WordPress is a perfect example. As a flexible, secure, and user-friendly website platform, it has been displacing proprietary content management systems worldwide. Threatened, some hotel marketing agencies starting publishing propaganda about WordPress; they said it was "unsafe" and did not include essential "marketing features." In response, I have steadfastly encouraged hotels to embrace open source and steer clear of fear-mongering by agencies trying to push their agendas. Of course the agencies want you hooked on their website platforms. It provides them with the security of you not leaving them. Know that when you do leave, you will be left with nothing but a zip file containing the remains of your most profitable channel and a "we are sad to see you leave" email. Good luck!
In 2014, I wrote a detailed article on Priceline's Acquisition of Buuteeq, in which I again outlined the importance of owning your digital assets. Buuteeq was run by smart people who tapped into the reluctance of hotels to invest in their own direct revenue strategy. They offered to relieve hotels of the headache of owning and maintaining their digital assets, starting at just $99/month! They did a great job of marketing themselves and were able to successfully scale their own business by offering websites and marketing packages to hotels for a low monthly fee. At a crucial time when direct marketing investment was already a massive challenge for hotels, this approach was not doing the hotel industry any favors.
After the Priceline acquisition, I tried to make the strongest possible case for not renting your website and your marketing strategy from the largest online travel agency in the world. Priceline Inc. has its own agenda for growth. If you were to look at their stock performance and revenue breakdown, you would see that they do not make money building websites or running your marketing campaigns. They make money when people use their suite of OTA websites to book a room. Surprise! They prioritize their own direct revenue channel over yours.
Unfortunately, the illusory free lunch is too tempting for a lot of industry folks. BookingSuite (Buuteeq's new identity under Booking.com) did more than just retain Buuteeq's hundreds of hotel and B&B clients. They heavily leveraged the reluctance of hotels to spend time and money on marketing and signed up more hotels than ever. This seems to be a fatal flaw for hotels. They have made a habit of outsourcing 100% of their marketing to the vendor with the lowest bid. Then they get to check the box labeled "direct revenue strategy." Death by checklist? Check.
Earlier this week, BookingSuite announced that it will no longer be offering Search Engine Marketing services to hotels using their website platform. Below is the official email that was sent out to hotels using their system:
"SEM is an important component of your digital marketing strategy."
You know what else is an important component of your digital marketing strategy? Your website. The thing that so many hotels are currently renting from BookingSuite. If they can drop SEM …how much sleep they would lose over the few dollars you pay them every month to rent a website? That $99 to $999/month website does not sound like such a hot deal now, does it?
"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport."― William Shakespeare, King Lear
Your website, booking engine, digital marketing efforts, and revenue management strategy are the pillars of your direct revenue. Viewing them as cost centers instead of investments in your future is the root problem underlying disadvantageous marketing decisions for hotels of all sizes. This cost vs investment approach (looking at departmental budgets instead of overall growth and revenue) is causing hotels to act against their own self-interest; it makes you pick the wrong vendors for wrong reasons.
Not to get all Nostradamus on you, but I would like to quote myself from all the way back in 2014:
"Ownership of your digital assets is more important than ever before in the history of the lodging business. Who provides your technology and in what format really matters. In this case, if your hotel is using a website made by Buuteeq, your site is now essentially a subsidiary of one of the biggest OTAs in the world."
The fact remains that the majority of hotels and inns worldwide are renting their digital assets; and this is hurting their long-term direct revenue potential. When you make all your marketing decisions on the basis of lowest possible cost, your long-term profitability will suffer.
If you're ready to take control, here's a five-step checklist to get you back on track.
Here is a detailed guide on managing all your digital assets. Successful hotel and travel marketing departments own and continually build on their marketing and digital assets. Just like you would not build a hotel on land that you do not own (or lease for a long time), your online assets should not be built in someone else's proprietary digital environment. Of course, you will always need someone to help you maintain your hotel/home. But you don't have to give someone the deed to the house in exchange for making sure the plumbing is working. *mic drop*
People I have worked with over the years know that I do not believe in declaring "wars"; I believe in making revenue. The hyperbole in the marketplace around the "war on OTAs" is impractical and annoying. Using this article to launch a tirade against BookingSuite is a complete waste of time. You cannot blame others for your poor decisions. Also, please remember that Priceline Inc. and Expedia Inc. are not going anywhere anytime soon. So, buck up, Champ.
My goal here is to highlight that now is (still) the perfect time to invest in owning and maintaining your digital assets and marketing campaigns. Marketing agencies and vendors will eventually get acquired or lose interest. Nobody can control or predict when that will happen to your marketing agency. I could not have predicted the exact date when Buuteeq (the helpful agency who wanted to take all your work and worries away at a super low price) would sell out to the world's largest OTA…. or the date when they would later shut down the SEM services that were not making them enough money. What I can do and always will do is to recommend that you own and invest in your own digital assets and marketing. Remember: your profitability needs to outlast your current marketing agency. Stay woke.
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Vikram is a global thought leader in the hospitality and travel business. Vikram heads up the Revenue Optimization Services division at Rainmaker. During his 20-year career in hospitality and tech, Vikram has delivered portfolio- wide audits, asset turnaround strategies, and other high-level consulting services to real estate investment funds and property management groups across the globe. His strategies have helped power some of the biggest and most successful hotel equity turnaround deals in the last decade. As one of the leading experts in the hospitality and travel realm, Vikram is a frequently requested speaker at industry conferences worldwide. Former hosts include the US Department of Commerce, Travel Distribution World Asia, Arabian Travel Market, and Airbnb. He has been featured in the American Express/American Hotel & Lodging Association Educational Series for several years. He is a perennial favorite of audience members everywhere because he emphasizes action-oriented strategies – and he is never boring. Vikram writes the popular hospitality and travel marketing strategy blog: www.wordsofvikram.com
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