviously, they would want something out of it but Arama and Local Search might be able to work together, along with all Arama members.

    Just some ideas to think about.

  6. Hi there, great read and I agree 100%. It’s pity that everyone, I mean everyone is booking through websites like Booking.com, Expedia etc. Even after great Dick Smith openly tried to educate people on this same issue, we are still getting majority of our bookings through such Overseas Travel Agent websites! I am not only angry 😡 but now frustrated as nothing seems to be getting the simple message to the guests : “BOOK DIRECT and SAVE”

  7. The reply from booking.com is disingenuous at best.

    I agree that search engines, such as google, are an open platform which anyone can buy advertising space on. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with booking.com buying advertising space for search terms such as “Accommodation Perth”, or “Accommodation Gold Coast”. That is fair game, as it means that the person searching for “Accommodation Gold Coast” is not sure where they are going to stay, and a booking engine/aggregator such as booking.com is a perfect place for them to start their search. As a small operator, we can’t afford to advertise on those sort of general search terms anyway, as it would cost us more than the 15% commission that we pay to OTAs.

    What I do have a problem with is when they advertise on the exact name of our property and redirect guests who are already looking for our listing away from our website and direct them to their portal. The guest was practically a confirmed booking and would most likely have booked on our website – without any commission costs – and instead are directed to an OTA page which looks like a property booking page for our business, and which charges us a 15% commission for a booking that we likely had in the bag.

    Various governments (including WA and Tasmania) are running campaigns to get locals to book direct, but this is not going to work if guests are funnelled to OTAs when they do their search.

  8. We said!
    This is an every growing, on going issue for our industry.
    The government could be better using resources to support our industry in shutting down these practices and implementing/supporting/funding an all Australian OTA.
    An all Australian OTA that is kept at a set, low commission that is then used to then fund marketing campaigns for our country, a way to generate tourism dollars with tourism dollars. Including the all important education of Australian travellers to “book direct”, just like they are driving the “shop local”.
    Our sector needs so much more support in this mission.

  9. I had enough and delisted on Booking.com recently. ( I delisted off others years earlier out of frustration and a long list of issues ) It was “a very liberating experience”…. you should try it. In fact if everyone did they would not exist. Greed will be there undoing.

    1. Good Article and outlines the problem that we all have. We would have little success in combating the OTAs unless the major companies such as Accor brought weight to bare, however that are not as affected by the OTAs because of networks, it a case of I”m alright Jack!

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