When you think of threats to your hotel, what comes to mind?
Depending on your location, you might think of natural disasters. This would be a definite threat if you run a hotel in Florida, for example. Many hotels in the sunshine state are threatened each year by devastating hurricanes.
If hurricanes aren’t an issue for you, perhaps your hotel faces the threat of declining tourism. That would be on your “threats” list, for instance, if your hotel was located in a small beach town. Here, your hotel would be directly threatened if the number of people visiting the town ever dropped.
Still, not every hotel is in this position. Nor does every hotel face the threat of a natural disaster. Often, the only apparent “threats” to a hotel appear to be competition from other hotels.
Or so it seems.
The reality, though, is that there’s an additional threat out there. This threat is substantial and damaging to any hotels who fall prey to it. Worst of all, the average hotel manager tends to be completely unaware of it.
Can you name this “mystery” threat?
You don’t have to do that now. Instead, read on for an explanation of the threat and how you can guard your hotel against it. Then, when you’re finished reading, do your fellow hotel managers a favor and share this article with them. It’s the right thing to do and will make the hotel industry as a whole, better.
So, with all that fanfare, what exactly is this mysterious, monumental threat?
These sites are “counterfeit” knock-offs of your hotel’s website. They’re designed to look and feel exactly like your property’s own website. The similarities are there to convince unsuspecting people that they are in fact on your site. If this deception can be done, those visiting the site may then decide to make a booking. When that happens, the imposter site routes the booking to a booking engine, thereby picking up a referral commission. Thus, the imposter site has used your hotel’s image, without your permission and then gotten paid a commission.
To show you how this works, here’s a specific case of an imposter website preying on an unsuspecting hotel. Our example is the Eliot Hotel in Boston. Officially, The Eliot Hotel can be found online at www.EliotHotel.com. Unofficially, though, the hotel seems to also appear at www.The-EliothotelBoston.com.
Look at the two sites side-by-side, however, and you’ll instantly recognize that one is legitimate and the other fake. Here are screenshots of both.
Of those screenshots, can you guess which one is the imposter? If you guessed the second one, you’d be correct. The second website is not only less visually-pleasing than the first, but it’s also designed specifically around getting people to book a room. That’s because, as we’ve said, the people running the imposter site get a commission off each new booking. They’re hoping therefore to drive as many visitors through the fake site as possible.
To get the traffic, imposter sites typically run paid ads or use keywords to rank near the top of Google’s results. We’d show you the ads and keywords used by the Eliot Hotel’s imposter…but those items no longer exist. The reason is that once we began working with the Eliot, running ads for them, the imposter sites couldn’t keep up. Our ads meant the imposter sites would have to work harder and pay substantially more money to be seen above ours. Unsurprisingly then, scam sites – like the one above – vanished as our AdWords ads for the Eliot Hotel began. Good riddance!
Nonetheless, the Eliot Hotel is far, far from the only hotel targeted by grubby commission-chasing imposter sites. The commission that imposters receive, as affiliates of booking sites, is just too lucrative to ignore. By our estimates, the imposters make an average of approximately 20% of the commission that OTAs charge. This gives them a definite incentive to pose as your hotel, setting up a dud website, and channeling as many people through to the booking engine on the back-end.
Apart from being disingenuous, this middleman racket is also wrong because it misrepresents your hotel. Look at the Eliot Hotel’s real website (in the screenshot above), for example. That screenshot indicates that room prices are from $335 per night. Now look at the imposter site below it. According to the imposter site, rooms at the Eliot Hotel start from $195 per night. Think that’s going to mislead people interested in the hotel? You can bet on it.
Think too of the roughshod look and feel of the imposter website. When compared to the real site, the imposter seems to be a hodgepodge of information, jumbled together only to get bookings. The imposter site also has an impersonal, template-like feeling to it. Almost like whoever made the imposter site merely took a template and inserted details about the Eliot Hotel. Which is probably just what they did. For this hotel and for many others.
Speaking of other imposter websites, here’s a second example. We’re looking now at the Mediterranean Inn, a hotel in Seattle. Below are screenshots from the real hotel and its imposter.
Does that second screenshot look familiar? It should. The template is identical to the one used by the imposter website for the Eliot Hotel. Yet looking at their URL’s alone, both imposters appear to be completely different sites. The Mediterranean Inn’s imposter is located at www.MediterraneanInnSeattle.com — compared to the real URL for the hotel, www.Mediterranean-Inn.com, and the URL of the Eliot’s imposter (www.The-Eliothotelboston.com).
If only the problems ended there. Unfortunately, imposter websites have yet another way to harm hotels. We’ve already seen how these hotels mislead prospective guests, giving them the wrong impression about a hotel – whether with pricing, the look and feel of the hotel, or even the amenities offered. The problems continue once a guest has actually made their reservation.
Here, the fact that the guest came to book through an imposter site makes it complicated to cancel their reservation. When a guest arrives, for example, and finds that their hotel does NOT in fact have a pool (despite what the imposter website said); they may want to cancel the reservation.
Good luck with that! The hotel will have to call the booking site or track down who exactly the guest made the reservation from. This leads to substantial confusion since the reservation came through the shadowy imposter site. Confusing to be sure, and terrible for the hotel’s relationship with the guest.
Guests who find themselves misled about hotel features are already annoyed enough. For them to then see the hotel struggle to cancel the reservation isn’t going to help matters. What will help things, at least from the guest’s perspective, is to write a scathing TripAdvisor review. The kind of review that goes into nice gory details about their experience and ensures that other prospective guests will steer clear of the property.
So how do you stop this issue of imposter sites? We believe advertising may be the answer, since the Eliot’s competitors largely disappeared after we ran AdWords ads. This is possibly the only real option since the booking sites are largely powerless against the imposter sites. OTAs may crack down on a given imposter site, but the situation is akin to cutting off the head of a “hydra”. Cut off one head and a new imposter site is just going to step in and fill the void.
Speaking of voids, is your hotel truly alone on the web? Or is it under threat from an army of malicious imposter sites?
If you want to know for sure, send us an email and we’ll check for you. Imposter sites can be difficult to find, but with us on the case, you can be confident we’ll find yours. We’ve already tracked down 500+ of these spammer hotel sites so far. So we’d be happy to turn our tools/resources to help you.
We’d appreciate if you would pass this article on to help warn other hotel managers about this alarming issue.