Combating Losses to OTA’s with Strong SEO Strategy

The following is a post from Kristen M. Poillon, TIG Global Marketing Director.

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it always creeps up quickly on all of us. The weeks begin to fly by and catapult us toward the holiday season, and before you know it, it’s time to start planning and creating goals for a successful new year ahead.

So with November fast approaching, what better time to start thinking about your objectives than right now? But, you may be contemplating exactly what the focus of your efforts should be for 2012.

Well, there is a world of options at your fingertips, and while strategies may vary from propert to property and brand to brand, there is one clear-cut goal that remains at the top of everyone’s wish list. This is to drive more direct revenue to youry properties. So how do you do this in such a competitive online atmosphere?

I recently revisited a study released a few months back that discussed the cost of lost business for hotels due to online travel agencies (OTA’s). This is a sore subject that I believe any hotelier can relate to. Most see sites such as Orbitz and Expedia as a necessary evil used for putting heads in beds during those times when there are lulls in bookings.

But, most also harbor resentment for those times when direct bookings are slated to thrive and OTA’s swoop in and continue to take their huge slice of the pie. It’s a love-hate relationship of Romeo & Juliet proportions, because even though hoteliers are wary of them, the OTA’s do also provide the ongoing benefit of increased reach and amplified brand or property recognition. But…at what cost? Well, I will tell you.

The study, conducted by research firm STR, cited that U.S. hotels lost a whopping $2.5 billion by selling rooms through OTA’s last year instead of directly or on brand.com. And, to add insult to injury, the online agencies add markups of between 22% and 25% compared to the direct rates offered on the hotel websites. Ouch. That smarts.

So how do you compete with the power of these sites, as they continue to offer deeper discounts and win your customers over with overtly flashy marketing tactics?

The answer is simple. Invest in SEO.

Let’s face it. OTA’s are here to stay and they are going to have to factor into your strategy whether you like it or not. But, effectively challenging these sites for bookings starts at the tippy top of the buying funnel with search engine optimization, which includes a strong keyword strategy.

Say you are a consumer looking to book a hotel stay for an upcoming trip. You may know the region where you would like to stay. Or perhaps you have a particular hotel in mind. Or, maybe you are just searching for a particular activity, such as skiing, surfing or leaf turning packages. Whatever these various parameters or scenarios may be, start thinking in terms of what your hotel or brand has to offer to these lookers. Then get to work on funneling these various attributes into a comprehensive content and keyword strategy that will turn them into direct bookers.

The main goal is to get out in front of this primed consumer and show them what you have to offer that will be of interest to them personally based on their particular search parameters. And to take it a step further, you want to use your property’s highlights and promotions to actually guide and influence those consumers in the decision making process.

With the right keyword strategy, you may pop up in their search and offer them something that they love, but never knew existed! Why? Because when you apply an integrated optimization, with targeted site content, the search engines will see you as highly relevant to the consumer’s search and they will show you some love in the rankings.

Before you know it, your site or promotion pops up where you intended it to and BOOM, the consumer is engaged and you grab a booking that might have been otherwise lost.

So for the upcoming holiday season, and looking ahead in 2012, plan to get in the game and boost those results. You had better believe that the OTA’s are doing it, and so should you.

TIG Global recommends a strategy that encompasses a healthy mix of SEO, Paid Search and Targeted Digital Media Marketing to effectively bolster your brand. Stay tuned for the next installment where we will discuss how to add stickiness to your site to convert lookers that land on your site.

As always, let us know what you think about OTA’s, experiences you have encountered, or send along questions for our in-house experts to weigh in on.

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