We are in an era of automation, facing a consumer generation that prefers less human interaction and faster results. For short-term home rentals, online travel agencies are the very embodiment of this market shift.

Like it or not, it is undeniable that these sites are now essential to any serviced accommodation business. The smartest way to go about it is to know how to maximize its benefits and, at the same time, be mindful of its downsides.

What exactly are Online Travel Agency platforms?

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are interactive platforms accessible through the web where people can book various travel-related services. These include flights, vehicle rentals, excursions, and short-term accommodations.

Most OTAs work on a membership basis wherein vendors and buyers need to create an account in order to place and receive bookings. While the registration is usually free, the platform profits by applying a commission on each transaction that is chargeable to the vendor.

These sites feature a do-it-yourself concept. Think about them like a vending machine for travel services. Customers can choose the product they want from thousands of options, pay, and process their bookings with only a few clicks on their devices. They also come with various features such as filter searches, guest reviews, reward and rating systems, and more.

Is it worth it to enlist my SA business to online travel agency platforms?

Millions of people actively use online travel agency sites. Based on data from 2021, online travel agencies take up a whopping £865 million of the entire travel and tourism industry in the UK. In fact, more travellers are said to prefer booking accommodations through an OTA rather than directly with the business owner, according to a recent survey.

Having no presence on these platforms will mean your business will be losing out on these opportunities.

What are the most popular online travel agency sites in the UK?

Data company Statista ranks the following as the top online travel agencies in the UK based on site traffic:

What are the advantages of Online Travel Agencies for my SA business?

You get free marketing

Online Travel Agencies are essentially digital public marketplaces – a venue where shoppers shop and sellers sell. By listing your property in them, you get to showcase your business to the millions of users who come to the site with the ready intent of booking a service.

Most of them are local business-friendly

That’s right. OTA platforms feature search filters that are usually focused on finding places in a particular region, town, or city.

International exposure

Online travel agencies are made available in various languages and many foreign vacationers book their travel using these. This is a good opportunity especially if your property is in a holiday destination that is frequented by international tourists.

Data analytics feature

Being an OTA vendor comes with supplementary benefits such as getting access to the platform’s market data. This is a helpful asset in understanding trends and behaviors of both consumers and competitors.

What are the disadvantages of Online Travel Agencies for my SA business?

Losing a portion of your income to commissions

Probably the biggest downside of using these platforms is that every transaction is subjected to commissions. Leading online travel agencies commonly deduct 20% from your income.

Being tied to ‘containment’ policies

Online Travel Agencies will keep guests from booking directly with you as much as possible. In order to do this, the sites apply rather strict policies and even penalties that you will be obliged to consent to prior to creating an account. These may include rate parity, non-sharing of contact information, and so on.

You need to manage guest reviews

A key aspect of the online travel agency experience is guest reviews. It is a feature wherein clients are encouraged to leave comments and ratings about their stay at the accommodation.

The objective behind this is to drive accommodation owners to strive for the highest quality of service and getting positive reviews consistently can definitely boost your business. However, this system is also prone to abuse, especially since the platforms enforce very few regulations.

Even a single negative review can have dreadful effects on your booking performance. Based on surveys, 81% of travellers frequently read reviews prior to booking their accommodation, if not always. 

Are you starting a Serviced Accommodation Business?…

Check out my recent blog about 7 Selling Points You Should Highlight For Your SA Business.