For years, hotel brands have maintained an uneasy agreement with online travel agencies (OTAs), exchanging reduced margins for expanded awareness. L2’s Google Hotel Finder report compares hotel brand sites to the top three online tourism destinations (TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Kayak) and finds that the average hotel brand secures only 5% of comparable website traffic, 6% of unique email subscribers, and 14% of unbranded Google search visibility.

As 2018 begins, however, this alliance is about to be challenged.

When it comes to unbranded search terms such as “Chicago hotels,” Google results are blanketed in OTA websites, with TripAdvisor leading the pack. Large brands like Hilton and Marriott are able to go head-to-head with OTAs in paid results for unbranded terms, with Hilton gaining the most visibility. Smaller brands, however, should rely on carefully curated search terms rather than broader terms to attract a core audience and stay afloat in the hospitality sector.

Though Google Travel is now worth $100 billion (even more than juggernaut Priceline), hotels can still make a play for booking the old-fashioned way. For example, Hilton and Marriott successfully launched two campaigns, called “Stop Clicking Around” and “It Pays to Book Direct” respectively. For Hilton, this resulted in a 2% increase in direct booking. In addition to anti-OTA lobbying efforts led by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, digital campaigns like these may mark the start of hotel brands adjusting their priorities and addressing the new power dynamic head-on.

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