Vice President, Online Marketing for Global Ecommerce
Wyndham Hotel Group
Search marketing has long been a top priority for travel companies, but with potential consolidations, changing structures from Google, and metasearch sites' strengthening positions, hotel brands have a greater need to stay nimble in the search marketplace. Wyndham Hotel Group's Stas Pietrucha spoke with eMarketer's Christine Bittar about the shifting dynamic in search for hotel marketers.
eMarketer: With the vast number of properties and brands Wyndham has, can you talk a bit about how search marketing is managed organizationally and whether decisions are made at the brand or corporate level?
Stas Pietrucha: My team manages all of the search and metasearch partners for all of our 15 brands. Each brand contributes to a marketing fund that's based on bookings and revenues that we drive directly. We take those funds at a national level and cover all major search activity for the hotels—meaning the brands themselves and the individual hotels.
Some brands have what we call regional marketing funds, so that's where a group of Ramada hotels in a certain geographical location will contribute additional dollars to market specifically on behalf of the group. So we also use those dollars for some search activity as well.
I wouldn't say we're collaborative—all of the decisions are mostly made here regarding how those brand dollars are spent. Some brands have boards that have to approve, but we have the responsibility and authority to increase or decrease bids for certain terms or for certain brands in certain areas.
eMarketer: How often would you say those strategic plan changes are being made?
Pietrucha: We'll look at data and results, literally look at that every day, and often adjust our bids across our entire portfolio.
"What's happened in the past 12 months, specifically with TripAdvisor and Google, is that they've created auctionlike marketplaces, essentially putting us in the position where we can be competing for our own business."
We have an in-house team that executes all of the bidding changes, although here we may be changing or testing the copy, the headline or the URL that's shown or the landing page, so there's a lot that we're continually optimizing in search.
eMarketer: Has metasearch become a bigger priority than it was previously?
Pietrucha: Metasearch has definitely changed in the past year. Previously, we had metasearch relationships where we gave the partner access to our property information, and perhaps also some content and photos, and leveraged their ability to attract consumers to their sites, and ultimately, drive traffic to ours. So they would essentially be paid a commission on those bookings.
However, what's happened in the past 12 months, specifically with TripAdvisor and Google, is that they've created auctionlike marketplaces, essentially putting us in the position where we can be competing for our own business. So we're competing with the OTAs [online travel agents] as well as competitors.
eMarketer: How are you balancing the push-pull that you as a hotel conglomerate have with the OTAs?
Pietrucha: We can see the value of the OTAs in bringing us some incremental business, but at the same time, we're trying to balance the business they're driving. The way we do that is through our own direct efforts and our loyalty program. There's real value in having customers book directly on our websites rather than going through an intermediary. In this way, they're guaranteed to get the best rate, and actually, rates are sometimes not even shown correctly on some of these meta sites.
That certainly creates confusion for consumers. They can look at one of our hotels on TripAdvisor and see prices ranging from $79 to $92. So, if they book direct with us, we guarantee they're going to get the best available rate. We give them flexibility in being able to cancel as well, whereas with OTAs, cancellations are a little more complicated. Overall, I'd say we leverage the metas as a mechanism to compete against the OTAs.
eMarketer: There's been a fair amount of meta acquisition by the OTAs, such as Priceline.com acquiring KAYAK and trivago getting picked up by Expedia. Everyone expects that more acquisition is on the way—perhaps even to the extent that eventually we won't see any more independent meta sites. The question is, with the OTAs taking over the metas, how might that affect you and other hoteliers?
Pietrucha: It puts the OTAs in a strange position because meta sites wouldn't work if the only option listed was the one OTA parent. So those OTAs definitely have to find a balance and keep those as separate entities. This does, however, lend itself to a trend we've seen with Google and Google Wallet, where instead of directing the consumer to a partner site for booking, it actually completes the booking within their own space.