While consumers are increasingly booking hotel rooms directly, being listed on an online travel agency still has the potential for impacting reservations on the brand's own website, a study has found.
Changes in the online travel market have caused hotels to re-examine their relationships with online travel agencies (OTAs), and the impact on bookings from listing their properties with these sites, said researchers at Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) in the US.
A primary reason for these changes is consolidation and innovation among online travel firms that offer direct booking, and an upsurge in hotel-OTA interactions, with several large hotel brands launching direct reservation campaigns, they said.
However, one thing that has not changed is what Chris K Anderson, an associate professor at CHR, calls the "billboard effect," which results from hotels being listed on OTA sites.
The study shows that, while consumers are increasingly booking rooms directly with the hotel brand, being listed on an OTA site still has the potential for impacting reservations on the brand's own website.
The findings underscore consumers' reliance on hotel websites when researching and booking their rooms, but also show that non-direct channels still influence lodging purchase decisions.
The study shows that it is increasingly difficult for hoteliers to determine which sales and marketing efforts lead to demand, and how these efforts interact.
The average hotel shopper conducts a lot of research online before purchasing a reservation -- making 25 visits to travel-related sites.
"Online travel agencies are extremely important as their reach is far higher than any independent hotel, hence hotels get the maximum visibility among the consumers for their hotels," said Shahzad Aslam, sales head at Leisure Hotels Group.
"Consumer booking pattern is also changing and they prefer to book their travel through OTA's which provide them easy access to the hotels, best prices and ranking which helps them to make their decisions. Hence, it becomes extremely important to list hotels on OTAs," Aslam said.
To better understand changes in consumer online behaviour, the researchers used a randomly selected sample of over 50,000 individuals from a panel of some two million online consumers.
They focused on 13,000 travel-related reservations, including airline, rental car, and hotels.
The primary implication for hotel operators is that in determining which web-based marketing efforts produce the best results, they must ensure that their online presence is easy to find, is attractive, and stands up to the competition.