What hotels can learn from Amazon, Netflix and the OTAs

While online travel agencies and hotels are both in the business of marketing the same hotel rooms, OTAs don’t have to do all the things that hotels do – like clean the rooms.

Hotels have a much bigger job to do, but the fact that OTAs are specialists, focusing largely on specific sections of the guest journey, means hotels can learn a lot from them because their entire business model depends on doing a few things really, really well.

After all, there’s a reason we saw OTAs claim a greater share of bookings last year. They have nailed down what “online hospitality” looks like, and this begins before the guest even checks in.

OTAs like Booking.com don’t just list random or meaningless properties – they curate experiences, guiding potential guests from the moment of discovery to post-stay follow-ups. They’ve built ecosystems that don’t just sell a stay but an entire journey, suggesting activities, dining and recommendations.

The tone of voice might change depending on the guest; properties and room types alter based on booking behavior; a coffee shop recommended to one guest is replaced by a sushi restaurant for another. They know exactly what stage of the booking journey guests are at and know when to nurture, prod, prompt and remind them to book. They also know how to talk to guests once they’ve made a booking – before their stay, during their stay and after their stay.

While this is great for guests, it’s terrible news for hotels, which are being reduced to a mere component of a trip. When OTAs are telling people where to eat, what to explore and when to book an Uber, the hotel simply becomes a bed for the night. And OTAs don’t want to send guests back to the same hotel, as that establishes loyalty between the guest and the hotel, ultimately reducing the need for the OTAs themselves.

So the hotel industry, then, finds itself at a crossroads: Change its strategy or lose guests. It’s not about mimicking the OTAs, but learning from their approach to build direct, meaningful relationships with guests. It’s about transcending the traditional “digital brochure” model and tapping into artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide an interactive, personalized platform. The brochure website is a relic; it cannot compete with the dynamic, data and AI-driven experiences people are being exposed to in other industries and areas of their lives.

Consider Amazon, for example. When shopping, Amazon customers only see relevant, recommended products. If they make a purchase, Amazon already knows what they want next based on their shopping habits and what other users bought. Their shopping homepage is specifically designed for them, transforming passive browsing within a broad marketplace into an interactive, personalized journey.

Then look at Netflix’s recommender system. Each user sees a different library of content on their homepage, uniquely personalized to match their preferences. The streaming platform leverages customer data and behavior, coupled with AI algorithms, to create a bespoke viewing experience. Even image tiles and teaser videos change depending on the viewer, displaying those most likely to convert someone to watch.

The common thread is clear: When it comes to customers, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Every other industry is leaning into personalization and creating tailored experiences, so why are hotels so slow to follow? Why are hotel websites still presenting each potential guest with the same static and impersonal digital brochure that simply fails to engage them?

It’s not enough to simply get someone on your website; AI algorithms should be working hard behind the scenes to anticipate what a particular guest wants to see before they even know it themselves. The power of OTAs lies in their understanding of this journey. A family of four should see an entirely different website from someone searching for a couple – different content, different images, different room suggestions, different package options, different recommendations, everything.

Many hoteliers don’t realize the key to unlocking this level of hyper-personalization is the ability to harness guest data intelligently. Without knowledge of who is viewing a website, which stage they are at in the booking journey, the pages they’ve visited and packages they’re interested in, it’s impossible to create a truly customized experience that resonates.

It’s not enough to just collect data, it must be analyzed and applied, which is where machine learning technologies are invaluable. By understanding patterns in guest behavior, preferences, and engagement, hotels have a new opportunity to create their own ecosystems, own their guest profiles and, ultimately, seize back the primary relationship with those customers primed to be the most loyal and valuable over their traveling lifetime.

About the author …

Frank Reeves was the co-founder and CEO of Avvio, a technology provider to the global hospitality industry, which merged with SHR in 2022 and where he is now chief evangelist.

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