Brandjacking – Can hotels prevent it?

Brandjacking poses a unique danger to hotels, and many don’t even know it.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, Brandjacking is not a new phenomenon, but merely one becoming more and more exploited in the hotel industry. The term refers to where a company or individual exploits another brand’s identity (or parts thereof) to undermine their business, or when it comes to hotels – reroute that business through themselves.

Ultimately, when left unmonitored, it can lead to loss of business and an overall lack of brand recognition.

How brandjacking affects hotels?

That’s the million dollar question, and it may surprise you.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs are the biggest perpetrators of brandjacking. Those sites such as Booking or Expedia effectively brand jack hotels. By bidding on hotels and bullying their way to the top of search engines, your unique hotel identity gradually becomes subsumed by these enormous companies’ online presence. It’s not surprising considering they have been well established for years and are well financially supported.

If you’re still not sure of what brandjacking looks like, go to Google right now. Type in your city and the name of your hotel. Now statistically speaking, most potential guests will not bother scrolling down their Google search results and will only focus on the first three or four.

See anything interesting?

That’s right. Thanks to an enormous power of paid advertising, OTAs effectively brand jack hotels. What does this mean? That most online bookings your hotel receives are placed THROUGH the OTAs. Through the commissions that you pay, you are more than paying for these advertisements online.

You might as well give Booking their own check-in desk at reception.

Brandjacking drives down room prices

Even after a potential guest has clicked on one of these links, it still doesn’t guarantee a booking for your hotel. As the OTAs show your hotel and the basic information, they also show other hotels nearby.

And they run it as a price comparison site.

They don’t have an urgent need to focus on your unique selling points, your excellent service and your long-standing success as a hotel. By providing comparative prices, all they do is force hotels into a bidding war, trying to get you to lower your prices before customers begin clicking on other hotels nearby.

They don’t need to bother. They take commission on any sale made via their platform, and the better value that appears for customers, the more likely that they will continue to use the OTAs.

Brandjacking costs

OTAs run their services for guests completely free. That is why potential guests use them. A constant comparison of hotel prices and availability made public in one space for guests.

For hoteliers it is different. OTAs are happy to host your hotel for no cost. You eventually foot the bill for these services by paying commission on every booking that they send you. In recent years this has risen dramatically, resulting in hotels paying up to 20% commission on every booking.

At least the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask when he performed daylight robbery.

In essence, the very act of brandjacking smothers your reputation, reduces direct bookings and leads to a hefty financial cost.

Brandjacking also damages your customer retention over time. Part of a hotel marketing strategy involves e-mail marketing previous guests, or communicating directly with booked customers who are soon to arrive.

Brandjacking removes this possibility.

For every booking made via an OTA, your “guests” are no longer yours. You have no contact details of the guests, only a simple booking and a name. The most valuable data of these guests is not made available to your hotel, severely limiting any future interactions you may have with them. How can your hotel focus on customer retention without a way to contact them?

Should hotels use OTAs?

You absolutely should.

Don’t look so surprised at that, OTAs are absolutely NOT your hotel’s biggest enemy. Far from it. They are an incredibly useful marketing tool IF used correctly, and only if you take precautions against brandjacking. That’s where the trick is:

Use OTAs as a marketing channel not a sales channel.

You as a hotel need to use excellent marketing strategy to maintain a presence on as many OTAs as possible, yet still ensure that you receive a greater proportion of direct bookings. Lots of business, with less commission.

How to fight against brandjacking

There are ways that hotels can fight against brandjacking. These include:

  • Bid on your brand name
  • Optimise your website
  • Offer extra incentives for booking direct
  • Negotiate

Optimise your website

This is a #1 priority for any hotel. Chances are that once your hotel has been seen on an OTA, guests will check out your website. Sometimes just to double check that you exist. Other times they want to see how you present yourself.

This is the moment on the customer journey that pays off.

The best hotel websites are captivating from the first moment a guest arrives. Simple, evocative imagery combined with easy-to-read features goes a long way. A cluttered website means a potential guest has to struggle to find the information they require. Whereas clean and simple navigation is enjoyable to use.

You also should have a strong call to action in the form of a booking engine. Immediately identifiable, and ready to use at a moment’s notice, this should stand out to the customer within the first few seconds.

Offer extra incentives for booking direct

Don’t lower your prices for booking direct. This is a big no-no unless you have some good legal help available.

However, what you CAN do is offer added incentives for booking direct that are unavailable through an OTA. Popular activities arranged, or special packages that are uniquely organised via your booking engine are a fantastic way to convince guests to book direct.

Bid on your brand name

Bid on Google Hotel Ads and Google AdWords

Bidding on your brand name is an excellent way to stay on top of those Google searches.

It can be complex, as OTAs use complex algorithms in their bidding processes and keyword research methods. However, with an intelligent marketing strategy, you can place accurate bids on Google Adwords to highlight your own hotel on Google listings. In conjunction with Google Hotel Ads, your hotel will maintain a strong position in guest searches.

It’s not simple, but it is effective. It guarantees you the opportunity to steal back a large proportion of those OTA bookings!

Negotiate

It may feel pointless when it comes to negotiating with OTAs, especially if you are a smaller hotel, but it can be done. Perhaps not everything is negotiable, but there are certain factors that you can insist upon. Perhaps you can renegotiate the language used on their website, or insist on certain features being included/excluded on the landing page.

The final say

We at Regent Marketing are not saying that OTAs are a bad thing for hotels. On the contrary, you need them. However they must be used  with a clever marketing strategy in mind.If you can keep your hotel on as many OTAs as possible BUT seize those bookings as direct bookings – well it quite literally becomes free advertising.

At the end of the day, it is possible to use OTAs to your advantage, and if you occasionally take bookings through them, that is okay too. Just make sure that it isn’t too many!

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