Operators on OTAs — Marketing Channels or Politicians?

Operators would like OTAs to come clean on how the businesses are run, but some think there are more useful ways to engage

Reading Time: 2 minutes 38 seconds

OTA leadership are perhaps becoming too practiced at responding to operators’ questions, with one describing them as “five politicians on the stage, avoiding answering the questions that were asked.”

Ian MacPhee of Prince of Whales continued: “I have tremendous respect for the fact that these folks run large companies with lots of shareholders to answer to but we want to know the answers.”

The main issues McPhee has with OTAs are a lack of control, costs per booking, and the lack of customer ownership.

However, these are all areas where OTA leadership has been drilled hard. They are fully media trained and know their answers by rote. They know exactly what to expect and — unlike most politicians — are prepared.

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Kevin O’Neil, CEO of Destiny Water Adventures and less-than-Awkward Watersport Guy, struggled to see the issue with OTAs. O’Neil sees them as a marketing tool to be turned off and on when needs be.

“OTAs are a tool,” O’Neil said. “You can sell your products on there, you can sell part of your products on there, you can sell none of your products on there, you can get into the mix and dogfight with them. There’s plenty of David and Goliath stories out there. 

“You don’t need OTAs to sell your products and, I don’t care what vertical you’re in, there’s plenty of ways for you to reach your customers and you don’t if you don’t like what an OTA is doing, it’s very simple — don’t freakin use them.”

However, O’Neil said that Destiny Water Adventures only sees 15–20% of its revenue come through OTAs.

“They are unnecessary evil,” Sadie Sumner from Fat Tire Tours said. “If you look at your competitors and your competitors are harnessing OTAs you can’t just turn them off completely. 

“We just have to realize that OTAs are there to make money and to own the customer, and they market themselves as a distribution channel.

”Yet during Covid, we saw that GetYourGuide locked product changes due to quality control. It was really because they reduced their staff and yet we reduced our staff and we were working 10 times harder to get product changes because of Covid restrictions out to our customers. So they ceased to exist as a distribution channel. 

“It’s crazy that they’re able to market themselves as that and to get up here and talk around the questions. What I want from them in the future is transparency, honesty: ‘Yes, we are here to own the customer. We’re not just a distribution channel. We’re here to make money.’”

So What Do You Think? An Operator Town Hall will run at Arival 360 Online on Thursday, February 242022

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