Depending on how you look at it, the news today that TripAdvisor would now be offering direct bookings to Marriott properties is big news or no news at all.
But, I have to wonder if this is TripAdvisor selling out. Given, I’m not a huge user of TripAdvisor, mostly because it’s hard to authenticate their reviews. I use them on a general basis a handful of times a year, mostly when I’m going somewhere very far off the beaten path.
TripAdvisor started as a website that was meant to provide expert and casual reviews of all things travel. Hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, tourist attractions, you name it. The content was crowd-sourced, so the theory was the masses would tell you if it was a good experience or not.
The business has morphed a bit over the years, and the insertion of Marriott into the “Instant Booking” channel is an interesting one. You can see the current list of Instant Booking partners here. If you’re a normal traveler, you’ll notice the list is a who’s who of…..well, almost nobody you’ve ever heard of. Marriott is by far the biggest name on that page.
If you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find the obvious. Here’s a description of the Instant Booking product, as well as a snapshot of “how it works”:
Nothing nefarious here. They make money when you book a room through TripAdvisor’s relationship with these partners. Expedia, Orbitz and all the other OTAs get a commission as well. It’s all in the name of making it easier for the customer, right? They want to book where they look, not navigate somewhere else after they’ve done their research.
Except, TripAdvisor has held itself out as an objective, 3rd party who just provides the reviews, not rank the properties. Does having a direct connection to a chain like Marriott make it more likely they’ll send bookings that way?
Here’s a screenshot when I did a random search for Chicago hotels:
Plenty of marketing going on before I even start searching for hotels. The map is sponsored by Comfort hotels, and there’s special offers from 3 different hotels. And, I’m sure all of them are paying TripAdvisor for that privilege.
Again, I don’t have any problem with companies making money. But, I do like to know where companies make their money. I don’t think TripAdvisor sold out with this Marriott relationship, I think they broke that barrier some time ago. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing this much overt branding on the hotel page of TripAdvisor is unappealing to me. I don’t specifically think this means they’re tweaking the ratings in favor of sponsors, but it really does seem a bit too much over the top for my taste.
What does Marriott get out of this relationship? They get another booking channel, though it’s not clear how much commission they’ll be paying on these bookings. But, in theory, these are “native” bookings, where Marriott gets control of the booking in their own system as opposed to OTA bookings. The benefit for customers may be that if they are native bookings, customers would receive elite benefits and other perks.
The thing that I’m really curious about (that will be hard to confirm) is what the commission structure of this deal looks like. The big hotel chains desperately hate paying commissions to the OTAs and almost equally dislike the lack of control over those bookings. They want to own their customers and reward them with loyalty. While the OTAs have, at times, been necessary evils, they’re not for the big boys right now. Occupancy levels are the highest we’ve seen in quite some time, and rates are up as well. So, why discount your inventory and give up control of your customer.
If Marriott did strike a better deal with TripAdvisor, you can be sure they’ll be using those numbers to pressure the OTAs into lower commissions in the future. The hotel chains have firewalled the OTAs away from the elite benefits of their loyalty programs as the last line of defense to keep business travelers from booking through those channels and costing them money on stays they already expected to get. The lower the commissions go, the more agnostic a chain like Marriott is about where the booking comes from.
Is Marriott the only one heading down this rabbit hole, or will Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Starwood strike similar deals with TripAdvisor in the near future?
The post Is TripAdvisor Selling Out With Their Marriott Deal? was published first on Pizza In Motion.
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