A hotel’s channel and its respective contribution from the various distribution channels is a sign of the health and diversity of your revenue.
Yes, it varies by hotel location, brand, mix of sales and a variety of other factors. But, let’s discuss what distribution channels make up the channel mix, how to build it, how the pie should be divided and how to shift it.
Types of distribution channels in the hospitality industry
Hotel distribution channel definition: The platforms or methods customers are using to transact and book hotel rooms. The main distribution channels that are used to calculate the channel mix are:
- OTA (Online Travel Agency)
- Direct / In-House
- GDS (Global Distribution Systems)
- Central Reservations System / Phone
When you break down each channel, each of them are needed in their own way.
Having a good channel mix is like making a layer cake. (Shout out to Fuel Travel who also like the term “layer cake”.) The base layer, the foundation, is the Direct / In-House efforts. This is the sales piece of the cake which includes corporate travel and group business.
The next layer of the cake comes from the hotel’s website efforts. This is generally your lowest cost of sale. It fuels information for the other areas. Over time, through proper operational efforts, loyal guests could be taught to use this channel on future bookings.
But the website alone cannot be the entire cake, or it will be a small cake.
The last layers, the smallest ones, are the remaining three: OTA, GDS, and phone. The combination of website, OTA and GDS are considered your online channels.
Many go through great efforts to shift OTA business to the website to reduce commissionable fees. Commendable, but it is impossible for any individual hotel to market themselves to match the exposure of an OTA. An OTA is a necessary evil and should be leveraged when needed.
It is possible to become overly dependent on the OTAs. But if you lack a group or corporate base, then this is generally the filler.
The GDS (Global Distribution Systems) can be broken down into Sabre, WorldSpan, Amadeus, and Apollo. Some of your corporate business also likely comes via this channel.
A balanced channel mix isn’t overly weighted in one area.
What is a good channel mix?
Each hotel and market will differ. Also, independent hotels will differ from branded hotels. Extended Stay and Select Service hotels will differ from Full Service hotels. A hotel with more meeting space will look different than one with none or limited space.
But, let’s put some numbers out there. Note, this is an estimation of what I’ve perceived as reasonable when working primarily with Hilton, Marriott and IHG hotels.
Let’s put the baseline to be a Select Service Branded Hotel:
- Website 30%
- OTA (Online Travel Agency) 10%
- Direct / In-House 40%
- GDS (Global Distribution Systems) 10%
- Central Reservations System / Phone 10%
Extended Stay Hotel: Hopefully, you have more extended stay base than a typical hotel. If this is the case, you will likely see this reflected in more direct/in-house efforts.
Full Service Hotel: It depends on your meeting space and your strategy with food and beverage revenue.
Independent/Boutique Hotel: You can expect a lower website contribution and higher OTA contribution due to lack of brand recognition and loyalty programs. Also, the channel distribution may differ and you may not be able to segment phone from channel mix as easily.
Kalibri Labs Channel Mix Report
A study by Kalibri Labs calculated channel mix for trailing 12 months August 2018. The sample size during that study included a database of over 33k hotels, excluding independent hotels.
A few points Cogwheel Marketing has inferred from their data:
- They are able to break out Group from Property Direct, which some generic brand reports do not. If you add those 2 categories together, you are at 43%, which is in line with my original estimation.
- Their brand.com is slightly lower than what I think it can and should be. There could be a few reasons for this:
- Weaker brands pulling down the average brand.com contribution in the Kalibri report. (Cogwheel Marketing primarily works with Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Hyatt.)
- Or, full service hotels normally see higher in Property Direct and Group, thus lower brand.com contribution.
- Or, hotels with a strong focus on ecommerce and digital marketing perform better on brand.com.
The Kalibri full industry report can be requested online via their Book Direct Campaigns. It does a great breakdown on the ROI of direct versus OTA Bookings and trending of booking costs.
Actions to take to modify your distribution channel mix
Here are some various IF / THEN Scenarios:
Website is too low, look at what is and should be sending traffic to your website and is it trending. This article on digital marketing KPIs breaks down some analysis that can be done.
Website is too high, ensure first you are making budget goals and beating the competition. If you are doing both of these things, contact me to do a case study!
Voice is too high, make sure there is not an issue with the technology or content on your website that is preventing an online transaction.
Voice is too low, first test your phone numbers and rollover lines for accuracy. Then, contact your call center to ensure they have the tools to move inquiries into bookings. Review your regrets and denials report.
GDS is too high, look at the production by account. See if any of them can be given a link to book direct. This usually is not the case, but worth a shot.
GDS is too low, look at strategic account production, audit your content and Sabre qualifiers, and consider advertising with Sabre.
Property Direct is too low, ensure you have a plan in place for the front desk for walk ins. Also, look towards the sales team to ensure goals are being met.
Property Direct is too high, this may not be a bad thing. But, ensure all your revenue is not overly dependent on one account, and that the pipeline is filled with business that may be displacing better business.
OTA is too low (yes, I’ve seen it) but still struggle with occupancy on certain dates, be sure you are leveraging Expedia Travel Ads or Accelerator over need periods. Also, ensure your content score is close to 100% and images are property assigned to each room types as to not hurt your conversion.
OTA is too high (the discussion of the decade) focus on more Website and Property Direct to reduce dependency.
There is no perfect channel mix for a hotel, but there are always ways to continuously improve.
Channel mix in conclusion
If you are not regularly looking at your channel mix, incorporate it into your team’s analysis. Revenue Managers, as a whole, generally do not look at channel mix as a data point. If you want to change the contribution of any one channel, it has to be a group effort between revenue management, marketing and sales. It does not change over night and takes months of strategy discussions to make an impact.