Expedia and other OTAs have long touted what has become known in the industry as “the billboard effect” whereby they have claimed that positioning on their sites generates not only bookings through the OTA but also a halo effect on the hotels’ own sites by generating brand awareness. Non-loyal consumers start many of their searches at an OTA to gain a perspective on the options available, relative costs and positioning of the hotels in a given market against one another. Then, they often check other sites to compare pricing - usually including the website of the hotel they are interested in.
Personally, I saw strong evidence of the billboard effect while I was at Starwood and Expedia has long claimed that for every booking generated on Expedia, another booking is generated on the hotel’s own website.
In a new whitepaper, Cornell assistant professor Chris Anderson has measured the billboard effect with a several branded and unbranded hotels. The results are striking, particularly for the independent hotel in the test.
For the study, Prof. Anderson worked with Expedia and JHM Hotels, an ownership group with hotels under the Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton flags to cycle specific hotels on and off of Expedia over a three month period. That is, the hotel was listed at the top of the search results when the hotel was participating on Expedia and and removed altogether from search results listings when the hotel was dark on Expedia. By the conclusion of the study, each hotel was listed on Expedia for 40 days and dark for 40 days.
According to the study, the hotels saw a boost in reservations ranging from 7.5% to as much as 26% for the inde hotel when they were listed on Expedia vs. when they were dark.
Prof. Anderson suggests that the branded hotels may not have seen as large of a boost because when consumers go the brand websites they are presented with other “in-chain” hotels, e.g they are searching for a Marriott but upon arriving at marriott.com they are presented not only with the Marriott they saw on Expedia but also a Courtyard where they may actually end up booking.
We’d like to see an expanded test at some point with some slightly different parameters. For example, what happens if the hotel isn’t listed at the top of the search results on Expedia? Could the brand numbers be further refined if the test was conducted in markets without sister hotels nearby? What would the results look like for resort hotels? How did the booking curves differ? And the cancellation rates? Could leveraging the billboard effect actually be cheaper than buying google key words? And of, course, what do the bottom line ROIs look like after all distribution costs are taken into account. Those questions may be ripe for another study - any of you OTAs or chains reading ready to sign up? Lets talk….