The hotel-online travel agency relationship has always been a tricky one. The two are co-dependent and must care for each other, but not too much.
On a panel at the WiT Singapore 2019 Main Stage, Louise Daley, deputy CEO for Accor in Asia Pacific, and Melissa Maher, senior vice president for marketing and innovation at the Expedia Group, entered diplomatic talks about how the hotel-OTA relationship should really function and what will it take for both sides to come out as winners.
Talking about Expedia’s recent team-up with Marriott International on tackling issues surrounding wholesale rates and rate parity online, Maher says it was Expedia’s ambition of leveraging the solutions they have to help its partners, particularly in the realms of technology, marketing and data.
“[A few years ago] we helped Marriott with their vacation product, and began looking at what problems they have that we can help solve. Now that’s evolved into the distribution model that we just announced. It’s really about making a more collaborative environment where we can help each other grow,” says Maher.
Looking at the collaboration from the outside, Daley remarks: “Expedia have helped Marriott solve an increasingly problematic issue – where we have wholesale rates coming out in the public sphere and affecting our price parity promise… Anything that helps clean up that area is a good thing.”
“We’ve already started looking across platforms to see how we can evolve our own systems… at the end of the day, to build another Expedia or Booking.com requires a lot of money and time. So we’d look at [a deal like] it, absolutely. Anything that lowers our cost of acquisition and helps solve the wholesale rates issue.”
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However, Daley also outlines key points of tension that still sting hotel players in their relationship with OTAs. She explains that as hotel brands distribute through a whole range of suppliers (for example, Expedia to Booking.com and Ctrip) that continue to scale up, tension still ultimately stems from fees and price.
“We’re trying to support as many distributors across the landscape that we can get seamless connectivity with but also gives us choice so that there’s some sense of price parity, fee fairness and consumer flow. We’re happy with great partners but we want to ensure that the landscape stays competitive,” Daley explains.
As the OTA-relationship continues to evolve, old tensions surrounding who exactly "owns" the customer are perhaps dying down, as Maher expresses Expedia’s willingness to help hotel chains grow their direct business.
“I think a couple of years ago, that used to be a big issue… [but] we’re happy to create programmes or develop models that help chains grow their business directly. Expedia is growing a lot faster than some the chains and we’ve developed programmes and technologies that can combat that and help our partners.”
It all chips into Expedia Group’s spirit of innovation – by creating new solutions that can ultimately benefit the industry as a whole. “A lot of hoteliers don’t know this but a couple of years ago, we developed a tool that gives hotels access to customer information before they arrive at a hotel.”
But would hotel companies ever come the other way? Would a hotel, for example, be open to share customer data collected during a stay with an OTA, if it meant improving the overall guest experience?
Daley says: “As we aim to grow our direct distribution and loyalty relevance, then our area of connection and contact with the guest is usually within the hotel… we work very hard to convert to loyalty. But, at the end of the day, we need to keep the guest in mind and… if that means the sharing of data, then we’d be open to that.”
* This article originally appeared on WebInTravel.