According to figures compiled by a web analytics firm, compete.com, travelers made an average of 21 visits to various travel websites last year before finally booking a trip. Among these travel sites are Online Travel Agencies[OTAs] like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz, but the wide search pool also consists of meta-search sites – the most popular being Kayak, Fly and Momondo. Meta-search sites don’t sell plane tickets or control bookings at hotel rooms; but rather, they search hundreds of travel sites at once in a quest to find the best rates and then send consumers to book directly at the seller’s site.
OTAs have spent billions of dollars in advertising to convince the general public that booking with an OTA means getting the best deal on a hotel room. Consumers have no idea that OTAs claim a 15 – 35% commission on the hotel rooms, thus consumers are paying more using an OTA than booking directly with the hotel. But all thanks to their marketing, it’s been so ingrained in the minds of potential customers that it seems as though it’s almost common sense for people to choose OTAs.
The hotel industry really can’t re-educate the customer at this point, at least not without spending an equally large amount of money over a similarly long period. But meta-search sites like Roomkey.com have taken this challenge head on.
Each meta-search site configures its technology and accesses fares slightly differently which has an effect on produced results. Where the sites also differentiate themselves is through partnerships and features that cater to a certain segment of travelers.
“No one site can necessarily do it all for everybody right now,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research.
Founded in 2012, Roomkey.com is the newest meta-search site on the virtual interface. Competing with Kayak, Bing Travel and Google Hotel Finder, Room Key prides itself on its point of differentiation that it was created by 6 of the largest global hotel brands: Choice Hotels, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriot International and Windham Hotel Group.
This super venture plans to regain control of hotel sales lost to OTAs by offering a cost-effective and comprehensive booking channel for hotels that makes the overall process easier for consumers. The main belief behind this initiative was that finding a hotel is a different experience than choosing a flight or renting a car, thus requires a different kind of search.
A unique service that Room Key offers is the “shortlist” tool which enables customers to cross-reference hotel selections. You can choose up to 10 hotels across different cities to add to your shortlist, view the selected hotels on a map or in a list, and compare the features across hotels. Ultimately, you can share your shortlist via Facebook or Twitter to get opinions about your selections – the most important feature as the website recognizes the importance of word-of-mouth recommendations.
Besides the 6 hotel founders, Room Key also partnered with Vantage Hospitality Group, known for economy and upscale hotel brands including: Americas Best Value Inn, Canada’s Best Value Inn, Chinas Best Value Inn, Value Inn Worldwide, Lexington Hotel, and Lexington Inn. More recent additions include: Best Western, La Quinta, Millennium and the group of independent, luxury hotels, Leading Hotels of the World.
At launch there were 23,00o properties listed on Room Key’s system and they are hoping to close this year with 80,000 worldwide. The company estimates the total number of hotels on the system will eventually be around the 120,000 mark
Hotels are becoming more aware of their dependence on OTAs, wholesalers and other third party distributors which is losing them profit. The rising cost of distribution and the advantages of direct sales is something hoteliers understand more profoundly now. Thus, a shift in the distribution mix in hotels in 2012 was prevalent. Hotels invested more in SEO, SEM, SMM and mobile marketing as a result of the increasing costs. There is a concerted effort to push direct sales, through their own websites, call centers and meta-search engines like Roomkey.com.