Blue Magnet Hotel Online Marketing Guide

Buying Your Way to the Top of Online Agencies – OTAs & Paid Opportunities

Ranking on the first page of Google’s results has become an increasingly difficult task over the last few years. With competitor sites, third party vendors, and algorithms to worry about impacting your hotel’s triage within search results, it’s imperative to consider every option available at your marketing disposal. Paid search is one of the utensils that has become increasingly effective in combating these bedeviling certainties due to its propensity to secure valuable real estate at the top of pages and the ability to achieve results quickly. That said, online travel agencies have continued to occupy most of the organic results for hotels even when a property is using a sound search engine optimization program coupled with paid search possibilities. What if, as a hotelier, you were able to leverage your results in online travel agencies while simultaneously improving your performance in search results? That’s where our friend paid search comes back into play. By optioning to use specific programs present on certain online travel agencies, a hotel can improve their visibility in both instances thus yielding the opportunity for a property to amass more revenue. Before executing a strategy that is best for your hotel’s needs, it is important to understand the difference between online travel agencies and paid search as well as their accompanying benefits, hotel brand standards, and finally which online travel agencies offer paid search opportunities. Once schooled in these elements of digital marketing, you’ll be able to take the knowledge you’ve accumulated and apply it to your hotel, taking it to heights you never thought possible.

Hoteliers have many marketing channels available to them when promoting a specific property. They can get the word out about how they have been recognized as one of 2016’s best hotels by creating a tweet or showcasing the hotel on social media. Perhaps an email blast filled with summer specials is the ticket to bringing in thousands of prospective guests. Or maybe meeting and event transactions have been low compared to last year and ownership is seeking to generate more leads through event space marketing. Whatever the case may be, online travel agencies and paid search remain as approaches that are misunderstood by most within the field of hotel management.

Learn how you can leverage paid search opportunities present on online travel agencies to improve the performance of your listing and also boost your performance in search results!

What Makes OTAs A-Okay?

For those accustomed to the old fashioned way of exploration, i.e. booking directly over the phone or hiring a travel agent, the concept of an internet business may be new to you. Simply put, an online travel agency, commonly referred to as an OTA, is an ecommerce website that allows a user to book a variety of travel related conveniences such as hotels, flights, vehicles, etc. What exactly draws people to these web based companies? The reasons below are indicative of not only the travel industry, but purchasing behavior as a whole:

  1. Ease
  2. Stay-at-home mom with a hectic schedule? Retiree with a limited knowledge of computers and the interwebs? Not to fear, OTAs make booking a vacation very intuitive. Not only can an individual book a hotel or flight from the comfort of their living room sofa, but they are also afforded the ability to make travel plans using whatever device they have at their disposal (desktop, mobile phone, tablet, etc.). Also, because online travel agencies function on a 24/7 basis, travelers can book night or day and can ask questions with relative ease as most engines come equipped with customer support.

  3. Alternatives
  4. Due to the expansiveness of online commerce, OTAs supplant the conventional brick and mortar travel agent with respect to options. Sightseers have the capability to truly comparison shop as well as search for the best deals available. With the assistance of flexible date searches and opaque fares, the likelihood of a user getting scammed are slim to none while they can fully assess the going rate for a property or location across multiple platforms.

  5. Preference
  6. When you utilize online travel agencies, you become the decision maker. There are not outside influencers urging you to book at a certain property or use a specific airline so they can gain profit via commission.


Paid Search And What It Means For My Hotel

With the internet becoming such a powerful ally in the world of commerce, most companies, and even more so those within competitive industries and markets (hoteliers, I’m talking to you), need to leverage every opportunity available on the web. One of the more prevalent recourses to take in 2016 and beyond is the utilization of paid search. Savvy or not, everyone can benefit from understanding what exactly paid search encompasses. At the most basic level, paid search functions as an online marketing effort in which an individual, organization, or business advertise within the sponsored listings of a search engine. Essentially, your ad will appear on the top or side of a search results page when people search for phrases that are relevant to your cause.

As seen in the example below, someone is looking to make their young child’s birthday party, or maybe their own, not sure what people are into these days, a spectacular event of sorts.



Effectively, when a user searches for ‘bounce house’ on a search engine (in this particular case – Google), the results page will exhibit the paid ads at the very top of the page. As you can see, the results denoted as “Ad” appear in prime position for those searching a particular term or phrase.

For an added inference, paid search will allow those employing it the ability to advertise in the following ways:

So why, as a hotelier, would I need to use paid search for my property? Hotels have to compete for precious real estate on search results pages, because organic listings are being pushed further and further down those pages. Adding paid search to your toolbox of online marketing tactics will allow you to target specific search terms, increase your property’s visibility in search results pages, and, most importantly, drive highly qualified visits to your hotel’s website. This approach also enables a hotel to position their marketing message in front of thousands of prospective guests and leads to the generation of immediate bookings.

When Paid Search and OTAs Powers Combine

To answer your initial thought, no your hotel won’t become the Captain Planet of the interwebs. What will happen, however, could be just as magical, perhaps just not as environmentally conscious. When a hotelier leverages OTAs and the paid search opportunities available on them, they can accomplish the objectives below:

  1. Control Marketing Message
  2. Online Travel Agencies and their accompanying ads (i.e. Expedia Travel Ads)
    allow the creator to promote some of their property’s most prevalent features, be it an amenity unseen in their market or proximity to an airport or local attraction. Similarly to a paid search ad created in Google Adwords or Bing Ads, most ads constructed in OTAs can mimic the same message while appearing in tandem with a search term that you have bid on, increasing the hotel’s exposure.

  3. Promote Rates and/or Specials
  4. As mentioned above, OTA ads permit a producer to curtail their message to best fit the needs of their hotel. Perhaps it’s your slow season or you need to fill a specific weekend coming up. No problem. Alterations can easily be made to advocate a particular rate or special offer that the property is looking to garner more attention.

  5. Focus On Specific Markets
  6. Targeting may be one of the biggest advantages in utilizing a paid ad. With how intuitive search engines and OTAs have become, an ad architect can deliver different content to a user based on their geographic location. While some may argue that this is an invasion of privacy to a degree, it is rather effective in serving information to those who would likely find it useful and hopefully take advantage in the form of purchasing.

  7. Fill Rooms While Maintaining Average Daily Rate (ADR)
  8. A hotel’s average daily rate is calculated by taking the revenue earned and dividing it by the number of rooms sold. Because OTAs are not allowed to sell rooms for a price lower than that listed on a hotel’s website, ads on online travel agency websites can display rates that are equal or even somewhat higher than what is posted on a property’s domain. Thusly, this can bring in more incremental revenue.

  9. Target High Converting Consumers
  10. In general, paid ads will allow you to target shoppers by destination and travel dates so your message reaches the right audience at the right time.

  11. Focus on Need Dates
  12. No matter the city, market, or hotel brand, every property experiences that time in the year when business is just not as great as it had been during the prior months. With factors like seasonality and construction occurring, hotels must plan their method of attack for getting heads on pillows early. Due to organic search results being pushed further and further down pages, greasing the search engine result page wheels has become even more important over the course of the last few months than in years past. A property can gain a hefty advantage over their competitors when appearing as one of the first ad results for a specific query. Outlining a strategy prior to your need dates popping up can make all the difference and one of the best allies for this is paid search ads.

Can I Use Paid Opportunities?: Brand Standards

If you have worked within the hotel industry in any capacity, you are probably aware of the restrictions the brands have put in place. When considering online travel agencies and their specific paid opportunities, the only real constraint is afforded to our friends at Marriott. Hotels under this flagship are not permitted to participate in mobile or last minute sales provided by Expedia. That said, it does not limit their ability to create and manage Travel Ads. Speaking of, let’s delve into specific online travel agencies and their capabilities / benefits to get a better understanding of the menagerie between them and paid search.

Paid Search Opportunities Offered by Expedia

An American based company, Expedia, Inc. houses various global online travel brands under its umbrella including Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, trivago, Venere.com, Travelocity, and Orbitz to name a few. The company powers bookings for thousands of partners such as airlines, hotels, consumer brand, and high traffic websites.

Travel Ads

Travel Ads is a pay per click program that, when used effectively, puts your hotel in front of one of the largest travel audiences in the world. The Expedia product provides hoteliers the means to develop sponsored listings, which supply a property with both intended & nonpareil placement within the search results. Functioning as a typical paid search advertising campaign, a hotelier has the power to set a maximum price-per-click and only pay when a customer clicks on the specific ad. What makes Travel Ads superior in the world of advertising is that by using Travel Ads, a hotelier can reach travelers in over 70 countries, augment their sales strategy to target shoppers looking to book last minute, and employ a cross device game plan which will yield ads on desktop, mobile, and tablets. In order to maximize your digital efforts, Travel Ads should be created using the following criteria:

Accelerator Program

Expedia’s Accelerator Program is a bid for placement commodity that independent hotels may opt into as a measure to move their ranking up from later pages into the first page of results in Expedia. At this time, none of the major brands (Marriott, Hilton, IHG) are allowed to participate in this program, giving those operating without a flagship a competitive advantage. By paying Expedia as much as an additional 15% on top of what they already pay for commissions, hoteliers can adjust compensation for the days where they need more discernibility and bookings, giving them a boost in Expedia’s Marketplace relative to other hotels with similar Offer Strength and Quality Score ratings.

Booking.com and Paid Search Choices

Part of the Priceline Group, Booking.com is owned and operated by the Amsterdam group Booking.com B.V. Since 1996, the website has catered to both business and leisure travelers in an effort to be one of the world’s leading online booking engines for accommodations.

Preferred Programme

Similar to Expedia’s Accelerator Program, hotel’s that participate in Booking.com’s Preferred Programme will be ranked above all other competitors in the search results for a certain destination. A contracted minimum allotment throughout the year is necessary for property to engage in the offer. Also the lodging destination would need to meet performance criteria of Booking.com. Finally, preferred hotels receive an exceptional perk in the form of a “Preferred Hotel Partner” logo on Booking.com’s website, a bonus that will only legitimize their listing. Having your hotel’s presence stand out on this online travel agency is key as it’s options for actual ads are limited. In order to showcase your property in optimal fashion, utilize the following best practices here:

Paid Present on TripAdvisor

Known more for its user generated content, TripAdvisor tenders advice from travelers across the globe while simultaneously providing a miscellany of travel choices and planning features. By partnering with hundreds of like minded websites, TripAdvisor lends its users the ease of finding the best hotel prices with the help of links to booking tools. Headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts, the travel website operates one of the largest of its kind in the world having over 320 million reviews encompassing hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

New Hotel Sponsorship

TripAdvisor has a great deal of opportunities for established properties and restaurants. But what if you are just starting out? A new property can use the website’s New Hotel Sponsorship service to begin booking room nights before they even open their doors for business. All you need is an operational booking widget. As soon as your hotel is bookable online, you will be able to target visitors looking to vacation in your city. Functioning similarly to a display campaign, the New Hotel Sponsorship ads will drive qualified traffic to your property’s website because they allow you to reach your target market based on targeting by destination, domain, and even IP address. An often overlooked benefit of this program is hotels often get more reviews because they establish an early presence with users. Even though hoteliers will not have the benefit of direct contact with their prospective visitors, they can utilize these ads as a mode of communication in getting their message out sooner than later.

Travel Affiliate Program

TripAdvisor’s Travel Affiliate Program allows hotels and other businesses to gain clout using the TripAdvisor brand to earn additional revenue, augment prevailing travel programs, and provide users access to 500,000 city and hotel pages. The travel website has partnered with Commission Junction, an online advertising company specializing in affiliate marketing, to provide their affiliates with a comprehensive program as well as a partnership with a trusted brand. Hotels who employ this strategy will pay 50% commission of the revenue generated from a user clicking on commerce links to affiliates, but at the same time, they can expect the addition of new products and promotions as well as ingress to various incentive programs.

Display Ads

The ads available via TripAdvisor operate in a similar fashion to your run of the mill PPC ads. When a TripAdvisor generated ad is clicked on, a user will be directed to a property’s TripAdvisor page. Although these ads can be extremely effective, the one caveat with this approach is that the average campaign costs upwards of $10,000, so it may not be a cost effective measure for hotels that do not muster up much in regard to overall revenue or possess an extensive online marketing budget.

Hotelier Takeaways

After digesting some of the details relayed in this post one thing remains certain: although a margin of all bookings is taken by OTAs, the exposure granted to hotels using sites like Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, etc. is unsurpassed. Because online travel agencies have become such an integral part of the hotel industry, websites with a larger prominence in the field have acted accordingly to offer hoteliers options to gain maximum exposure. One of these steps has been to incorporate paid opportunities within their interfaces. By advertising in the sponsored listings of an OTA, a property affords themselves the opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of potential guests. As competition within Search Engine Results pages and OTAs grows, the presence of differentiating factor will become that much more important. Hotels have to compete for precious real estate in both instances. One way to circumvent this impending certainty is to enlist the assistance of OTAs paid programs. Be it display ads, preferred programs, or travel ads, a hotel can ultimately boost their performance, with respect to exposure and revenue, by enrolling in these various paid opportunities. Interested in learning more about paid advertising? Take a gander at what we can do for your property and learn Blue Magnet’s approach to pay per click advertising for hotels.