Government and tourism industry campaigns encouraging consumers to book direct with accommodation providers rather than Online Travel Agents appear to be working, according to the former Managing Director of Expedia Australia, George Ruebensal.
Ruebensal now operates Karawatha Cottages in McLaren Vale, a food and wine region 45 minutes from Adelaide and says online direct reservations now account for 90% of his bookings post-COVID compared with 50%-60% previously.
“This is partly explained by the lack of international traffic – most of them book through the OTAs – but it also clear that campaigns from the SA government and South Australian Tourism Commission such as #BookThemOut have had an impact,” Ruebensal says.
He says guests often comment they have chosen to book direct instead of through an OTA because they’d rather operators get all the money and rather than having to pay commission.
As an operator, Ruebensal prefers direct bookings, doing everything he can to encourage them, yet sees no irony in his stance despite spending many years running one of the largest Online Travel Agents in Australia.
“There’s no irony at all. Part of the OTA value proposition has always been the billboard effect. It’s up to the hotel to invest in a proper website and secure online booking functionality to benefit from that,” he wrote in an email.
“The OTA will always have a better optimised site for pure conversion but we can provide better and more detailed content (as we don’t need to “box” into a one size fits all description as the OTAs have to), which is in particularly important in this market segment (short term rental), with so many unique products.
“And with that we can engage our users and get them to convert direct, in particular domestic traffic.”
He urged fellow regional operators to invest in a good website and online marketing strategy, which are essential to attracting visitors and converting them.
“Operators must have a good website to maximise bookings.”
Ruebensal says occupancy rates are running around 30% – about half what they were pre-Covid – with most customers driving from Adelaide for Friday and Saturday night.
Midweek bookings remain soft, a situation he hopes will improve with the gradual reopening of South Australian borders to and Australians begin travelling again.