While those of us in the industry talk at length about online travel agents, are they well known to the general public they are targeting?
With all the investments they’ve received and the millions of dollars at their disposal, have they actually done a good job of putting their brands in the minds of travelers and consumers? Does it still matter?
These questions arose when I was speaking with my family and friends at a recent meeting. I found that most had never heard of the major OTAs I mentioned, with the exception of a few select brands. Almost everyone I asked had heard of TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and Booking.com, but when I mentioned Viator, GetYourGuide, and a few others, they gave me blank eyes.
It made me think. Are OTAs doing a good job raising their brand profile, or are they so focused on getting bookings through Google Ads that they’ve lost sight of the path to growing a successful brand: by becoming a household name.
Apple, Virgin, Google… all of these companies are known for a variety of reasons, because they focus on the customer and the experience, not the product.
For me, Airbnb is the only brand in our industry that has really built its brand awareness without relying too much on Google. They may not be on the top of people’s minds (as you’ll see shortly), but they “got it right” in terms of being on the minds of consumers when it comes to booking. another accommodation.
No one would search for Airbnb accommodation on Google, but they “Airbnb” directly on their app or website. They have undoubtedly become the Google of this sector. The same cannot be said of Tripadvisor or Booking.com. Far too many customers find products on these platforms after a Google search.
Airbnb Experiences, on the other hand, has yet to gain the same momentum as the hosting side of the brand’s offering, but I think its time will come. The hosting side of the brand took many years (launched August 2008) to become a household name. It’s 13 years of building a brand and not relying too much on other platforms like Google Ads, Facebook, etc.
That’s why I still maintain that Airbnb will eventually “win” the OTA battle for tours, activities, and experiences. The only potential key in the works might be a brand like Amazon, but that’s still a long way off.
Consumers are turning to brands that focus on the consumer, not the products themselves. Airbnb has effectively built its tribe of brands and will continue to do so.
Perception of OTAs by consumers
Because we believe that data should always drive opinions and strategies, the The tourism marketing agency conducted a survey, asking consumers in the US and UK if they know of any of the major OTAs in the industry and what comes to mind about each brand.
In the United States, Tripadvisor tops the list of OTAs, closely followed by Booking.com and Airbnb. In the UK, however, Booking.com is the most popular, but only narrowly, with Tripadvisor 1% behind. Airbnb is a third close.
In the US, GetYourGuide and Viator are gaining ground, albeit slowly, but if you look at the UK both brands are relatively small, and in the case of GetYourGuide because I expected GetYourGuide to have a percentage higher. One wonders what they are doing with the huge cash investments they have received over the years.
Now let’s see how consumers perceive some of these brands …
Airbnb’s number one perception for consumers in the US is to find and book accommodation, so no surprises there, but it looks like they’re doing a great job of building the experience side of the brand. In contrast, the British don’t really associate Airbnb with booking experiences.
The main perception of Tripadvisor in the United States is that it is used to find and book accommodation. Again, no surprises there, but finding a destination only glitches in booking tours and experiences in the United States. Surprisingly, reviews, for which Tripadvisor is famous, are in fourth place, so perceptions are changing.
Unlike the US market, the UK consumer perception of Tripadvisor is that the site is primarily a place to read reviews. Booking accommodation and finding a destination takes places two and three with tours and experiences being the least known on Tripadvisor in the UK
Obviously there is something wrong with the brand awareness and message of GetYourGuide in the United States.
In the UK, awareness of the GetYourGuide brand is very low, with almost 30% of consumers having never heard of the brand. For those who know the brand, it is above all a place of opinion, then it is considered as a place of reservation of an experience. The accommodation reservation is coming back, so something is wrong with their message.
What are the problems with OTAs? (And what are the solutions?)
From the above results, I still find it surprising that with the resources available to these OTAs, consumers have little or no knowledge of them by the vast majority. Or, if they do, they know them for an area, like the Tripadvisor reviews for the UK market.
They are putting all of their effort and investor money into Google Ads, but all they do is feed an already huge monster that has its own aspirations in this space. To truly stand on their own feet, to become the kind of brand that Airbnb has become, they need to refocus the way they brand and market themselves, and they need to do it fast!
Most have had two pandemic years to implement these changes, but I think it’s safe to say the majority of OTAs have stalled in their efforts.
Where is the innovation of the large OTAs? Who made the decision to focus the bulk of online marketing on Google Ads? Why aren’t some a household name after all these years? If I were an investor, these are the questions I would demand answered.
Perception of the GetYourGuide brand can also be confusing. Are they an OTA or an operator with their GetYourGuide Originals brand? Personally, I think consumers have a hard time understanding what they are.
Shane Whaley of Tourpreneur pointed out that GetYourGuide has published a series of announcements on television in New York. The ads are cool, but this ad campaign is a drop in the ocean for what they need to do. Chances are, these ads are probably either a test to see how effective they can be, or just a way to appease investors… or both.
But at least it’s a step in the right direction. Is it going to be successful? Time will tell, but it will take a lot of money, more years of better brand development and more investment to make it work. And with Airbnb so ahead of the game in terms of brand equity, it might be a bit too late for some of the other OTAs.
Why you need to build a direct relationship with your customers
Build your own brand is critical to the long-term success of any business, whether you are a small one-person business or a multi-million dollar business.
Without brand equity, you will never get the kind of traction that you should or can. This is why I am so surprised that most OTAs miss the mark in this area. They can have amazing technology, a massive library of products, tons of money, and even data from their “own” customers. But do they really own the customer’s heart?
Building a brand is everything. Without it, you are nothing more than a platform or a brand that exists for the sake of existing, not because the consumer really wants you to exist.
If you build that relationship with the brand directly, you have a better chance of creating your own tribe of fans and followers who will help spread the word.
Think about what Airbnb has done. When you think back to a place you’ve stayed, most of us won’t think, ‘This was excellent accommodation that our host Jill had in Scotland. But you will say, “This Airbnb we stayed at last summer was amazing.”
When a brand becomes synonymous with the product or service, then it has won.
The others are just catching up, and from what I see, some are doing it pretty badly.