Metasearch continues to grow in importance for hotels around the world, and there is a range of tools and software available for hoteliers to manage their metasearch presence.
NB: This is a guest article by Osvaldo Mauro, a director at Italian marketing agency PopVision which specialises in tourism and the film industry.
The following research is based on his first-hand experience of managing a marketing budget for a resort property in the south of France, for which he is a consultant, and from conversations with a range of hotels for whom he has consulted. He has also interviewed some of the businesses mentioned, specifically for this article.
He does not have any commercial interests in any of the businesses reviewed and the article is designed as an objective analysis of some, but not all, of the meta-channel management systems on the market.
Introduction - setting the scene and setting up an account
For a hotel to advertise and distribute through meta channels, hotels need to set up a business account. It is easy to sign in and set up a profile which includes a description, photos, reviews and features for your hotel.
If you already work with OTAs its possible that your hotel already has a profile registered with the metasearch site. It is always worth checking and making sure that you are able to manage your own profile.
For Google Hotel Price Ads (Google HPA), you can access the relevant profile basics via your Google My Business page.
For TripAdvisor, you can sign up to Tripconnect via your business profile. Other metas such as Trivago and Kayak have a similar procedure.
It is extremely important to maintain consistency of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) with exactly the same data across all metas and all your profiles, including your own website. A single space, dot or any minimal difference in the NAP can cause problems, such as duplicate listings so be precise.
The meta-channel managers allow you to manage and review all your pay-per-click bids on all your identified price comparison sites in one convenient place, with an optimization tool included.
It’s important to say that on metasearch sites your adverts - which feature your price and the "Book Now" button - only appear in the meta results if the user has searched for dates you have available in your hotel.
Compared with other search marketing platforms (such as Google AdWords), this guarantees that your “Book Now” ads only appear to people who searched for your hotel (or specified your general location) within dates where you have availability.
This is why advertising on metas means that there is less dispersion than traditional pay-per-click, as ads are automatically connected with your room availability and prices rather than just a generic listing.
Similarly, it's important to consider tools and software that are automated. Many booking engines claim to have the meta channel advertising built in, but quite often this is simply an interface that lets you input your campaign basic data, with your budget managed by employees, manually.
This is very different from the connected API offered by the meta-channel mangers to organise your bids, in real-time, and with constant attention.
It is possible to run an Adwords campaign which connects to availability, but this is a very labour-intensive process which incurs additional direct and indirect costs.
A comment from one of the companies listed below sums it up nicely:
"Most metasearch campaigns are purchased through a cost-per-click auction environment that requires constant attention and analysis. In order to capitalize on the opportunity, brands and marketers alike must invest in automated campaign management and get the technology in place to provide current availability and hotel pricing information."
Put to the test
For the meta channel managers I have addressed here, I have only used ones which are certified by Google Hotel Ads (HPA) and TripAdvisor Premium Partners.
I’ve tried some of them and learned about the others. Here’s my list:
1) Ads Hotel
Developed by an Italian start-up, incubated in D-Business. Its software is connected to Google HPA (with the certification of its partner Nozio) , Kayak, TripAdvisor Tripconnect, Trivago, HotelsFinder and others .
Ads Hotel is designed to be added onto internet booking engines and traditional channel management tools. It’s not sold to individual hotels.
Nozio uses Ads Hotel as part of its Nozio Premium booking engine.
- Unique budget for meta campaigns
- Specific DAILY budget allocation for single meta
- Pause campaign per range of dates (you choose not to display ads even if you have availability)
- Close dated (you choose not to display grey ads without room prices)
- Targeting specific source markets on Tripadvisor
- Basic Reporting
I’ve liked the possibility to control your campaigns on a daily basis and to stop or pause your campaigns in certain conditions.
It also uses NetPar techniques - an emerging hotel sector metric which factors the cost of distribution into revenue per available room.
These features are a sign of how meta-channel management can open your business to developing new distribution and marketing capabilities.
2) Metasearch Manager by DerbySoft
DerbySoft is a Chinese travel software house that has developed an online SaaS product for meta channel management. They list all main meta channels, including Skyscanner, Wego, HotelScan.
They also list all the main Chinese channels including Qunar.com and Taobao.
DerbySoft is a certified Google HPA partners and says it will soon be listed as a TripAdvisor Premium Partners.
During my interview it said that it works with two of the biggest hotel chains in the world. It has recently confirmed that Shangri-La Group - 89 properties - has signed up to MetaSearch Manager.
From DerbySoft I saw an approach which considers some technical aspects of the meta channel ranking that others do not engage with (or at least were unwilling to share).
Their technical approach is divided in connectivity, cache and control.
They are connected to thirteen meta channels, which is was the highest number I came across during the research.
An important fact in optimizing your campaigns is the speed with which you can respond to the consumer query at the metasearch site. It is important that you can get a fast response.
With its proprietary Smart Cache system, DerbySoft claims to respond to 95% of requests of the metas. I found this interesting, because other companies usually don’t state how many “API calls” they can handle. It would be wrong to assume that all systems handle 100% of the meta calls and this is a question worth asking when you are talking to a potential partner, or even your existing provider.
DerbySoft lists all the tunings you can do to adjust your campaigns.
- Monthly budget for campaign
- Budget divided per channel or per hotel (for chains)
- Weighting of spend - known as "multiplier" - for individual Google channels which feed into HPA eg "I will spend x% more for my hotel ad to appear on Google Maps, when I have availability within three days of the customer search"
- A range of geographical targeting on Google HPA made inside the system, which I didn’t see elsewhere
- Bid on specific goals or matrix of targets through multipliers. Derbysoft offered only a topline description of this and it may be something it would offer as part of its consultancy offer signed-up customers
- They use pixel-tracking technology for reporting
DerbySoft was quite circumspect, and wouldn't go into details about its specific bidding features nor allow me access to a screenshot. The image above is a grab from its site.
3) Meta Direct by Jack Rabbit Systems
Jack Rabbit Systems from Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a more open approach. It started out by providing the hotel booking solution for local tours operators and has developed a meta-channel management tool, Meta Direct.
It works with chains and individual properties alike as an add-on to the IBE/PMS and claims to have a lot of business in South America.
Jack Rabbit’s meta application is connected to Google HPA, TripAdvisor Tripconnect and Trivago, although the impression I got from JackRabbit and others is that Trivago's restricted customization options is limiting the ROI potential, for the hotels at least.
As a general point, if you find it difficult to get a decent ROI from traditional PPC campaigns, meta offers a better option as you have more control.
- On TripAdvisor your can use bidding adjustments and multipliers for specific Tripadvisor channels, including targetting source markets
- It forecasts total spend on TripAdvisor which helps prevent overspending
- On Google HPA you can choose to set your budget as a percentage of your room price, either as a fixed proportion or with multipliers for Google routes to market
- Full coverage of Tripconnect capabilities
- You can use its reporting tool or choose to connect any of your own
I appreciated its openness about its software interface, features and capabilities. This leads onto an important commercial point. Some of meta-channel management players in the market will not fully show you their product until you have signed up as a customer.
After paying an initial set-up fee, most then offer a free 15-day trial period, which has limited value as experience shows that it takes at least a month for the system to become fully operative.
This openness or not is another factor for hotels to consider when talking to a potential meta-channel manager supplier. Some businesses do not separate out the software licence from their consultancy services. Others allow the software to exist on its own.
For smaller business, starting with a company such as JackRabbit, which offers transparency in processes and features, could be preferable.
4) Meta I/O from WIHP
This meta channel manager is made by the French hotel marketing business WIHP and sold directly to hotels, chains and as an add-on to other booking engines. It has certified connections with Google HPA(Google Hotel Ads) , TripAdvisor Tripconnect, Kayak, Trivago, Wego.
- The tools let you state a global budget for the campaigns on all the meta channels. For Tripconnect it let you customize your pay per click ads, depending of the TripAdvisor source market or language, for mobile and, interestingly, for ads position.
- This kind of approach is similar to SEM real-time bidding. Bids can a be automatically managed to put your hotel in the top three search results on the meta's results page.
- Other bidding options are present and overall it has complete coverage of all the features of the main metas.
- It offers basic reporting and can also show campaigns results in Google Analytics.
One observation here is that, perhaps because my IBE is not 100% compatible, I was unable to see its deep link for mobile working fully.
Again, this is another point to raise when talking to a supplier. If you're adding a meta manager to your IBE make sure that it is 100% compatible and, where possible, test everything possible before committing.
"Mobile deep links from metas" is worthy of a detailed investigation all of its own.
5) Built-in meta-channel managers
Many IBEs, PMSs or traditional channel management systems offer the option of meta advertising, built in to the core product. This is a different approach than either using dedicated software on a standalone basis or integrating your chosen supplier into your PMS or IBE.
If you would like to try a basic campaign on metas, and your hotel system allows you to do that, they are okay.
But if you need to manage your budget with detailed reporting you need a system that has a certified connection, a bidding engine and the ability to cope with high meta traffic and requests.
Among certified software that have a built-in automatic engine for the basics of meta channel management (listed above) I cite:
HeBS Digitalhas a proprietary "Dynamic Rate Marketing Gateway", that let your hotel work in return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) from these hospitality metasearch programs.
Sabre's SynXis Central Reservations (CR) has connections with main meta channels. The strong technology relationship between Sabre and Google, as reported on Tnooz, makes this one to watch.
WuBook Founts is a Linux-oriented app which uses a "virtual currency" system called Fount. It is not marketed as a meta channel manager, but it does all what the other specific tools do. With Wubook Founts you can manage campaigns in Google HPA (certified with Wubook), Trivago, Tripadvisor Tripconnect (Premium) , Yandex (although exactly how it does this was not immediately obvious) and JetRadar.
Within Wubook you can buy the virtual currency of Founts. You can then allocate your Founts on the PPC campaigns scheduled on connected metas.
Metasearch is growing in importance day-by-day for not only the OTAs but also hotels themselves. The businesses listed above are part of a new breed of companies which can help hotels optimize their relationship with the metas and get the best possible return.
I hope you find this research as a good introduction to some of the products in the market and some of the factors you need to consider.
NB: This is a guest article by Osvaldo Mauro, a director at Italian marketing agency PopVision.