How online travel agencies expand global reach and support independent properties
At Booking.com, we believe travel is a force for good, which is why we wanted to help quantify the impact of online travel agencies (OTAs) on the global tourism industry.
In this three-part series, we unpack the biggest themes to come out of our research with Oxford Economics: “The Economic Impact of Online Travel Agencies,” which covered Europe, Asia Pacific, the US, and Canada.
In this final piece, we’ll look at how OTAs (1) help partners tap into a larger, global audience and (2) help small, independent properties compete with big brands.
When it comes to connecting with travelers, TV and magazine ads, travel agents, and word of mouth used to be some of the only options for exposure. But with the emergence of OTAs, accommodation partners now have the potential to reach millions of new customers.
OTAs help property partners attract customers from far away who are otherwise hard to reach. Their technology makes it easier to share availability and accept various payment methods, for example – a win-win for both accommodations and travelers. When it comes to marketing, online platforms are able to target global consumers in multiple languages through advertising, performance marketing, sponsorships, and more.
“If Booking.com were to disappear tomorrow, it would have a major impact,” says Lisa Fraser, owner of Frasers country house in the United Kingdom. “A small business like me can’t afford the level of marketing it does. It would be very hard to replace the functionality of what it does for our customers in terms of exposure, which then relates to bookings.”
According to the research, international travelers account for a significantly larger share of bookings on OTAs than the rest of the travel market. In Europe, the vast majority of additional room nights were generated as a result of international visits. In 2019, 111.2 of the 134.1 million incremental nights attributed to online platforms were for international travelers. That same year, they made up 60% of OTA bookings in Asia Pacific. In the US, domestic travel has long dominated international travel (5 to 1), but while only 15% of room nights were booked by international visitors in 2019, the figure was three times higher on OTAs.
The pandemic and associated travel restrictions made it difficult—or even impossible—to travel abroad. Despite that, international visitors still made up the majority of OTA bookings in both Europe and Asia Pacific in 2020 and 2021.
Small but mighty
The study shows that smaller, independent hotels benefit the most from OTAs. Online platforms give smaller properties the opportunity to market themselves to travelers around the world, which levels the playing field with larger players that have an established global presence. As a result, OTAs also help preserve the world’s uniquely diverse ecosystem of independent properties.
In Europe and Asia Pacific, incremental bookings generated thanks to online platforms accrued predominantly to independent properties. If we look at the overall market in Europe, the sales are nearly evenly split between branded chains and independent hotels. But when we look at OTAs, the ratio is 2-to-1 in favor of independent hotels. In Asia Pacific, more sales accrue to branded chains versus independent hotels in the overall market – but when we look at online travel agencies, the ratio is reversed in favor of independent hotels.
In the US, the share of bookings accruing to independent properties through online platforms is significantly higher than the market average. Hotel chains dominate the market, where independent properties account for less than 1⁄3 in total sales. As platforms generate incremental bookings, they accrue predominantly to independent hotels.
The benefit for alternative accommodations such as villas, homes, and vacation rentals isn’t quite the same. In Europe, the share of sales is almost evenly split between hotels and alternative accommodations.
Guests tend to be slightly more oriented toward alternative accommodations when booking through OTAs. In 2019, the share of sales in Asia Pacific was almost evenly split between hotels and alternative accommodations for the market as a whole, as well as for OTA bookings. But in 2020-2021, 55-58% of OTA bookings were for hotels, compared to 43% across the market as a whole. In the US, alternative accommodations comprise roughly a quarter of sales via online platforms. In fact, the share of total sales that went to alternative accommodations has shrunk in recent years to 24% in 2021, down from 28% in 2019.
By leveraging the latest technology, OTAs expand the market, create instant global visibility for the listed properties (particularly important for independent accommodations), foster consumer trust, and ultimately contribute to the success of their accommodation partners.
Missed an earlier part of this series? Check out our other articles: How customer confidence and competitive prices boost bookings and How online travel agencies help disperse tourism and drive growth.
- International travelers make up a significantly larger share of bookings on OTAs than the rest of the travel market
- In Europe in 2019, 83% of the 134.1 million incremental nights attributed to OTAs were for international travelers
- Small, independent hotels benefit the most from the technology and marketing offered by OTAs
- In Europe and Asia Pacific, incremental bookings generated thanks to OTAs accrued predominantly to independent properties