To the delight of consumers, and to pay per click and SEO companies, the boom of accommodation multi-list and booking services on the web has become a gold rush. The staggering amount of websites and the range of prices and inclusions as I have been researching pricing and reviews for our impending Singapore stay has shown me that consumers are quickly being trained to treat hotels as a commodity, to be bought purely on price, and to rely on the review websites, which are growing at an increasing knot.
Regardless if this is a good thing or not for the hotelier, it’s already happened and in a big way (a research report by Merrill Lynch states 30% of bookings are already done online, and predicts closer to 50% of all hotel bookings will be done online by 2010).
Hotel websites are quickly trying to grasp back at this market trend, through activities such as having ‘best internet rate’ guarantees on their own websites or by throwing in additional incentives to keep the consumers business – free breakfasts, late checkouts and possibly better rooms if you book through them.
To give you an idea of the ranges of discounts you can obtain by making an accommodation booking online, I have used a sample hotel (name withheld) and searched for a standard queen bed room for the same four nights in April 2007, for two adults. I then called a local Travel Agent (part of a large chain here) to also get a quote. In two cases, I had to change the US or SG dollars back to AU, and used the calculation of 1 SGD = 0.830602 AUD to do this.
The results were interesting:
AsiaRooms.com have it for AU$804, all inclusive (standard)
Zuji.com is $876.00 plus 16% taxes (standard)
WorldRes.com $840.00 plus 16% taxes (standard)
Expedia.com.au AU$1,719.80 all inclusive (no standard available, only executive)
Hotels.com $1797.72 all inclusive (no standard available, only executive)
The travel agent I called quoted $1190.00 plus taxes (16%) for a standard room, and $1940.00 plus taxes (16%) for an executive room.
This means that in the 90 minutes of research I achieved a potential saving of $386 on a standard room, and $220 on an executive room. I was also able to read over 100 reviews about the establishment from about 5 different review sites, and furthermore if I was so motivated, I could have posted on any number of travel forums to ask questions from people who have stayed there, or live in the area. The above results are obviously not perfect market research (far from it), but it gives you the general idea.
I also actually searched another Australian online travel agent, and having not found the right hotel, completed their ‘online enquiry’ contact form. After waiting nearly 24 hours, I received an email back saying they don’t quote by email – and I needed to call their toll free number. One line of text above that contact form would have avoided my fury at being told that!
It’s that whole crazy consumer backlash to the ‘old way of business’, and it’s really being felt by those in industries such as travel (accommodation, flights, etc), music, books and other ‘easy to compare’ retail items. Although this ‘price comparison on steroids’ trend is never going to hit every industry, it makes you wonder where we’ll be in just a few years time.
There’s a great article here by the New York Times, asking if it’s better to book through the multi-listing sites or the hotel directly, and for the inside scoop on how the hotel industry is responding, check out hotelmarketing.com.