Large hospitality firms are mounting a fightback against a data grab by online travel agents (OTAs) and booking engines, according to Greene King.
The firm's group accommodation marketing manager, Mark Childs, told The Caterer's Digital Summit that the relationship with OTAs and hospitality businesses was reaching a tipping point.
Taking part in a panel session on customer data, Childs outlined the hospitality giant's moves to house all its customer data in one place, and the broader industry concerns around OTAs trying to own the relationship with customers.
Childs agreed with fellow speaker Ally Dombey, director of revenue management consultancy Revenue by Design, that the push by OTAs to own customer data was "alarming".
Dombey said OTAs were "removing the ability of hotels to communicate [with guests] directly". She cited Expedia as a particularly aggressive gatekeeper, handling all communications between hotel and guest, even when the guest is checked into the hotel.
"That is just ridiculous," said Dombey. "Why is this happening? I can see them wanting to really own the customer and I can't see that changing."
Childs said concern about losing customer ownership to OTAs had reached board level.
"Most boardrooms have now got a mindset that this is a real problem," said Childs. He added that brands such as Greene King would push back against the OTAs.
"It might come back to a point where we say [to OTAs] ‘Actually, this is going to be a negotiation, or we will start to close you out more'," he said. "We are going out to own our own customers. It will be an interesting next few years in terms of that third party relationship."
Childs said that Greene King has more than 3,000 rooms across 141 properties following its acquisition of Spirit last year and is keen to reduce the margins handed to booking engines.
"Research has shown that people are making up to 20 different site visits before making a purchase. So we have to provide a hub so that customers don't go elsewhere [to make the booking] and avoid that commission," said Childs.
Dombey said it was encouraging to see hotel groups focusing marketing activity on driving direct bookings but suggested they should not focus on price alone.
"Most of [that marketing activity] is just rate-driven," said Dombey. "The only tool we seem to be using is discounting, which is kind of soul-destroying."
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