The study by US-based online monitoring company BrandVerity was based on per-per-click advertisements triggered by hotels' branded keywords, such as 'Holiday Inn New York' or 'Hilton Miami'.
BrandVerity's software analysed more than 100,000 online ads generated by searches targeting the properties of 12 different hotel brands in 10 American cities and found that on average OTA ads outnumbered hotel brands' ads on Google, Bing and AOL.
OTAs were often found to be holding the number one position for hotel brands on SERPs in 25 per cent of cases on AOL; 24 per cent of cases on Google Mobile; 17 per cent of cases on Bing and 15.9 per cent of cases on Google, meaning guests may well click on these sites over the hotel's own website.
Bidding for brand names
The study's results indicate that hotel companies may have to start bidding harder for their own brand names if they want guests to book with them directly, which as many brand development directors stated during NatWest's recent round table discussion, was what they wanted.
"Our ideal is to always get someone to use their preferred card and book through our website, because not only are they the cheapest but also they’re optimised for our revenue management system so the chance of getting that rate or occupancy to be as close to the optimal is best," said Niall Kelly of Starwood.
Philip Lassman, brand development director at InterContinental Hotel Group added: "We are fighting back - all the brands are encouraging guests to book direct. At Holiday Inn Express you get free internet if you book direct, you don’t get loyalty club points if you don’t book direct, but I think this step of giving black out dates is an industry first and shows that we mean business.
"Obviously the OTAs do bring business and they do extend the reach that the brands have...but ourselves, where we have a problem with the OTAs is where they bring us business that we would get directly."
A spokesperson for BrandVerity said hotel brands would have 'varying responses to OTA brand bidding' with some seeing the sites as threat while others were able to see the advantages.
"Some brands may see OTA ads as a valuable insurance policy on the SERP, providing a place for the searcher to book with their hotel regardless of where they click. Conversely, some brands may view OTAs' ads as threats to direct bookings. Others will probably have more of a mixed perspective, seeing both the advantages and disadvantages of OTA ads appearing on the SERP," it said.
"In certain situations, brand bidding OTAs can be useful to the brand, ensuring that a potential customer doesn't book with a competitor. In others, it may be harmful, reducing the brand's traffic and direct bookings. Determining how to properly balance this is beyond the scope of this study; that equation is left to be worked out by hotel brands and their OTAs. However, the data from this study should help inform hotel brands in particular as they adapt their PPC strategies and optimise their relationship with OTAs.
Kelly added: "I think it would be foolhardy for anyone to pretend that we would get rid of the OTAs. I think simply because they have lots and lots of rooms there, but I think it’s an equation, it’s a little bit like deciding whether to work with a brand or not, you have to know which ones you can mildly control, but I think it’s an educated and calculated relationship."
View BrandVerity's Report on Hotels, OTA's and Paid Search here.