"We need companies and technology and people that make the online experience great."
Have you ever seen Snapshot's spaghetti chart? Back in January, the hotel data company sketched out the veritable smorgasbord of companies and systems that hoteliers employ to keep their operations running smoothly. From OTAs to PMSs, review aggregators to GDSs, there are a whole lot of players in the overall hotel game. For an independent hotelier, that's a lot of relationships to manage at once - so it's no wonder that really good partnerships stand out.
We asked hoteliers at the Direct Booking Summit what a productive partnership meant to them.
Luis Rodriguez of the Fortune House Hotel in Miami likes it when his OTA partners call a spade a spade. "Personally, I like it when the relationship is not too technical," he told us. To his market managers, Luis is happy to say, "we're here for the same reason - you're here to provide me with business, and I'm here to provide you with business. So let's make this happen together."
"What I look for in a market manager is having that connection - [that feeling of] 'we're in this together'."
Recognising the importance of direct bookings isn't about bashing OTAs. It's about figuring out the optimal mix of business for your property, and having a transparent relationship with OTA partners that reflects that. Charles Davis of the Charles & Charles inn in Martha's Vineyard had a similar view.
"I don't make the OTAs bad guys," he told us. "What they've done is they've brought me customers. Basically the minute I signed on to one of them, I was literally getting bookings within a few hours. We took the OTAs and we filled our rooms with them."
It's then the hotel's responsibility, says Charles, to ensure that those OTA guests return as direct bookers. "Everybody who comes to our inn, we try to make it personal for them [...] it's so impressive, it makes people feel special. And when people feel that way, they have a better experience at the hotel, and they would never think of going [back] to an OTA. They just want to book directly with you."
For The Resort at Pedregal's Jorge Villareal, what stands out most from a potential partner is their ambition for his business. He's won over by vendors who aren't just shifting the hotel's focus, but are pushing the envelope when it comes to widening the hotel's revenue stream. He asserted:
"For companies where numbers are low, it's easy for a partner to come on and make everything better. But right now we're in a situation where we do great, but we move so fast that we need someone who can fit into that and say, "ok, you're at 60% direct, what about moving to the next level and getting 70%?"
At the same time, I don't want to lose the penetration that I have in the other segments. If a potential partner was taking this into consideration, that would ring the bell for me. I would think, he's really taking care that I don't lose my incremental business with the rest of the segments - he's bringing new income to the company."
At a smaller hotel, it's not unusual for the GM to be the head of digital and the director of sales and the head of housekeeping and the chef. Independent hoteliers could take the world record in spinning plates. Sometimes, then, a time-sapping new technology is not the first thing those properties are looking to introduce. Deborah Hansen of Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks told us that a partnership that needs a lot of "tinkering with" is not ideal - especially in a town where one of the challenges is just to keep the internet running. "I guess what's good is something that's standalone, that doesn't take a lot of my staff's time... that's really great," said Deborah.
Charles Davis similarly lamented the time-poor predicament of the independent hotelier. "Smaller properties need technology 'helpers'," he suggested. "(A), we can't do it by ourselves, and (B), we don't have time to do it either."
"The internet is how we do 99% of our bookings. We need companies and technology and people who make that experience great."
Whoever independent hotels choose to partner with, The Guestbook's CEO James Gancos is sure that they have a lot to be excited about in 2018. James told us,
"OTAs have had the technology advantage for quite a while. Now there are plenty of vendors out there that can help hotels get similar - potentially better - pieces of a pie that they couldn't access before. It's taken some time, but I think that if [hotels] have the wherewithal to put those all together in a compelling way, then they can potentially change the value proposition back to them a little bit more."
So, will 2018 be the year that the hotel technology landscape moves from spaghetti to pie? The future has never sounded so good... or so delicious.
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