Online travel agency powerhouse Booking.com hasn't publicized its latest white-label product, which, unlike most of its past efforts, is aimed at hotels instead of affiliates.
Marketing materials for the hotel white-label product have been obtained by Tnooz.
The materials give some hints at how Booking.com and its parent company, Priceline Group, may expand into B2B services -- a trade expansion that became apparent this month.
A fresh take
Booking.com's affiliate booking engine efforts have been as simple as text links to its consumer site and a search box widget, or a website template plug-in.
Its best known effort is the Booking Button, which can be added to a partner's website.
Booking.com's latest product is something of an extension of this Booking Button -- yet is tailored for a particular hotel brand and is white-labeled.
It's like a customized widget that has been supersized. Each solution is made specifically for an individual chain and takes up an entire web domain owned by that chain.
For an independent view on what's new in this solution compared to Booking.com's past efforts, Tnooz asked outside experts for their take on it.
One expert who works for one of the world's best known sellers of hotel connectivity solutions said that Booking's "hotel white label" solution differs from a regular white label implementations in three main ways:
1. Only brand inventory is shown.
2. Booking.com actively markets the white label in paid search.
3. Reservations are marked to come from the white label (via tags), whereas Booking.com's systems ordinarily do not indicate which storefront the reservation was made on.
The expert, who asked to remain anonymous because of their work with Booking.com and its rivals, noted that this new product:
"allows a hotel chain to test the waters in new geographical markets where Booking.com data sees an opportunity without financial risk or the need to build expertise first."
The new product appears to be an enhancement of an already publicized implementation of a private label booking engine, which can be loaded in a frame on a chain's website or can be opened in a new window.
That simpler implementation has, until now, not included the above-mentioned functionality, such as the promise of paid search assistance.
A pledge to drive traffic to the hotel's domain
Booking.com pledges a phased approach to search engine marketing (SEM) for each separate domain by coordinating paid search campaigns for the chain's brand, city and hotel campaigns -- included at no extra cost.
To help with the paid campaigns, the hotel chain would share with Booking.com how it and competitors bid for keywords in various markets.
This help with paid marketing could be impressive, given Booking.com's digital savvy: It captured more impressions on Google AdWords desktop/tablet in the US than any other travel advertiser in 2013.
Its user interface experience is also valuable: Booking.com's consumer-facing intermediary channel has been described as the most persuasive website in the world.
Separately, the marketing materials say Booking.com will help the hotel make its "booking engine" domains SEO-driven through themed pages, landing pages, and strategically placed deep links.
The commission structure is the same as ever: an agency model with a rate typically in the low to mid-teens. Preferred hotels are on standard commission.
High-touch private label
Booking.com's hotel white-label solution lets consumers access rates and inventory only for the chain, pulled from the Booking.com cache, not from the property's central reservation system (CRS).
Each hotel's room table is presented in-depth.
The directory of the chain's properties can be translated into multiple languages for free. But it's up to the chain to buy a different, unique Web domain for each language it might want to have, such as one for a Russian domain (.ru).
The confirmation e-mails for reservations are also white-labeled. The company will help the hotel track these bookings as separate from standard Booking.com reservations.
It is unclear if the product offers the ability to integrate loyalty member rewards -- something not ordinarily earnable through bookings made via white-label widgets.
Screenshots of the implementation suggest not. But the marketing materials reference a major hotel loyalty program -- though a spokesperson for that program declined to confirm its participation.
Company won't say
Booking.com wouldn't comment on the product, which its materials described as a "booking engine." A spokesperson told Tnooz:
We have an ongoing initiative to develop solutions for our worldwide network of accommodation partners, including both chain and independent properties.
These initiatives cover a broad range of needs for our partners, and are generally in the early phase of development. Thus it is premature to speak about them in detail.
The Booking.com division's spokesperson referred us to the announcements of Priceline Group's early June acquisition of marketing consultancy Buuteeq, whose long-tail model Tnooz profiled in April.
If Buuteeq's speciality is relevant, then one might assume that Booking.com's product is a prelude offer to more extensive digital marketing services for small regional hotel chains and independents.
The customizable white-label application, which runs on Booking.com APIs, doesn't have Buuteeq-like features.
But it is also not the fully fleshed-out trade product that Priceline Group could offer after it has fully digested its acquisitions.
Targeting the "long-tail" market
Booking.com has been presenting its latest white-label solution to selected regional hotel chains that are already partners with it.
It appears to have shared it in a high-touch manner with only a handful of its more than 430,000 properties -- 200,000 in Europe alone.
The Booking.com product appears targeted at independent and small regional hotel chains that are located outside of North America and that are looking for feeder markets.
This is the customer base Booking.com has courted more assiduously than any other OTA brand. And its former chief recently became head of Priceline Group as a whole.
Looked at another way, the product does not seem to be aimed at the global chains, which are already wedded to tools from providers such as Sabre Hospitality Solutions.
Its marketing materials claim participation has already been agreed to by recognizable chain brand names outside of the US, though Tnooz could not these brands' confirm participation.
It's worth noting that Booking.com gives hotels the option to pull the product at any time. This on/off functionality makes it less risky to try.
Booking.com's commitment to expanding white-label services looks strong.
As Tnooz was first to report last year, Booking.com also powers hotel search for several major European agencies.
Now it appears to be aiming beyond beyond agencies and affiliate networks to individual hotel chains in a more high-touch way.
Hotels, especially smaller, under-resourced ones, have long used third-party booking engines to take reservations on their websites.
Booking.com has offered widgets that can be embedded on affiliate sites to drive reservations to affiliates. This is a common industry model. Rival networks, like Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN), do it with even more gusto.
Those companies may be inspired to match Booking.com's new hotel private-label solution.