How to Rank Better on Booking, Airbnb and Other OTAs?

Patricia PetrinjakTourism Marketing
11 min read

Positioning on OTA channels and how to achieve the highest possible rank is one of those questions to which the answer is a little bit longer.

It is primarily because each channel has its own criteria for ranking.

The criteria also change frequently, constantly challenging all participants to stay up to date with the changes.

It is worth keeping in mind that online travel agencies (OTAs) focus on their revenue. Properties that generate higher revenue for OTA channels will thus, quite logically, be a priority when ranking.

Other factors affecting ranking include a combination of the commission amount, availability, parity compared to other OTA channels and meta-search sites, and guest reviews.

Step By Step – The Reservation

You will achieve maximum market exposure and revenue by expanding your sales network.

Your offer should be visible on as many sales channels specialized in selling accommodation of the appropriate type.

In addition to the largest, global OTA channels, the most famous of which are Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb, other channels cover specific markets or specialize in certain types of properties such as hotels, vacation rentals, camps or hostels.

Agoda covers the Far East countries;

Trip.com, the largest and fastest-growing channel covering the Chinese market;

HRS, one of the oldest channels in the travel market for the distribution of hotel accommodation covering the German and Central European markets;

HotelBeds, a channel that covers the markets of Great Britain and Western Europe and does not work classically but functions as a bed bank;

SunHotels, which covers the Spanish and Latin European markets, also works similarly to HotelBeds;

Ostrovok is a channel that covers the Russian market.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

After selecting the appropriate channels, it is necessary to determine your own sales strategy, prices and restrictions by season and apply the same.

When choosing, keep in mind your target guest, accommodation type, commission model and demographic reach. Also, consider updating the same information on all OTA channels – accommodation units, categories, cancellation policies, check-in and check-out times to avoid any differences.

The channel manager will be more than welcome to help in that case. ☺️

It is good practice to review your profile from a guest perspective. To be completely thorough, view your OTA profiles in multiple browsers and on different devices, and be sure to pay attention to the following segments:

Sales Strategy

According to the sales strategy, the prices available on different channels should be the same.

At the same time, the difference between the gross and net price, i.e., the price that represents your profits, should equal the highest commission you pay to all partners. The additional payments of net price per channel will vary depending on the commission and the reservation cost on each channel.

The Best Available Rate should be exclusively and only your direct price for guests booking directly, via your website, email or telephone inquiry, and walk-in.

OTAs determine price parity by comparing prices on their site with other media and competing accommodation offers to determine your position when searching. However, rate parity used to be the official rule.

The entire industry was forced to have equal gross sales prices on all channels.

Today this is no longer the case, but hoteliers and vacation rentals continue to practice parity to maintain healthy competition and allow all guests to book at the same price regardless of the booking channel.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the recent ruling of the German Federal Court of Justice. The court ruled that Booking.com can no longer prevent German hoteliers from advertising lower room rates on their websites, declaring such practice as an unfavorable business condition. With this decision, hotels in Germany will offer better prices through their website and direct booking.

The possibility for a direct reservation is still present. However, by selecting channels, maximizing market spread and presence using the rule of price parity towards all partners and OTA channels, the Billboard effect often occurs.

The Billboard Effect = The Opportunity

When planning a trip, a potential guest will find the accommodation you offer on one of the OTA.

By further researching the accommodation offer, the guest finds your website and notices more favorable terms, reservation conditions, cancellation, and additional benefits.

Finally, the guest will book directly instead of booking via the OTA where they initially discovered your offer.

The Billboard Effect is just one reason for using your website with an integrated booking engine and OTA channels for maximum occupancy.

OTA channels have a clear condition – the advantage of the accommodation offer with the best prices. Prices should be rational. If the OTA determines the price is not the same, they will lower you on the search scale.

OTA channels will rarely reward a price that does not match the comparable accommodation offer nearby.

Up to date Profile

Each channel has its criteria for assessing the quality of the profile.

Expedia calls this content rating.

Factors evaluating the profile are the image quantity and quality, benefits indication and the general content integrity.

Profiles with higher ratings will always have a higher rank.

Quality

High-quality photos and full descriptions on your profiles will end in higher positioning.

Use high-resolution photos, good lighting, clean lines and attractive framing. Do not hesitate to hire a professional. It is the best investment you can make to optimize positioning on OTA scales.

Quality photos will provide your guests with a virtual tour of the accommodation and give them a clear idea of the location.

Also, posting quality videos will help your guests explore your hotel, which will result in faster bookings.

Use unique photos for each room type with descriptive tags for each.

As you choose the order of the photos, tell the story. It will indirectly build the guest experience before confirming the reservation.

Completeness

Is the profile complete?

Do you use everything the channel offers?

Larger channels generally test the content that best suits their users and will want to provide all the requested information, and in turn, will position you better because you give the content that their users want.

Utility

Does the profile answer all the right questions?

Is it targeted at users of a particular channel?

The most valuable profiles give potential guests all the necessary information in advance so they don’t have to search unnecessarily further. Be sure to provide details of where you can, including any additional fees, such as parking fees or pets, or important information, such as upcoming renovations.

Accuracy

Has anything changed recently on your property?

Review opening hours, make sure room descriptions and photos reflect the latest changes (if any), make sure all categories are correctly labeled, and that all information is accurate. OTA’s will not show incomplete descriptions and information to their users.

Also, if the available information is not updated regularly and the photos are outdated, it will confuse your potential guests and disrupt their experience.

Therefore, the more often you update and review your profile, the more likely you will improve your position when searching.

(Online) reputation

Managing the online reputation of your accommodation has a significant impact on rankings.

You can find more about the benefits of online reputation management here.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

OTA’s observe reviews and rating trends to judge reputation. In general, the ratings and reviews of your accommodation should be consistent or grow, by no means fall.

Participation in OTA Promotions

Any special promotion or offer available through OTA’s affects the determination of the ranking position.

OTA’s often run offers, promotions, loyalty programs, or promotion rewards. Participation will help increase bookings and improve OTA rankings when searching.

Partnership Status

OTA channels will rank your apartment, hostel, hotel or camp better in exchange for a higher commission with a preferred partnership agreement.

Before you dismiss this idea for the sake of a higher commission, understand that this is just a short-term strategy.

This way, your goal should be to climb the rankings so that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs.

Once you increase the number of conversions, you can withdraw the commission because you will organically increase the rank on the OTA scale until then.

Booking.com prefers and gain additional visibility in search results to the accommodation offers with an average rating of 7.0 or more.

Booking.com‘s Preferred Partner Program is one such approach to improving visibility.

Practice makes perfect.

The last step in optimizing the ranking of your accommodation is to repeat the process.

If a guest leaves a negative or positive review on your profiles, be sure to respond to it promptly. Also, consider actively requesting reviews from your guests – which you can easily do by creating email templates within Rentlio and scheduling to send guests a few days after they leave.

Asking for reviews and feedback will help you to:

show the guest how much you care;

refresh reviews, as up-to-dateness is a critical factor in ranking reviews;

real-time feedback and reviews will improve your offer.

All of the above will improve your ranking through a better guest experience.

Your website should reflect all OTA profile updates and vice versa. The voice, tone and visual appearance of your brand should be consistent across all channels.

Pandemic Context

According to Skift, the direct reservations were particularly articulated during the outbreak of the pandemic.

Moreover, with this wave of reservations, players like Google have entered the market.

After the first travel restrictions, OTA’s suddenly had to cancel thousands of online bookings. The weak logistics of this complex process have led to a loss of guest confidence. As travel continued, many who had previously been loyal to OTA’s decided to change that, mostly favoring websites and direct bookings.

Equally, all major OTA channels have put their marketing campaigns on hold. This decision eased the pressure of competition between hoteliers and vacation rentals with the million-dollar budgets of these channels.

As the pandemic lasted, most people settled for domestic destinations, which significantly favors direct bookings. Without a language barrier and with a better knowledge of the various properties available, it is more likely that local travelers will book their stay directly than using OTA services.

OTA channels have been relatively unprovoked over the past few years, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has called into question their global domination.

However, although direct bookings are on the rise, OTA channels will undoubtedly change and adapt to the new situation as soon as international travel returns to normal.

Recovery Cooperation

As international travel is slowly recovering, the OTA marketing efforts are in full swing.

Online travel agencies are a vital part of selling your apartments, hostels, hotels or campsites. Although they charge a commission for bookings, ranking optimization is crucial to maximizing the value they provide.

In return, a better ranking when searching will reach a broader range of potential guests who would book your accommodation.

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Although she would love to read all day, Patricia enjoys writing. In addition to cultivating the wild yeast in her free time, she shares her living space with two dogs and one Dalmatian enjoying her first-class sea view which is why she moved from Zagreb in the first place.