Whether you like them or not, the chances are if you’ve got a serviced accommodation business you’re using an online travel agent (OTA). Yet with so many to choose from, not to mention the oppressive rates of commission certain charge, it’s no easy task knowing which is the best OTA for you. Below, four serviced accommodation providers share their OTA preferences and crucially explain how they try to reduce the need to use them in the first place. 

If you’re looking to get started with your own SA investing, then check out these free tools including an SA deal analyser and a style guide created by one of our contributors, Dale Smith.

Ben Holmes

Ben Holmes and his wife Stephanie own a beautiful serviced accommodation property in the village of Sennen on the secluded west coast of Cornwall.

Ben and Stephanie Holmes

To date the couple have listed the property on Airbnb, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and CoolStays. The latter OTA specialises in unusual holiday accommodation, including tree houses, yurts and converted planes. They also take viewings directly through their own website, using the holiday rental management software Hostaway.

The majority of their bookings have been through Airbnb. ‘We started with them first,’ explains Ben. ‘But I believe for whatever reason, the Airbnb audience is attracted to this area.’

Cove Court

Most of their groups have been large families, with the property housing up to 8 people. This part of Cornwall is more suited to multi generational families on holidays and walkers,’ Ben explains. ‘Our house is too large for ones and twos, so we don’t get those bookings.’

Understandably, since it brings in most of their guests, Airbnb is their favourite OTA. They also like the site’s community feel, which they say is fostered through its review culture. ‘We take comfort in being able to see that the booking guests have some history on the platform and have their own stars,’ says Ben.

‘My wife who runs the day to day part of it is also proud of her Airbnb triple Superhost status and the many 5 star reviews we’ve received.’

He says that in contrast Booking.com feels a lot more anonymous. ‘On Booking you have reviews of course. But you know very little about the people coming to stay in the property.’

‘I feel like people do Airbnb because they want something more than just a room.’  

Using Airbnb also makes financial sense for Ben and Stephanie. The platform charges less commission than both Booking.com and TripAdvisor, which each levy 15% on reservations.

‘That can amount to a large sum of money,’ says Ben. ‘We found ourselves increasing our prices through our channel manager on Booking and TripAdvisor, so that our net returns were similar across platforms. The additional commission didn’t really feel justified.’

Bedroom with sea view

Airbnb also proved more practical than other online travel agents (OTAs). Unlike Airbnb, neither Booking.com nor TripAdvisor take an immediate deposit as a hold on a credit card.

‘Booking suggests that you contact the guests after booking and request payment through PayPal or take cash or card payment when they arrive,’ says Ben. ‘That isn’t practical or something i want to be doing.

‘I can see that working in a hotel setting but not for SAs where you might not actually meet the guests.’

Richard Evans

Richard Evans owns three serviced accommodation properties in Port Solent, St Albans and Luton respectively.

Richard Evans

Each of Richard’s three properties has a distinct typical guest. His 3 bedroom house on the marina in Port Solent is popular with professionals wanting a weekend away from home. His two bedroom apartment in St Albans attracts a mixture of people away on business and holidaymakers. Lastly, his Luton property has had the same person living there since January, paying on a nightly basis.

Richard has a streamlined approach to OTAs, so far only taking bookings on Airbnb and Booking.com. Recently he has also signed up to HomeAway, an OTA specialising in beach houses, cabins and condos. However, he admits he is yet to receive any bookings through it.

Lounge with black sofa

Although he prefers Airbnb, Booking.com provides him with the majority of his bookings. ‘With them [Airbnb] only charging 3% as opposed to the 15% through Booking.com, they’re a lot more friendly towards the hosts,’ he explains. 

Booking.com are more friendly to the guests.’

David Lockett

David owns serviced accommodation properties in Cheltenham and Worcester.

David Lockett

He describes his clientele as a mix of people on business and leisure. His business guests come from local businesses. He markets to companies like Bosch in Worcester, offering temporary accommodation for people who are on courses, such as plumbing, there. Meanwhile, he sources his leisure guests primarily through Airbnb and Booking.com. 

At present, he only uses these two OTAs, although in the past he has used Situ, an OTA specialising in serviced accommodation for corporate travellers. ‘They’re not really the same,’ says David. ‘They’re a company that go out there and find the corporate contract and then put people into the properties who they have a relationship with.’

David says he gets most business from Booking.com, but prefers the control Airbnb gives him over his property. ‘If Booking.com and Airbnb could come together and merge their best bits it would be brilliant,’ he explains.

‘The fact that we can only ban people from our properties once they’ve screwed up with Booking.com is annoying, whereas with Airbnb we can say if you haven’t got good enough scores from other people then you’re not staying at our property.

‘I don’t really have a favourite to be honest,’ he adds. ‘They’ve both got a way to go before they’ve finished developing and become really useful.’

In fact he is keen to circumvent OTAs altogether through driving direct bookings. ‘It’s better if we can have a relationship with our client or with our guest,’ says David.

‘An example of that is we have some guys who has been in a two bedroom apartment in Cheltenham who are roofers.

‘They’ve been on a project in the Cotswolds for the last 6 months so midweek they stop with us, then we have leisure guests in at the weekend.’

David gives them a 10% discount, providing him with a regular guest and them with cheap accommodation. He says the only downside is losing out on testimonials on the OTAs. 

‘We make slightly more money because it’s cheaper than the Booking.com fee, he adds. 

Dale Smith

Dale Smith owns serviced accommodation along the North Yorkshire coast, stretching from the seaside resort of Redcar to the historic coastal town of Whitby.

Dale Smith of Investicity

Most of Dale’s guests are holidaymakers, seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Dale has experimented with a wide array of OTAs, but has streamlined to 6 core ones:

(Ordered relative to the volume of bookings they provide). 

  1. Booking.com
  2. Airbnb
  3. HomeAway (including links to Expedia, Hotels.com and other partner sites).
  4. TripAdvisor
  5. CoolStays*
  6. HostUnusual*

*Only certain properties are listed on these sites

Booking.com, which provides the highest number of bookings across all of Dale’s properties, generated 90% of first year bookings for his Whitby properties.

Dale also puts a lot of effort into driving direct bookings, running monthly and quarterly campaigns to increase the number of these he receives. Any gaps in occupancy are filled through paid search and paid social media. 

All of our properties have their own websites and landing pages so that guests can book directly,’ he adds.

Each property website use the central management platform Inn Style, which connects to the major OTAs. ‘It has fantastic front end user experience, which is crucial when connecting to our websites for direct bookings,’ Dale says. 

Whilst he finds that different properties perform better on different OTAs, he doesn’t see a difference in the quality of guests between OTAs. ‘I think our higher price points and strict booking and cancellation policies help us to control this.’

 

If you’re looking to get started with your own SA investing, then check out these free tools including an SA deal analyser and a style guide created by one of our contributors, Dale Smith.

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