We Try HarderWe Try Harder. It’s the famous Avis slogan devised back in 1962 to provide US consumers with a compelling point of difference between it and the number one car hire brand, Hertz. We Try Harder is brilliant because it celebrates being number two.

And finally online accommodation companies in Australia have got the message.

Suddenly, after years of drifting along in the wake of runaway industry leader Wotif.com a group of websites are trying to break from the pack and become a clear number two.  Expedia, Booking.com. HotelClub and now Quickbeds.com (separate story) are the companies to keep your eye on.

They are going Beyond Search Marketing to build brand, generate awareness, and establish a clear market identity. About time – there’s a lot of clean air up there.

Wotif.com has 50% to 60% of the market, more when you include bookings from its Lastminute.com.au and Travel.com.au subsidiaries … six out of ten bookings, give or take, a virtual monopoly.

It has been a powerhouse, in effect becoming Australia’s defacto accommodation search engine.

Consequently, no other player has more than 5% share of Online Travel Agency accommodation revenue, according to TravelTrends.biz supplier research for Caught In The Web, which estimates that OTA room bookings are now worth around $1.8bn annually (and growing).

In this void Wotif has been allowed to dictate terms and get away with scant offline ad spend due to its already high brand awareness … just $1m on television, radio etc, peanuts for a company its size.

But that’s about to change.

Wotif has told analysts it will spend $3m this year on offline advertising – a 300% increase but still half what it’s thought the most aggressive challenger, Expedia.com.au, will outlay in the year to June 30.

Yes, $6m is the figure that’s being bandied about for Expedia.com.au. Offline only.

(The others are spending less but the real point is they are making an effort, establishing a market position, and have a clearly-defined goal. It should be noted here that Booking.com – which has made a real impression in recent times – does no offline advertising but is a very aggressive search marketer.)

What’s really interesting about this burst of Tier 2 activity is that it’s forcing Wotif to do things it doesn’t really like or indeed have the proven expertise to handle.

Search and digital marketing is of course where Wotif feels most comfortable and the company does it very well, spending many millions each year with Google.

TV, though, is another matter.

Its first TV campaign didn’t impress the Wotif bean counters but perhaps the new one, launched in late August, will be different.

However, it’s hard to ignore fact it’s a defensive rather than offensive move, following not setting the agenda.

Meanwhile there’s been no structural change to its website in a decade.

Of course, that kind of conservative behavior will happen when sales growth slows and your share price falls from $8 in April to around $5 now.

It must also be said the risk of change (innovation?) is significant. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is the approach.

No such pressure on those companies competing for number two.

They’ve really got nothing to lose (except money, of course) and over the next six to 12 months it will be fascinating to see how things play out.

There’s little doubt they’ll increase bookings and share but what everyone really wants to know is who will they take it from?

Ends.

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