Agencies Drive Hotel Bookings Outside Book-Direct And OTA Channels

by Harvey Chipkin

The booking battle between hotel companies and online travel agencies has frequently left other hotel sellers on the sidelines as OTA giants like Expedia and Priceline duke it out with giants like Hilton and Marriott. But several large agencies and consortia are using technology, innovation and creativity to get their share of the big hotel market. Here’s how.

Winning through specializing
Rather than seeking to maximize routine hotel bookings, some agencies are focusing on luxury and other niches to maximize hotel bookings. For instance, Valerie Wilson Travel International in New York has found success with a program called Suite Access, which offers extra benefits to clients who book suites in a growing number of hotels. The program enjoyed $4 million in revenues in 2016. 

“When VWTI clients book a suite through our advisors for a minimum of two nights at full rate they are flagged as a Suite Access traveler and receive enhanced amenities and benefits, including a minimum of $200 on-property credit during their stay, complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast and a VIP experience,” said co-president Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg. The initiative, which now offers more than 200 hotels, has been broadened to include a trade show, a blog and, soon, special events.

“We identified an opportunity in the marketplace to leverage our ability to focus on suites, recognizing exclusive amenities and access were more valuable to our clients and more powerful than a discount,” Wilson-Buttigieg said. “Our advisors and associate agents promote it as unique VWT offering that is not available to non-VWT travelers or at standard room categories.”

Wilson-Buttigieg said Suite Access was created for three reasons: 1) to enhance “stickiness” with business and leisure clients; 2) to strengthen relationships with VWTI advisors and suppliers; and 3) to maintain a competitive edge, with a focus on the luxury market segment.

Also taking that route is Travel Leaders Group, whose Select Wellness Collection also offers exclusive benefits to clients. “Properties with a clear focus on spa, health and wellness are carefully vetted and invited to participate in the Select Wellness Collection program,” said Christina Gambini, vice president of supplier relations & program management for TLG’s the Hotel Division. Partner properties are required to provide Select Wellness clients with amenities including breakfast for two, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, early check-in, late check-out and room upgrade (upon availability), as well as a wellness-focused amenity such as a massage or a personal training session.

Incremental revenue is the lure for hotels, according to agents. Wilson-Buttigieg said Suite Access “drives additional revenue through suite bookings. Our program allows for this opportunity to secure incremental revenues and reservations at full rate. They also receive extensive promotion to VWT’s network which creates a lasting affinity among our most affluent clients.”

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