Hotels in the third biggest tourist market on the planet are starting to fight back against the dominance of online travel agencies.
At least, this is the forecast contained within research from Phocuswright shared at the FITURTech event in Madrid, Spain, this week.
Spain comes behind France and the US in the rankings for the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with some 65 million visitors in 2014 (up 7% on the previous year, according to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation).
Yet the country’s hotels have relied for many years on OTAs to fill their rooms, or have agreements with European tour operators for package holidays.
Currently, just under half (48%) of online travel in Spain is booked on OTAs, versus the direct channel, compared to 43% for Europe as a whole.
But in 2017, Phocuswright says the figure will tumble to 43%, signalling a significant change in the marketplace.
The research house’s director of sales for EMEA and a European market specialist, Florence Kaci, says hotels are “becoming much more aggressive” and are starting to push direct sales through their own websites.
Spain, similar to many other countries in Europe, is dominated by Booking.com and Expedia in the online travel agency marketplace (globally, the pair are estimated to have an eye-watering 65% market share between them).
But Spanish hotels, including the many independents (around 70-75% of the country’s accommodation sector), are beginning to erode the influence of OTAs in online bookings.
For the properties not belonging to a chain, this has been driven by ease of access to affordable online booking tools for the first time in their history.
There is also a general acknowledgement in the sector – even among small, family-owned properties – that some investment in digital marketing and social media (Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, etc) can be a source of new traffic to a website.
Yet the issue remains for thousands of properties in Spain: don’t bite the hand that feeds you (too much).
Many are extremely reliant on the OTA giants (Booking.com, in particular, with some getting as much as 60% of their rooms filled by the Priceline Group-owned brand) for customers, but equally they mirror many of their counterparts elsewhere around the world in wanting guests to come in through the front door, rather than a side entrance via an intermediary.
One issue that many in the Spanish hospitality sector will note privately is the continued concern many have around rate parity clauses in contracts, with a close eye on how the saga unfolds in Northern Europe as Booking.com and others find they have to operate in a new way after having their wings clipped in various countries in recent years.
It is too early to say if the expected drop in market share for OTAs in Spain is likely to continue beyond 2017.
There is, some believe, a strong chance that the market will level out at around the 40% mark for OTAs, but others forecast a period of volatility as meta-book services for hotels (as well as chains) on TripAdvisor take their time to level out.
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