It’s not secret that one of MGR’s main areas of expertise is in digital marketing for the travel and hospitality industry. After more than 15 years working with all types of travel professionals, from large hotel chains to the small and independent boutique hotel, I think we’ve seen it and done it all.
One of the questions that I’ve been getting more frequently over the past few weeks is how Metasearch could potentially benefit some of our hotel clients. Keep in mind that the majority of these clients are already engaged in a variety of digital marketing campaigns with us including AdWords, paid social, programmatic, etc., so their inquiring about Metasearch makes a lot of sense. So, let’s start with the most obvious question.
What is Metasearch?
Back in the days, if you’re a typical traveler planning your next vacation, you would likely go to your local Travel Agency (yes,a physical store full of posters of exotic destinations) and ask the person behind the desk to help you plan your trip. As the Internet developed and search engines gained popularity, people started shifting to searching online for travel information and visiting hotels’ websites (at least those hotels who had the vision to create one right away). The traditional brick and mortar travel agency evolved into an Online Travel Agency (OTA in the travel lingo) and companies such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. quickly became the one stop (online) destination for travel research and bookings for many travelers.
As much as hotels keep promoting their own versions of “Book Direct and Save” or “Book with Us” the truth is that hotels need OTAs just as much as OTAs need them. Enter the relatively new world of Metasearch Engines.
If you’ve read reviews or book a trip after searching on TripAdvisor, Kayak, Trivago, or even a Google Hotel Ad, you’ve just discovered the power of Metasearch. As opposed to OTAs like Expedia or Hotels.com, Metasearch Engines do NOT hold their own inventory of hotel rooms. Instead, they get a direct feed of data from other search engines to generate a list of results, rates and availability for potential travelers from a variety of sources. Think of it as a ‘rate comparison tool’ at your disposal that allows you to select your preferred rate and book directly from the original source, whether it be an OTA or the hotel’s own booking engine. How do Metasearch Engines get paid? Most of them will receive a referral commission or a Cost-per-Click charge for sending traffic to the hotel (or airline for airline travelers).
Does it benefit hotels to take part in Metasearch?
The answer is it depends… On the one hand, hotels need to be visible throughout the entire sale process, from the initial ‘discovery’ phase to the final ‘decision’ or conversion phase of the funnel. In order to achieve this wide range of visibility, using as many channels as possible (search engines, social media campaigns, programmatic, and OTAs) is key. In this case, Metasearch becomes just one more channel for them to explore and see if it drives conversions that otherwise would be lost to another competitor.
One of the main reasons why hotels like to use or try Metasearch is to compete with the dominant OTAs and get more direct bookings. The rationale is that even if you’re still paying a commission to the Metasearch Engine for each booking, in the long run, by getting the visitor to ‘book direct’ you will be increasing your chances of the same visitor booking direct with you again, only next time, it will be ‘really’ direct and without going first through Metasearch. In other words, you’re investing in your guests lifetime value for future bookings.
Voice is the Future. Sounds familiar? Yes, we’ve written a few articles and created a few podcasts on this topic recently. The reality is that both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have already partnered with Metasearch Engines (and OTAs) to become the next relevant channels to power consumer searches. For example, through a partnership with Kayak, you can ask Alexa to provide you with hotel, flight and available rates for your next planned destination. If a hotel wants to participate in voice search, they will need to use Metasearch to be included with their search results.
As if the above reasons weren’t enough, Google has now revamped their own Metasearch program with the goal of monetizing even more search results. Simply enter the search term “Hotels in (city name)” and a list of hotels and rates in your selected city will appear in a search results box. If a visitor clicks on your hotel name, a list of rates (including your own Book Direct link) will also appear. It’s important to understand that the Google Hotel Ads program is separate and independent from any type of Google AdWords campaign and it operates under its own console, ad groups, bids, CPC, etc.
Consider Metasearch as a new and optional marketing channel within your multi-channel approach. As with all other channels, it is important to determine which ones work best and provide the best ROI for your individual property. It’s never ‘one size fits all.’ Many times, what works well for one type of property, doesn’t perform that well for another one. And that’s quite normal.
No matter how many channels or what channels you use, Branding is always key. The more you market your brand, the less you will rely on third party channels, OTAs, or any other form of advertising that you cannot control. Pay to Play is good but if you can pay less and still play, that’s much better!
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)