Meta-search is maturing and has a huge impact on how consumers purchase travel today. It should also have a big impact on how hotels market and price their product.
Here is why meta-search is not a distribution channel and why it should not be a ‘set-and-forget’ initiative.
1. Meta-search drastically improves the value proposition to online travel consumers
Meta-search marketing’s value proposition to travel consumers is undeniable: by adding real-time availability and pricing and enabling rate shopping, travel planners are now provided with everything they need to research and book their hotel stay. Meta-search addresses all four prerequisites required by online travel consumers when shopping for a hotel stay: location, hotel information, customer reviews and real-time rate information and availability.
Let’s take Google for example. Google provides:
- Hotel Location: The best mapping service on the web
- Hotel Information: There is more information about any hotel, its location, destination, local attractions and so on than anyone could possibly read in a lifetime
- Customer reviews: Google provides Zagat’s Reviews plus a summary of reviews from all reviewing sites, including TripAdvisor
- Real Time Availability and Rate Comparison: With Google Hotel Finder, Google has ‘closed the loop’ and now provides 360-degree hotel stay research with easy planning and booking.
2. Meta-search marketing is only the beginning of dynamic price marketing in travel and hospitality
In this fast, interconnected and multi-device world we live in, hotel digital marketing can no longer exist in isolation of the hotel’s business needs, real-time availability and pricing. Travel consumers no longer buy into promotions featuring a lead-in rate (‘Our weekend rate starts from $199′) or less than credible rate range (‘Our Holiday Rates are $199-$399′). Today’s always connected traveler demands real-time pricing and resents any type of price promotions that smell of bait and switch. By not integrating marketing campaigns with real-time availability and pricing, hoteliers are losing potential guests to the OTAs as well as their more savvy competitors.
By combining marketing campaigns with real-time hotel inventory and pricing, hoteliers can satisfy travellers’ demand for instant, precise and concise information, as well as respond instantaneously to changing market conditions and comp set behaviour.
Dynamic price marketing – expected to be a major trend this year – opens up strategic and powerful marketing possibilities
For example, online advertising utilising dynamic price marketing technology enables real-time availability and pricing across various advertising formats: banners, CPC, email and so on.
The main benefit here is that advertised rates in ad campaigns (banners, meta-search, email etc) change the second the hotel changes their rates in the property management or customer relationship management system. Some examples of these types of campaigns include:
- Meta-search marketing including TripAdvisor Meta, Google Hotel Finder, Trivago, Kayak.com and so on
- Dynamic price banner advertising including several travel advertising networks, many major hotel brands and OTAs
- Dynamic price email marketing
- Initiatives that are already in beta, including Google Dynamic Text Retargeting Ads, Dynamic Price Google AdWords etc.
3. Meta-search allows hoteliers to shift share from the OTAs to the direct online channel
As mentioned, the value proposition of meta-search to travel consumers is undeniable. The main question is: why would any online travel consumer want to go to an OTA website when they can get all of the components needed for an intelligent hotel purchasing decision (hotel location, hotel information, customer reviews, and real-time availability and pricing) from Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak and so on? Meta-search is a great marketing approach to help shift share from the OTAs to the hotel direct online channel.
4. Hospitality suppliers should treat meta-search as a marketing channel and NOT as a distribution channel!
I believe one of the biggest misconceptions in the industry today is that meta-search marketing is a distribution channel, a ‘set and forget’ initiative. The popular belief is that once the hotel is enabled on a meta-search platform, like Google or TripAdvisor, then the job is done and the bookings would keep on coming. This industry-wide misconception is the main reason why some major hotel brands and some third-party booking engine vendors operate meta-search as a distribution channel, utilising a commission model (cost-per-acquisition model), thus depriving their member hotels or hotel clients from serious direct online revenues.
In our view, meta-search is not a distribution channel, nor is it a ‘set and forget’ marketing initiative. It is, in fact, an online advertising format that requires real-time room availability and pricing feed. This new advertising format requires daily spend and bid management, daily reaction to what other advertisers are doing, monitoring of budget spend on a daily basis and monitoring of rate parity (that is often abused by the OTAs).
For instance, since only the top three positions on TripAdvisor and the top two for Google Hotel Finder matter on any property profile page on these sites, just being enabled means nothing since OTAs would surely push the property down or out of the pricing ad menu. This is why many hotels rarely see themselves in the Google Hotel Finder meta-search pricing menus or among the top three features advertisers in the TripAdvisor meta-search menu.
Meta-search marketing must be part of hotelier’s concerted efforts to shift share from the OTAs to the direct online channel – in other words to the hotel website. In addition to other fundamentals such as website redesigns, SEO, SEM, online media and retargeting, emails marketing and social media, meta-search marketing is an important tool to help hoteliers lessen their dependency on the OTAs and drive more direct bookings through the property website.