Here’s something you’ll never see. Picture the Four Seasons, one of the most pristine and luxurious hotel chains in the world. Now imagine visiting their website and seeing ads for a misogynistic, drug-dealing “gangster” rapper.
Talk about a mismatch. This scenario is so laughable that it’s unlikely to ever happen. Unless they were dead broke, the Four Seasons would never form an association like this. The hotel’s management recognizes the value of their brand and the importance of safeguarding it. Rather than dilute the brand by associating with a thuggish rapper, for example, the hotel chooses to associate with charities like the Terry Fox Foundation and high-end sporting events like F1. These latter associations are consistent with the Four Seasons brand and fit with its customer base.
With all this talk about the Four Seasons, you’d think this was an advertisement for them. Don’t worry, it’s not. We mentioned that chain because it’s a well-known luxury hotel brand. But you could easily substitute any hotel here, including your own.
Whatever hotel you choose, the bigger idea is that branding matters.
As a hotel manager, you probably recognize the importance that a brand name has. It’s what makes guests stay at your hotel over others, even when your hotel is the most expensive one. Branding will also attract the kinds of guests you want and repel those you don’t.
Given its power, your brand is therefore something you must carefully guard. Guarding your brand means avoiding obvious mismatches like associating with thuggish rappers. Yet it also means going deeper than that. If you truly want to protect your hotel’s brand, you need to think critically about everyone your hotel associates with. This means questioning, for example, the partnerships you have with online booking websites.
Online booking websites are worth highlighting because they often do tremendous damage to hotel brands. Yet like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, these booking sites do not look like obvious threats. What could be bad about a service that gets your hotel more guests? Apart from fees, booking websites don’t appear to cost your hotel anything.
But remember, we’re also concerned with protecting your hotel’s brand. Safeguarding the brand from anything that would dilute, distort, or otherwise destroy it. And this is where booking websites can figuratively stab you in the back.
The damage comes in the form of “brand jacking”. A booking website will “jack” (i.e. seize control of) your brand, using it in ways you’d never otherwise approve of. It’s a shame when this happens, since most hotel managers are unaware of what’s going on. To keep you from having your brand “jacked”, let’s look at how booking websites perpetrate this silent crime and how you can protect your hotel.
Brand jacking begins when someone searches for your hotel on Google. The searcher is looking for your hotel by name, either to get more information or to make a booking. As Google’s results appear before them, the person sees your hotel near the top of the list. Great! This is exactly what they were looking for, and the person immediately clicks the link.
There’s just one problem. The link didn’t come from your hotel’s own website. Instead, the link was from an ad for a booking website like Booking.com or Expedia.com. These websites essentially took your brand and represented it with their own ad in the search results. Their ad was so successful that it succeeded in getting a click from the person in our example. This person clicked the booking website’s ad believing that it was directly associated with your hotel.
And, in a sense, the ad is associated with your hotel. You have, after all, paid the booking website(s) to run ads on your hotel’s behalf. Nothing wrong with that so far. It’s only when the person who clicked on the ad reaches the next page that problems begin.
For one thing, the ad goes to a booking site rather than your website. This means that the prospective guest is not learning about your brand in an environment you control. Your own website may be polished and highly functional. A booking website, on the other hand, may look old and be difficult to use. The booking site could also have information about your hotel that’s outdated or flat-out wrong. All of this makes the booking website a poor representation of your hotel.
Yet try telling that to a prospective guest, on the booking site. To them, there’s no separating the booking site from your hotel. The two are one and the same. So if the booking site presents your hotel in a sloppy or inaccurate way, the prospect is going to infer this about your hotel too. This is one of the ways then, that a booking site damages your hotel’s brand.
The damage continues as the prospective guest looks at your hotel on the booking site. The problem now is that your hotel isn’t the only one on the site. It’s your hotel plus fifty, one hundred, or even a few hundred other hotels.
What is the booking site doing? Surely they realize that putting your hotel alongside others will jeopardize your chances of getting the booking.
Right. That’s assuming though, that the booking site actually cares about your hotel getting the booking. In truth, they’re probably much more interested in getting visitors to their own site. Which is why a booking site is happy to run ads on your behalf. Those ads drive people to their website and you get to pay for it. You, or at least many hotel managers, will happily pay for the ads because they hold the promise of more bookings.
But let’s face it, when someone reaches a booking site and sees your hotel alongside dozens of others – how likely is it that they’ll choose you? Some people may single you out and choose your hotel. The majority, however, will begin to compare the hotels they see on the booking site.
Comparisons are almost always catastrophic to your hotel. For one thing, the most obvious point to compare is price. So when someone begins comparing hotels based on price, your hotel is practically guaranteed to lose. Unless you’re competing with rock-bottom prices, you can’t match the lowest priced options on a booking site. And that will cause you to lose the booking.
In addition, comparisons on a booking site will dilute and destroy your brand. All of the careful branding you’ve done becomes meaningless when your hotel is being judged based on stars, reviews, and whatever other standards a booking site uses. To put it another way, your branding essentially dies in this case because it is smothered by the booking site’s own standards for judging hotels.
Assuming, somehow, that a prospective guest still books your hotel – after all of this chaos on the booking site – you’re in for another surprise. The booking site now has the nerve to take a fee from you. This is after they’ve trashed your brand and used your hotel to get more visitors on their own website. Yes, after all that, the booking site gets a 20% cut of whatever money was paid by the prospective guest. You pay that 20% cut to the booking site, essentially rewarding them for their disdainful behavior.
Your problems don’t end there either. Your next worry will be the guest who’s booked a room. Were this guest to book using your website, they would have a clear idea of your hotel and what it did – and did not – offer. Coming from a booking website, though, the guest may have a completely different and wholly inaccurate sense of your hotel’s offerings. This ties in to what we said earlier about booking websites having incorrect information about your hotel. If a guest has booked their room based on such incorrect information, they’re likely to be annoyed when your hotel turns out to be different. Their expectations will not be met, leading the guest to potentially write a negative review. This review wouldn’t be your fault, since it was based on the guest’s own false expectations. But whether it was your fault or not, the damage to your hotel’s brand would still be done.
Booking websites damage your brand long before the negative reviews, though. One way we haven’t talked about yet is with ads. Booking sites, if you’ll recall, run ads to “promote” your hotel. We put promote in quotes because it only seems like the ads are promoting your hotel. In truth, a booking site’s ads usually do an abysmal job of promoting your hotel. That’s because ads for your hotel are often no different from the ads for other hotels.
As an illustration of this, let’s look at the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. This hotel is an upscale property with the distinction of being the only hotel directly on Rodeo Drive, a world-famous shopping street in Beverly Hills, California. Given this distinction (the only hotel on Rodeo Drive), you’d expect it to feature prominently in ads for Luxe. You’d also expect ads for Luxe Hotel to mentions high-end fashion and the glamour of Beverly Hills. Yet that’s not the case for ads from Booking.com that promote this hotel. Here’s how Booking.com’s Google ad sells the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel:
“Best Price Guarantee! Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel, Los Angeles
Amenities: Free Wifi, Parking, Non Smoking Rooms, 24 Hour Front Desk”
What? This is an ad for a luxurious, highly unique hotel. Where does any of that come through in the ad text? The ad makes this property sound like a cheap motel, not an exclusive high-end property. So much for branding.
If Luxe’s managers are reading this, we’d advise them to stop running this ad and using Booking.com. And to you, the hotel manager reading this, we’d advise you to think twice about using booking sites. If you’re serious about your brand, don’t entrust it to booking sites. The booking sites are only interested in getting traffic to their own site, and of course, collecting that 20% of whatever bookings you manage to get. Don’t play their game. Hold fast to your brand and get the bookings yourself. It’s easier than you’d think. For more information on how you can get your own bookings, easier and more effectively than with booking sites – send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.