The relationship between hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs) is still a tumultuous one, with individual properties constantly competing with third-party sites for guest bookings. And now, more than ever, hotels are beginning to take matters into their own hands and launch effective direct booking platforms to put profits into their pockets while increasing guest loyalty and satisfaction at the same time.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is one hotel organization that is attempting to increase direct bookings by creating specific brand booking websites and offering incentives for guests who use these sites.
"From our standpoint, direct booking is obviously much more cost effective," says Andrew Rubinacci, vice president of distribution and intermediary sales for IHG. "But it isn't really all about profit, it's about creating a dialogue and creating a long-term relationship."
At the end of 2011, IHG launched its Best Price Guarantee—a promise that states consumers will find the lowest rate on the company's brand websites. If a guest finds a lower rate anywhere else on the Internet, IHG will give that guest a free night stay.
"We're trying to make sure the customers know that they can come to us—that they can be assured they will get the best rates and we will take better care of them," says Rubinacci.
Guest personalization and service is really what Rubinacci believes will benefit the customer most when booking directly with hotels. He explains that while OTAs may claim to be "hotel experts," the real experts are those working directly for the hotels.
"From a consumer standpoint, I think it just makes sense. If you're going to be staying with someone, you probably want to do your business with that person," he says. "We know what's in our local markets—we're on the ground."
Rubinacci also points out that direct booking often allows customers to take advantage of brand-specific loyalty programs where they can earn reward points to use toward hotel stays, travel expenses, dining, or retail purchases. These perks are often non-existent when consumers book through third-party channels.
IHG, which launched Russian and Turkish booking sites last week, now supports online reservations in 13 different languages, giving guests from all over the world the ability to book directly with the company's hotel brands. IHG is hoping to take advantage of the uptick in Web and mobile use in these up-and-coming markets to drive traffic directly to its booking engines.
Although IHG has made big steps toward increasing its direct bookings through the use of social media and online promotion, Rubinacci explains that consumers are often still under the impression that OTAs offer the better deal—a thought that IHG is hoping to dispel moving forward.
"Unfortunately, the thought that OTAs have better rates still kind of persists in the industry," he says. "But I think any time we can get closer to our customers, it's better. It's better for us and it is better for them."