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The pros & cons of partnering with OTAs

For new motel operators: Emily Stephens unpicks the essential role of OTAs & reveals how to maximise your accommodation's presence

For individual and small moteliers Online Travel Agents (OTAs) may not always be the most beloved figures, but it is undeniable that for the accommodation sector, they are indispensable.

Despite the occasional frustration including their significant influence on online visibility, they remain an essential component of the industry landscape.

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OTAs make it so much easier for potential guests to see several properties at once, compare them and make a booking. It is like going to an ‘accommodation supermarket’ with a range of options to choose from and selecting your favourite item. Getting this valuable exposure for your accommodation is the main reason why it is so important to be listed.

When listed with an OTA it is essential to understand the terms and conditions of the particular website and platform. This can take some time to clarify, however it is important to know where the property stands in different situations.

Be comfortable and confident with the rights and responsibilities of the property as well as the booking portal. Understand how to work with the platform and guests for any challenging situation that may arise for the best outcome for everyone.

Remember, working with an online travel agent is a partnership.

For most properties, OTAs will have a significant influence on the number of reservations the property receives, as well as contributing to their online presence in the form of reviews.

As with most partnerships there are challenges to be encountered and there will also be an invoice at the end of each month for commission, however this should not overshadow the positivity the OTAs have on bringing customers to your door, virtual and physical.

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As an accommodation operator for over 20 years, I have had my fair share of time working with online travel agents in all types of situations. For me it is all about accepting the influence they have on potential guests staying at the property and making the best of the situation.

For properties that have limited scope for online marketing, the OTAs will play a big part in their reservations. Some motels may even accept most, if not all, of their bookings from OTAs and this can depend on the property’s operational systems.

Being listed on OTAs will also capture a much broader market because they have an extensive marketing budget and power. Your commission costs can therefore be regarded as a marketing expense.

The listing of an accommodation property on most OTAs will include a picture, room type option for the number of guests, review score rating, price and cancellation policy. This is what the property will be compared to and judged on with other options within the same area.

Providing the best option for your property in this area will enhance the probability of gaining the booking. The information should be up to date and include the best photos. Potential guests will be booking with their eyes as they scroll through the list of options, so the photos need to capture their attention.

The property’s description will be listed so that it can be translated into different languages. It’s important to be clear and simple in the description as it may cause misunderstandings with different languages. For example; know the difference between a spa bath, a jacuzzi and a hot tub as these can mean different things in different cultures.

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It’s crucial to bear in mind that joining the major OTAs entails becoming affiliated with their numerous affiliate websites, which are many.

Understanding the promotional side of the online travel agent’s platform and working it to the advantage of the property is a perfect example of working with the OTA. Test the different promotions available to see which benefits the property and which is more popular with the guests. Promotions can then be used on an as needed basis.

Partnering with online travel agents requires patience as well as a bill at the end of the month, which for small accommodation operators can have a big impact. There may also be challenging situations with mutual guests from OTA’s that have a negative impression.

However, it is hard to deny when looking at the overall picture of reservations, the positive impact OTAs make on a property.

At the end of the day accommodation operators have a choice in where they are listed. With a bit of time and patience they can find the travel agent, virtual or physical, and situation that suits their property and guest best.

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