Earlier this month, The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released new research that reveals the true cost of online booking scams and dishonest marketing practices by fraudulent and misleading travel websites. The data shows that “23 percent of consumers report being misled by third-party traveler resellers on the phone or online, which amounted to $5.7 billion in fraudulent and misleading hotel booking transactions in 2018 alone.”
It happened to me once right after I booked a conference pass. I had no idea that I wasn’t booking directly with a hotel when I did a google search to find hotels near the venue. I thought I was booking directly with a big brand hotel since there was a logo and no indications that it was a third-party site. I only found out that I was scammed when I called the hotel to make a change to my reservation and was told I would have to contact the third-party agent.
But misleading websites aren’t the only problem. Another frustration, according to AHLA, has to do with OTAs. “Over 40% of consumers were upset to learn that when they comparison shop among these “digital middlemen” – Trivago, Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Booking.com, and others – they’re usually just comparing the same two companies: Expedia and Priceline, which together control 95 percent of the online travel market.” Consumers spend hours price shopping and it’s usually for nothing since they’re comparing A with A and B with B. What a waste of their time.
To combat the problem, AHLA is backing a bill called the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. The new legislation would protect consumers by increasing the transparency and security of the online booking process. In addition, it’s launching an awareness program, Search Smarter, that aims to help consumers realize the threat when booking hotel rooms. The site reads, “With 500 hotel bookings happening online every minute, it’s more important than ever that consumers pay close attention when booking reservations online.” The campaign urges consumers to book directly with hotels or reputable travel agencies.
There’s no doubt that guests have the best pre-stay and stay experience when they book directly with the hotel. They get more flexibility with their reservation, the ability to qualify for loyalty points and better service, since hotels have their contact information and can reach them before they arrive to ensure they start their trip on the right foot.
If you’re not collecting emails from your guests when they check-in, especially if they used a third-party booking site, you are missing a huge opportunity to market to them when they return home. With an email address, you can stay in the fight and win the battle over unscrupulous companies looking to make a buck without providing any value for guests or the industry as whole.