With their ability to create travel experiences, attract high-end clients and finesse complex bookings, traditional travel agents bring more value to hotel companies than OTAs.
That was the strong message from hotel industry executives attending the annual New York University International Hospitality Investment Conference last week.
Travel Market Report spoke with a variety of hoteliers about what traditional retailers bring to the table and hoteliers’ commitment to growing the relationship. Following is a sampling of their comments.
Agents create experiences
“Even though an agent might book a room at the same rate as any other channel, our revenues are higher because of add-ons like spa treatments, upgrades, etc. Also, everybody talks about how upscale travelers are looking for experiences – and travel agents are the only ones who can create those experiential vacations.”
– John Vanderslice, global head, luxury and lifestyle brands, Hilton Worldwide
“Traditional agents are very important for us. At our end, the quality of the overall experience is what counts and we place as much trust in the agent as they do in us. It’s our customer. Each hotel manager is charged with knowing and working with agents. We have several members of Relais & Chateaux, and those general managers call agents all the time. The most important thing we can do for agents is to deliver for the clients they send us.” – Paul Hanley, CEO, US Hotels
Agents bring a global customer base
“We have increasingly focused in the last few years on travel agent communities, especially for our luxury brands like Park Hyatt. Agents bring us a global customer base and higher value bookings. We are taking a lot of time and effort to make sure agents know what we’re doing.” – Mark Hoplamazian, CEO, Hyatt
Agency bookings are a majority
“We work with 32 agent consortia. If you combine our corporate travel management accounts and our business from consortia, agency bookings represent 54% of all of our business. OTAs want to cut out travel agents, and we want to grow their business. They know the hotels. The percentage of business from agents has actually grown, as have voice reservations. We have 32 offices globally, one of whose jobs is to work with agents. We have a Be Connected newsletter for agents, dedicated websites and so forth. We can also target our messages to specific consortia or regions or markets. We are all about educating agents and marketing for them.” – Gregory Habeeb, regional vice president-hotel development, Worldhotels
OTAs cannot replace agents
“You can’t replace an agent with an OTA. We see OTAs as filler business. How do you translate a three-dimensional hotel into a two-dimensional website? You need somebody who knows the property.” – Gregory Habeeb
“Travel consultants help to create and manage a travel experience. OTAs will package things any way they want. I have seen Mandarin packaged with other elements that we do not want to be affiliated with.” – Richard Baker, executive vice president-operations director, Mandarin Hotel Group
“The lifetime value of the OTA guest is very low. A loyal customer will go to the brand site.” – G. Christopher Smith, president, Ohana Real Estate Investors
GDS traffic is consistent
“Traditional travel advisors are still a strong channel for us. GDS traffic has remained consistent and, we generally get a higher rate through that channel. We consult regularly with member hotels on becoming preferred suppliers with travel agency consortia.” – Lindsey Ueberroth, president, Preferred Hotel Group
Agents best for complex bookings
“Twenty five percent of our multigenerational trips, which is a rapidly growing market, are booked by travel agents. Those bookings are so complicated because people are coming from different places. Also, agents can help customize those holidays during their stays.” – Maria Gemske, vice president- communications, Preferred Hotel Group
Agencies vital to business mix
“Agencies are very much a part of the mix. There is a huge role for consortias. We make calls regularly on Amex, Carlson, AAA. We have a strong relationship with companies like Liberty/Gogo in important feeder markets like the northeast. Since we are so South Florida-centric, agents are important in putting together pre- and post-cruise stays. And with us opening in Disney next year, agents will also be important there. On the business side, more and more companies are tougher with implementing their travel policies and we want to be part of that.” – Christopher Tompkins, senior vice president-marketing and brand programs, B Hotels & Resorts
More potential in corporate than leisure
“We are making substantial efforts to grow our business from travel management companies. It is high-rate business. We see less potential on the leisure side for our midrate brands.” – Robert McDowell, senior vice president-global distribution, Choice Hotels