After numerous attempts to stall the OTAs, their share of the total market as well as their commissions only continues to rise. In 2012, a group of some of the largest hotel players (Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham) introduced roomkey.com, a pop-under site that all the visitors of their individual brandsites were directed to. I.e. if you visited Hiltons booking page on their own brandsite, roomkey.com would be launched automatically and suggest the visitor to check availability with all participating chains’ hotels in the same region. In other words, roomkey.com became an alternative destination driven booking channel to the OTAs.
In Scandinavia we saw another approach to the OTAs from the leading players. They simply decided not to renegotiate their contracts in order to secure lower commissions and generally better terms.
However, the OTAs are only getting stronger and the different attempts to bring the hotels back into pole position have failed to a great extent.
Perhaps until now because recently the same six international hotel chains mentioned above are now launching another and probably more successful attempt to constrain the OTAs. The new strategy involves launching a lowest-of-all rate solely offered to members of their own individual loyalty programmes. This initiative effectively puts an end to one of the cornerstones of the OTAs’ strategy – to guarantee the visitor the lowest rate available (rate parity).
We are still waiting for a countermove from the OTAs to this bold movement by the major players as we are still to see if the other hotel chains and individual hotels around the world will follow suit.
A quick survey amongst the larger hotel chains in Scandinavia shows quite a few have adopted this latest move.
One of them is the Norwegian chain, Thon Hotels with 73 hotels, predominantly in Norway. “We offer our loyalty members our lowest rate exclusively but work closely with the OTAs on the international market in order secure our fair share. This works very well for us.”, says Kjetil Smette, Senior Director of Commercial Strategy at Thon Hotels.
Also the Danish operator, BC Hospitality Group follows suit. “Naturally, we are following our franchisee guidelines from Marriott and IHG. Both are part of the ‘big six’ and therefore, we will also be offering lowest-of-all rates to our loyalty members”, says Allan L. Agerholm, CEO.
So will this bring business back to the hotels or what will be the next move? How will the business travel agents react to the fact that the hotels now offer a lower rate than they can offer to their clients? Will the hotels be forced to offer the same rate to the agents and if so, will the OTAs be able to gain access to these rates through the agents? Time will tell and the only certain thing we know at this stage is that nothing is certain at all.