Effective distribution channels for hotels to stay competitive

VLeisure's CEO and founder Phan Le outlines the effective distribution strategies that hotels should undertake in a highly competitive and fast-changing environment.


The hotel industry has evolved from providing familiar service and feelings wherever travellers go to providing a unique experience. More boutique hotels are investing in their own branding, offering a “unique experience”, and also encouraging people to book directly with them.

The majority of travellers, more price conscious than brand conscious, however still search for quote/inventory and book through a metasearch service like TripAdvisor, Trivago, or Booking.com, which is why OTAs continue to dominate the booking phase.

Phan: managing a hotel business in this competitive online landscape requires a strong brand recognition

The questions for hoteliers then are, how do our hotels appear higher on the search results of these OTAs? What is the best strategy for distributing booking inventories between direct channels and OTAs? How about pricing? What kind of technology will get us maximum exposure and eye-balls at the price level offered? Is this technology affordable? How do we access and implement it? How about ongoing maintenance?

Whether you’re a company trying to improve SEO, or a YouTuber/content distributor on the Internet wishing to crack its algorithm code to achieve higher exposure, or a hotelier looking to obtain and sustain more retail bookings on OTA platforms, the underlying digital playbook rules remain the same.

Vital to a hotel’s survival and ability to compete digitally are these five hotel distribution pillars: branding on social media, home website, user experience for better conversion rate, metasearch ads, and channel manager.

The first two fall under branding management and the last three are all about managing your hotels’ sales performance on distribution platforms.

OTAs like TripAdvisor are still preferred by travellers, hence it is important to have a strong branding presence there as well

Branding on social media
Even on a crowded OTA platform, your branding presence will help you stand out, so work to increase your brand recognition. Here, the creativity world is your oyster and social media your friends: Hashtag campaign on Instagram with Insta-worthy backdrop; create partnerships with other brands to provide space for experiences: yoga parties, activities and so on; build a distinguishable identity and engage with your audience.

Home website
Pleasing visuals with clean, soothing aesthetics provide guests with a relaxing experience even before their trips, and thus, encourage guests to book. Enhance your tag line slogan or value proposition with high-quality images. Show nearby points of interest – beaches, landmarks, forests, beautiful people relaxing – and make it easy to view prices, room availability, special packages and booking options.

User experience for better conversion rate
Having a great website is fantastic but if people have trouble booking rooms or navigating around the site, then you will lose bookings and business. It’s as simple as that. So run a usability test. A usability test involves engaging real, live test subjects to carry out specific tasks on your website and then evaluating the process from their perspective. You can test whether your website provides enough information to drive the decision to book, and how easily visitors find certain information on your website or complete a task, such as making a booking. Know how well your website is converting browsers into bookers. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, understand how your customers engage, identify all the traction points from the start of a visit or the end of a booking and eliminate those.

Metasearch ads
Metasearch engines play a crucial role in the guest booking journey today and hotels should take a specific stance on their advertising. A high-quality hotel metasearch platform will continually assess the specific hotel-related needs of both travellers and hoteliers and offer a unique and intuitive experience to both parties. The right property management system (PMS) or central reservation system (CRS) will allow you to connect with the biggest players in the metasearch field and help monitor the key performance metrics of your channels. Know your metrics like the back of your hand, along with which channels are performing well and which are costing you money.

Channel manager
Hotel distribution is a complex ecosystem within travel, much of which can be attributed to the industry’s fragmented ownership and management structure. To bring real efficiency to your hotel’s sales process and to ensure your sales reach their highest potential, you will need a channel manager integrated CRS system – a single system that keeps track of all your room inventory & rates, and updates every sales channel on its own.

Before you rush into this however, there are several factors to consider:

  • Pricing model
    There are many different pricing models and possibly also many hidden costs. Look carefully.
  • PMS Compatibility
    Choose a channel manager that offers a two-way connection that can be synchronised with a PMS system (see above).
  • Easy to use
    Choose a channel manager with a clear and easy interface.
  • Payment system
    Check if the channel manager can be connected with any payment system and how they manage data.
  • Channels
    Consider which OTA you plan to connect to and whether the channel manager can deliver.
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