Harnessing big data from online travel agencies

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by Linda Erbele

Cost-effective marketing is something everyone struggles with – where to focus your efforts to get the best value from your dollar. There’s help available right on your keyboard. The cost of much of it is only a little time.

The online travel agencies (OTAs) whose reviews you have been responding to also have a surprising amount of information that can help you pinpoint your marketing efforts and greatly impact your revenue.

They each have site-specific statistics as well as articles, case studies and research that outline best practices. The information keeps you up-to-date on the latest trends and can be helpful in training new associates.

There are guides that offer assistance in enhancing your listing with photos and increasing your site’s emotional reach. Yelp.com offers a free 22-page e-book to help business owners understand the ins and outs of their online presence, from setting up Google Alerts to let you know when your business is mentioned online to tracking activity on your page.

But the travel sites can also give you a more detailed look at your individual property’s statistics: where travelers who are booking with you are coming from, how you stack up next to your competition, even who is looking at your site.

Yelp business owners have access to their Activity Feed, showing them the city and demographics of people who have called the business recently from a mobile phone, mapped directions to the site or clicked through to the owner’s website.

As part of its Partner Central offerings, Expedia will give you the patterns of your guests – where they are from, who they travel with and the kinds of trips they plan.

TripAdvisor, with its Business Advantage program, has analytics that include who is clicking on your special offers.

Utilizing the data that’s offered by the OTAs can expand your reach and fill those empty rooms. The information is already being collected. You can access it by burrowing a little deeper into those sites.

“It can help you understand your market better,” says Stephanie Boyle, TripAdvisor’s industry outreach associate director. “For example, you may have thought you were marketing to families but are getting more reviews from groups of friends.”

Both TripAdvisor and Expedia offer free widgets for your website that allow a visitor to your website to see the latest reviews of your property at a glance.

“It’s a streaming feed, so you don’t have to update it,” Boyle adds. “That gives travelers the reassurance and the measure of confidence that they tend to want. Travelers do check reviews.”

In addition, TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence award badge, given to businesses that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews, can be added to the business website.

Yelp for Business Owners allows you to embed specific reviews and add a Yelp badge on your website. In addition, you can add check-in offers, Yelp Deals or a Request a Quote button to your Yelp Business Page.

Expedia has a Call-to-Action button, offering special deals that you can add to encourage travelers to click on your site.

To help increase visibility, TripAdvisor offers sponsored placements, which put the business at the top of the listing in a search of the area. The sponsored ads show up on a rotating basis with other sponsored businesses.

“Just to clarify – you cannot buy your way to the top,” Boyle says. “There are different ways to sort results: best value, traveler reviews, booking popularity, location, etc.” But, she adds, “We create a targeted ad. We only show that ad when people are looking at dates in your location that you have availability. So you are not paying for an ad when you wouldn’t have any room availability.”

Business owners set a maximum monthly budget for their sponsored ads and can cancel at any time.

Expedia also offers a pay-per-click media solution. Trip Advisor’s Business Advantage subscription gives owners access to its Analytics Suite, with competitor benchmarking data, as well as the ability to add direct contact details and special offers to the hotel’s TripAdvisor listing.

Both Expedia and TripAdvisor offer the ability to create competitor sets, so hotel owners can monitor their performance next to that of 10 or 20 of their fellow hotels.

Based on the hotels you have identified, Expedia will send you Price Optimization Alerts, letting you know when your rate is either higher than others or lower. Its Partner Reporting feature offers a comparative look at your year-to-date room nights and average daily rate versus those of your competitors.

In addition, Expedia offers a Market Occupancy Forecast so you can make informed decisions about future dates. The Property Analytics report shows how your property is appearing on Expedia and your conversion rate of “lookers to bookers.” It also helps you identify high-value travelers. You can set the frequency of the notifications and alerts that you receive.

One thing that is unique about working with Expedia, says Chris Rennix, senior owner relations manager, is that the company works to create and iterate its tools in partnership with hotel owners.

“These products were not developed in a vacuum,” he adds. “They were suggested by a group of highly engaged hotel owners from all over the world that sit with us as we develop them.”

Expedia’s council of hotel owners aims to help attract a diverse group of travelers, generate global demand and utilize its tools and team to drive optimal profits.

One result of that partnership with hotels is Expedia’s Rev +, a set of tools that provide price recommendations, occupancy forecasts and revenue opportunity guidance.

“Our marketing tools for small hotels to get better insight into the hotels around them can be leveraged at no cost,” Rennix says.

Some of the deeper analysis opportunities with TripAdvisor have varying pricing levels, depending on the location and other factors of the specific property.

Those wanting a broader look at their market and the competition or better understanding of a market in a different geographical area will need a more sophisticated level of data, such as that offered by Lodging Econometrics, a real estate intelligence firm. Through its team of researchers located across the globe, the company offers trend reports and location-specific analysis to help owners understand what new supply will be impacting their market, says Bruce Ford, senior vice president and director of global business development.

“Understanding renovations and conversions that are happening to the existing supply in your competitive set [helps]you to better compete,” he adds. “Curb appeal is still an impact. When you get to the hotel, you still look at the appearance of the building.”

Hotel owners don’t go into the business to spend their time on social media. But responding to reviews is an essential part of the business. Utilizing the data that is already collected by online booking apps to get ahead of the competition just makes sense.

“From an owner’s perspective, they should be aware of what is [said]about their hotel, whether from a social media outlet or not,” Ford says. “You can’t control how they’re feeling when they arrive. But you can control how they feel when they leave. Taking care of the guest is still the number one thing.”

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