October 13, 2021

Online Travel Agency Bookings Share Increases As Leisure Demand Booms

Guests Make Transition To Booking on Mobile

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers looked to get business on the books however they could, wherever it came from and through whatever channels it arrived.

Over the past 18 months, hotel demand in some markets has grown from practically nothing to near pre-pandemic 2019 levels, mostly as a result of leisure travel.

When the pandemic started, it was a free-for-all for whatever demand there was, said Doll Wicker, vice president of revenue optimization at Prism Hotel Group. Hoteliers had to take whatever business they could, regardless of the channel.

Marshall Hotels & Resorts' brand distribution channels were more active last year than even before the pandemic, according to Dario Binnie, the company's regional director of revenue management. Online travel agencies, however, also were more active in the markets in which Marshall operates hotels.

At the same time, overall business coming into the hotels was down significantly compared to previous years, Binnie said.

“At face value, that may look like the brand is driving a greater percentage of my mix of sale,” he said. “They’re actually not generating as many room nights, and the OTAs if anything have probably gained more ground in a lot of my markets than what they used to have comparatively before the pandemic.”

The greatest demand has come from transient leisure guests, which are the OTAs’ “bread and butter business,” he said.

As hotel brand companies successfully highlighted cleaning procedures and in messaging and marketing, online travel agencies capitalized on that success, Binnie said.

“If you’re an independent traveler, and you have no loyalty, the OTAs have co-opted that message just as well,” he said.

David Taylor, corporate director of revenue strategy at Concord Hospitality, said OTAs had a resurgence during the pandemic. As leisure demand grew, OTAs increased their presence. A lack of larger group bookings also hurt property-direct reservations, he said.

However, brand-direct bookings increased along with the OTA bookings, and the transition from brand.com websites to mobile apps has continued steadily.

“The app piece has just gotten stronger and stronger now,” he said. “I don’t know if I have a way to tell them that wouldn’t have happened anyways. It certainly has continued to grow, and that continues to increase as a larger percentage of the brand bookings are coming from our apps.”

Business and Group Travel

Some corporate business has returned to hotels, much of it from the small businesses, not major corporations, Wicker said. The local sales teams have been negotiating those bookings.

The sales teams haven’t been able to go out to offices like they used to because of COVID-19 restrictions, so they’re having to find creative ways to maintain those relationships, including during the check-in process, she said.

Staffing shortages also forced sales associates to work harder to understand the guests and their needs and reasons for traveling.

“That's something that we're definitely keeping as we move out, hopefully, of this pandemic and just make sure that we get back to that one-on-one qualification of every guest in our building,” she said.

Most of the groups coming to Marshall’s properties are social, military, educational, religious and fraternal, or SMERF, Binnie said. Corporate business is nowhere near what it used to be.

Travel agency bookings, which before the pandemic were mostly for corporate groups, are diversifying to include social and sports groups, he said.

“That's absolutely been one of the key critical factors in keeping some of these hotels alive,” he said.

He said some markets that only used to do one tournament on a weekend are hosting multiple sports tournaments in a day.

“Where it has a shifted and how they're doing it has shifted, but they've also lost ground in other areas where it's not traveling at all,” he said.

Copyright 2021 CoStar Group. All rights reserved. From https://www.costar.com. By Bryan Wroten, Hotel News Now.

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