Today’s savvy consumer is looking for the right deal at the right price at exactly the right time. It’s a problem that’s got revenue managers shaking their heads because it’s a seriously challenging conundrum.
Making matters more complicated is the frightening reality to many revenue managers are the sheer choices of distribution channels in which to push out deals. Figuring out the right mix on how to use these sites is essential, or else it could mean depressed cash flow and housing too many guests that are there strictly for price.
“There are a lot of new distribution possibilities popping up now and who knows what this will look like in a year,” said Dustin Warr, Director, Travel Sales, LivingSocial.com talking about the myriad travel sites and flash sales sites that are debuting at a rapid pace. “There is a big footrace going to see who will be biggest, best and have the sustainable business model.”
At Hilton Worldwide it’s Kristen McLaughlin’s job to figure it all out. “We want hotels to look at flash sites like a regular distribution channel, ask themselves ‘What is the revenue and what’s the customer being brought in and really take a look at it and analyze it,” she said. McLaughlin is Hilton Worldwide’s senior director of third party distribution.
But while she is in favor of tinkering with all these new sites, she warns hoteliers to tread with caution. “From a brand perspective we try to control this and have rate parity guidelines. You have to be really careful about best rate guarantees. What keeps me up at night is how many more [of these sites] are coming down the line how much are they going to get. We have to be careful about when can we really use [these sites] and be careful and control it.”
Warr says his company is not shuffling travel demand around, rather he believes LivingSocial.com is actually creating new demand for travel because he said its focused on delivering unique experiences.
“We are creating cool curated experiences that will inspire travel rather than serving up a regular hotel stay. We are trying to curate experiences so they get interested. I get 35 emails a day with hotel offers in my inbox and that is a concern, so we are trying to differentiate by curating,” said Warr.
He said the editorial surrounding each hotel or ‘adventure’ is snarkier and edgier than other sites, which Warr says leads to a higher conversion
rate of lookers to bookers.
At Google, Rob Torres, Managing Director, Travel, is focusing on the upsell; getting customers to buy other property amenities and not just the hotel room.
“We are looking for a way to sell ancillary items you [the hotelier] can upsell. Consumers are looking for that and they haven’t found it that easily today. By doing this we hope to create a larger travel pool for everyone in the room,” said Torres. “The reality is people search, it is not going to go away.”
On Expedia, hotel rooms that are being sold more often are tied to relevant and significant content. Expedia is now available in 33 languages and user generated content and photography are critical when it comes to winning the decision making process.
“These days it’s more about user generated content. [Customers] want to hear what friends and friends of friends are saying,” said Amy Severson, Director, Strategic Accounts, Expedia. Expedia now features ratings from TripAdvisor.
Severson also said hotels must have photography, and plenty of it. “Hotels with 15 or more images more likely to convert than hotels with only a few images,” she said.
Relevance to the travel buyer’s needs is critical too said Torres. He said Google is constantly looking at how to serve up content that people are interested in seeing at a specific time.
He said Google is aggregating as much information as possible about properties through tools like Google Places, but that even with combing the web they are not finding the right images, for example, that are good at engaging travelers.
“A lot [of images] we are getting is not that high quality so we are sending people out to get pics, but this is just the start. High quality video is the future,” said Torres.
Hilton’s McLaughlin said all these developments are good for the industry. “Social media sites push hotels to look at marketing efforts and look at their own content. Customers want their own content and a friendly experience,” she said.