In Search of the Internet Intelligence Report That Makes Sense: Growing online distribution drives d

This year over 13% of all revenues in hospitality will be generated from the Internet. Three years from now the Internet will contribute over 20% of all hotel bookings and convincingly surpass total GDS bookings. With such an industrial shift toward the web, hoteliers need intelligence tools to measure performance against its competitive set on direct and indirect channels outside of the GDS. Hoteliers are in search of Internet intelligence reports that make sense.

Here`s what sales & marketing, and revenue managers should be asking in order to competently formulate their online pricing and inventory control strategy:

á Where do my online transactions originate? From the hotel owned website, the branded website, the search engines, a destination-website, or through online discounters and merchants.

á How do I measure up against my competitive set in utilization of the Direct and Indirect online channels?

á Is my entire online distribution model skewed toward the online discounters?

á How do I compare with competitors website to website; from lowest price guarantees to functionality, customer service, and usability?

á How do I make sense of my competitors` online rates: merchant, web-only, e-specials, agency and opaque?

á Must I really need to match a lower competitive rate

What about the traditional distribution reports? - Traditional vendors continue to provide the current landscape of intelligence distribution reports and focus primarily on the GDS. Recently some of these vendors added online distribution sections supplementary to their predominantly GDS reports. Unfortunately these reports offer hoteliers only a fraction of the big picture of online distribution—Pricing.
These rate-focused reports, like all GDS oriented reports, deal primarily with the daily rate information across online services—helpful but only a fraction of the information hoteliers realistically need to compete online. Especially since most online hotel bookings don`t even come from the GDS but through merchant programs or Internet only reservation systems. These reports provide little analysis on how hoteliers can increase market share, re-gain control of their online pricing from online discounters, or how to utilize direct-to-consumer channels as opposed to merchant services. Sadly, these reports implicitly suggest overuse of intermediaries at the expense of the hotel`s own direct distribution strategy. If anything, these reports have aided and abetted those intermediaries to become the 800-pound gorillas of today.
So what`s missing? - When it comes to the Internet, here are the two most critical questions that should be addressed and that are curiously absent from the traditional distribution intelligence reports:

á Price vs. Positioning on the Web

á Direct vs. Indirect online channel utilization

Intelligence information for online distribution must delineate direct from indirect channels. A direct channel results in customers booking directly from the hotel`s own website while indirect channels, naturally, are the intermediaries. Intelligence information must also include hotel positioning on major direct and indirect channels. Where the hotel ranks on an online service may make or break your entire online distribution strategy. Lastly, such valuable information requires professional analysis with commentary on steps to act or NOT act based on the competitive information being presented.
A sensible Internet intelligence report will offer:

á Tools to help re-gain control of online pricing from online discounters

á Strategies to leverage direct-to-consumer channels over merchant services

á Formulas to balance direct with indirect distribution for optimal results

á Methods to increase market share online

á Invaluable commentary that will teach hoteliers to implement a direct versus indirect distribution strategy

á Needed comparative information to act or not act based on intelligence delivered and action plan for the future

The Internet is the best direct distribution medium ever created. Online hotel sales grew 49% in 2002 to reach above $6 billion, according to PhoCusWright. By 2005, conservative estimates project that nearly a quarter of all rooms will be booked through the web.
Price vs. Positioning - Traditional intelligence reports provide GDS pricing data but do not address the critical question of positioning of hotels on major online agency/intermediary services and the search engines. Hoteliers need positioning information (e.g. ranking) in order to make sound and effective marketing judgments. The order in which the hotel appears on a search engine or online travel agency/intermediary website is of absolute importance otherwise no one will find your hotel rates.
Here`s what Bear Stearns analysts say about Internet positioning on major distribution channels: “Our research uncovered that being listed in the top five assures the highest level of bookings, and that after the fifth slot, bookings drop dramatically.” Survey after survey confirms the existence of the so called “50% Factor” - roughly 50% of people that visit the first page go to the 2nd page, and only 50% of the people that land on the 2nd page go to the third page, and so on.” In summary, positioning is equal if not more important than pricing for the hotelier to make sound revenue management decisions.
The “online purchasing behavior” is extremely important to keep top of mind when exploiting any competing hotel`s Internet strategy. Here are three scenarios to illustrate the importance of positioning over pricing:

á If a competitor`s website lists a Web-only special that is $50 lower than yours, do you have to match it? It depends. If your competitor`s website is nowhere to be found on the search engines (e.g. not among the top 50 listings), you should simply ignore it—nobody will see this Web-only special anyway.

á If a hotel appears on Expedia as part of its merchant program and is listed among the top 1-2 pages, the hotel should expect more bookings than its competitor listed on Page 12 as part of Expedia`s supplementary hotel inventory feed via Worldspan. Indeed Expedia reports 85% of its hotel revenues generated through its merchant program, which does not utilize the GDS. A traditional distribution report will never capture this critical information.

á If a main competitor aggressively uses Pay-Per-Click marketing and its sponsored links appear on top of the search results, the question then becomes whether to follow suit.

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Direct vs. Indirect Online Channel Utilization - Roughly 52% of all online bookings in 2002-2003 will be completed directly through hotel-sponsored websites. If your hotel is not generating at least 52% of its online bookings directly from the hotel website then you are not competitive on the Web and run the risk of long term price and brand erosion caused by the intermediaries.
The foundation of a direct distribution strategy begins with an optimized hotel website and includes such important items as enhanced user experience, features that improve conversion rates, customer capture data on and offline, and optimized website navigation and body copy—essential for the search engines.
Why is direct distribution so important? First of all, the Internet is the ultimate “Direct Distribution Medium”. It provides the hotel with long-term competitive advantages and lessens dependence on intermediaries, online discounters, and traditional channels about to become obsolete.
Direct-to-consumer online distribution has the following benefits:

á Puts the hotel in control of its Internet presence and rate exposure

á Prevents brand and price erosion

á Is the shortest path to establishing interactive relationships with customers

á Provides long-term opportunities to benefit from the lifetime customer value

á Is the least expensive way to distribute hotel inventory
Therefore, determining how your website and online direct distribution model compares with your comp set is necessary long term for all those reasons listed above. Don`t overlook or underestimate the value of a direct distribution strategy from leveraging many online channels, including major search engines, pay-per-click services, email marketing, and so on.
So what is the ideal Internet competitive report? - Such a report would evaluate hotel and its comp set`s position and visibility in Cyberspace and measure performance on various online channels. It would measure up the hotel with its competitive set evaluating the use of the direct vs. the indirect online channels—offering pricing and positioning information. It will determine if the hotel`s online distribution is skewed toward indirect channels to the detriment of the hotel brand and price integrity. It would compare website to website, ranking on search engines and utilization of the direct channel, as well as pricing and positioning on major third-party channels.Frankly, such an ideal report does exist. This report is competitively priced and called the Internet Distribution Monitor Report (IDM Report).Key features of the IDM Report - The IDM Report offers easy to read tables, commentary, analysis and concrete recommendations:

á Compares the utilization of Direct vs. Indirect distribution channels

á Identifies major channels being used and not used by hotel and competitive hotels

á Informs hoteliers on product pricing and positioning on all major distribution channels

á Compares your website to your competitive set on functionality, usability, and best practices, focusing on features that boost the conversion rates (look-to-book ratio), add credibility and make the website search engine friendly.

á Identifies and compares hotel website on all major search engines and PPC services

á Compares rates and positioning in the indirect channel: merchant, opaque and agency services

á Offers timely information formatted in monthly, quarterly and annual reports

á Delivers brand and property level reports

á Tracks any competitive set, size of set, in any market and group of markets anywhere in the world

á Best of all—easy to read, personalized, concise, and highly informative 20-page report offering commentary, analysis and recommendations to act or NOT act based on the intelligence collected
Direct Distribution Channel - The Direct Web Distribution is all about benefiting from the Internet as the greatest direct-to-consumer distribution medium. Direct online distribution should become the centerpiece of any hotel`s Internet strategy. The most important direct channel is your website. Determine how your website measures up to your competitors, and compare listings on the major direct channels: search engines and pay-per-click services.
Direct distribution section covers:

á 17-point website functionality comparison

á Search engine ranking (positioning)

á Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing services utilization and positioning

á Proprietary CyberScore system to evaluate the hotel utilization of the direct channel

á Analysis and Recommendations Indirect Distribution Channel - Compare pricing and positioning on the most popular indirect channels. Know which indirect channels are used by your hotel and comp set. Make sure visitors to these well-trafficked websites can find you. Set your pricing strategy with the full picture: Pricing and Positioning.
Indirect distribution section covers:

á Merchant channels

á Agency channels

á Opaque channels

á Proprietary
CyberScore system to evaluate the hotel utilization of the indirect channel

á Analysis and Recommendations

The IDM Report is produced by Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, Inc. in New York City, a leading Internet strategy-consulting firm for the hospitality vertical. Current subscribers to the IDM Report include several major brands, many franchised hotels, hotel management companies and independent hotels and resorts. Click here to learn more: www.hospitalityebusiness.com/services05.shtml
Conclusion: - Clearly the need to measure up against the competition on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis is critical as more and more travel is purchased online. The IDM Report crystallizes such information to allow for revenue and marketing managers to breathe today as they prepare for tomorrow. Build an effective and competitive online distribution strategy, gain clarity and control over your Internet distribution strategy, and measure and maintain your lead online long term.
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