The gloves have come off in the war between hotels and Internet sites like Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, and Orbitz that promise customers low prices and competitive deals. After years of allowing these middle men to make a substantial buck off their services, the hospitality industry is finally saying “no more.” Large conglomerates like Hyatt and Hilton are now offering various incentives to customers to book through the hotels directly, rather than going through discount services that often offer lower prices at the expense of the hotels themselves.
At the beginning of August, a number of hotels loudly protested the proposed merger that would have made Expedia and Orbitz one giant discount travel service, insisting that the combined forces of the two sites would effectively establish a monopoly on the industry. And while there’s still no word from regulators on the ultimate decision on that marriage, hotels have decided to take matters into their own hands. As the New York Times reports, a few chains are now offering “digital check-in, free meals, Wi-Fi and even the ability to choose a specific room,” just as long as you book directly with the hotel and not through a third-party website.
Combined with existing programs such as loyalty rewards, a number of hotels are seeing substantial success in terms of convincing guests to not only stay, but also to book with them. As one industry analyst told the Times, “We see people who will book directly just to get their rewards points. They don’t want to give that up, and so it can be a powerful lure.” Already, marketing firms have found that such incentives have driven a “noticeable drop” in the number of bookings that have gone through Expedia-like sites. Moreover, Ellen Lee, vice president for e-commerce at the Hyatt chain, told the Times that their hotels observed “huge growth” in their own booking services following the premiere of room selection and other features.
Of course, this all comes as good news for travelers — ultimately, in order to remain competitive, hotels must not only offer good prices, but also additional perks to convince us to use their digital booking instead of third parties. And Orbitz, Expedia and others, of course, must find new ways to compete.
We’re seeing a race to the bottom — the good kind — in which the ultimate beneficiary seems to be the consumer. So for now, start looking into your next vacation. At least when it comes to your accommodations, you may be looking at a pretty sweet deal.