November 8, 2017

OTAs: Your Best Friend or a Must Have Adversary?

Have you heard the buzz? If so, are you confused about the big changes in the bed and breakfast industry? As a brief update: If you’re not sure what I’m talking about BedandBreakfast(dot)com has changed their business model from a directory to an OTA. I didn’t have inside information; however, in my post last month I predicted this inevitable direction our industry was taking. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to understand the important differences between directories and OTAs (online travel agencies). 
A Look Back at Bed & Breakfast Advertising. 

In the late 1990s (long before Google and Trip Advisor) bed & breakfast innkeepers were able to promote their properties on a level playing field with large hotels by listing in over 150 online directories including the three most popular: bedandbreakfast (dot) com, bbonline, and Bed & Breakfast directories were, and still are, a combination of a guidebook and search engine for guests to directly find properties. Today, the trend in travel is for local experiences, emphasizing the connection that B&B directories provide between travelers and properties is very important.
The Comparison

Commissions. Directories typically do not charge a commission, meaning innkeepers don’t pay a percentage of their revenue for EVERY reservation. Rather directories charge a small annual fee for properties to be listed and then connect guests directly with the bed & breakfast inn. 
Whose Brand Is It? Whose Customer Is It? Who Controls the Money? When guests book on OTAs the OTAs determine what guest information is shared with the property as well as when payment is passed through to the innkeeper. In contrast, directories link guests directly to the property’s website and are not involved in the reservation process. All communication is between the guest and the property enabling innkeepers to control their brand as well as the ability to enrich the guest experience and upsell activities and amenities. This provides a greater opportunity to enhance guest satisfaction and increase inn revenue. As a side note, links that directories provide to the property’s website help the property’s own SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Who Makes the Rules? OTAs typically set deposit and cancellation policies that often vary greatly from the inns’ own policies. Directories normally do not involve themselves in these business decisions.

Which Costs More? That depends and innkeepers need to have Universal Analytics with E-Commerce Tracking reports in order to evaluate the full benefits of directories and OTAs.

A Look into the Future of Bed & Breakfast Advertising.

OTAs are big business with large advertising budgets, demanding a premium for performance in a sea of sameness. Without support from the innkeepers for the directory model, it may cease to exist and then OTAs will be the only advertising option. Let’s not let this happen!

October 1, 2017

Are Directories An Advertising Dinosaur?

This may seem like a bold topic and a column that I am crazy to write, however, sometimes innkeepers tell me they don’t get reservations from directories, such as mine (, or that the traffic numbers are low. Both of these statements mean an understanding of how directories work and the value they offer is needed.
No Reservations from the Directory? That’s right. And that’s how it should be. Guests don’t make their reservation on BnBFinder or other directories – instead, guests are sent directly to the inn with no commissions and for a very low annual listing fee. 

Our friends at larger independent properties tell me that their revenue has been cannibalized by the OTAs (commissions) and warns of the same fate for bed & breakfast inns. The directory model (what BnBFinder is) is a dying model and even I can’t promise how long we will be able to offer it, however, for now, I’m pleased that we do and hope that innkeepers will embrace it for the tremendous value that it is.
Low Traffic? Clicks don’t book – quality, interested guests do. 1,000 clicks that quickly leave your site are less valuable than 10 clicks that spend time looking at several pages and exploring what you have to offer. When evaluating your advertising make sure to know the time spent on site, pages visited, and the bounce rate of your traffic. If you don’t know this, you can’t evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising dollars. Even your top referrers may be sending you low-quality traffic.  
The Answer. It’s easy but costly to track reservations when they are booked through a site that charges a commission or has a huge marketing budget (think Trip Advisor); however, you don’t have to pay a lot to find relative value. But how do you know? Traditional Google Analytics doesn’t do it. If this is what you have been depending on you may be making costly mistakes by letting valuable advertising lapse and by renewing with ineffective sites. Your guests have visited multiple sites before booking and it’s impossible to decipher through regular Google Analytics the path they took to find you (which is what you must know to evaluate your marketing). The good news is that the tool you need is free. It’s Universal Analytics with E-Commerce Tracking. Once you have Universal Analytics with E-Commerce Tracking reports you’ll know with confidence not only the last place the guest was when they made the reservation (and the one they may remember) but also all of the sites that assisted in this booking (which is where directories like BnBFinder usually fall). You can then make informed advertising decisions.
The Bonus! In addition to sending you quality, interested guests directories provide added value. The links to your website help your SEO and in the case of BnBFinder, our strong public relations and marketing efforts spread the word about the value and experience the B&B industry has to offer. Plus some directories link directly to your reservation calendar, at no additional cost, meaning the guests book directly with you.

If you want to learn more about online directories check out Chapter 8 of my book, Running a Bed & Breakfast For Dummies.

I’m proud to be a B&B marketing expert for over 18 years now and it’s a privilege and a pleasure to promote the bed & breakfast industry. I enjoy hearing from you so email me at any time!