Rates, Promotions, and Savings for YOU: Challenges of Online Travel Agents

“Do you offer a discount for _______ [fill in the blank]?” It’s a question we regularly receive. The answer I’ve given historically is about to change, so I though this blog post might be a good way to share some challenges we’ve had, some solutions, and most importantly—shop talk notwithstanding—how you can increasingly find ways to save money on your upcoming stays at Kalamazoo’s top-rated B&B.

Wrapping up year 4 with Gratitude, Steve and Steph plan some new promotions for Friends of the House.

Wrapping up year 4 with Gratitude, Steve and Steph plan some new promotions for Friends of the House.

Traditionally, the answer to that question has has been that we serve many not-for-profits and prestigious local institutions, so our “everyday value” price strategy always guarantees fair rates for all. Given our extraordinarily high rankings and reviews—including on price/value—it appears that everyday value strategy has been successful. The idea is to offer fair rates that are a great value everyday, and not do many promotions or discounts at all. (We also always like to thank and remind people that by staying with us, you are supporting a 140 year-old historic treasure.) That said, for a couple of reasons we’ll be moderating our approach to special offers—and how to find them—in the coming days, weeks, and months.

OTAs and Valued Guests

Two factors are going to result in a slow increase in the amount of promotions and specials we offer at The Kalamazoo House, staring with the holiday season of 2018. Before I share a bit about those two challenges, however, if you don’t need/want the detail of the shop talk, I’ll cut to the chase of what you need to know to help us survive and thrive, and to avail yourselves of more deals and promotions in the coming year:

  1. The best deals, prices, and availability will always be available ONLY to those who book directly with us, via our web site. The rates on our booking engine will always be the best PUBLISHED rates anywhere; and any/all discount codes or promotions will always be on our “specials” page, which you can find on the top of every page on our site.

  2. Promotion codes, special offers, and discounts will sometimes NOT be part of our published rates for the world (and commissioned OTA re-sellers) to see, but will be published directly via email notices to guests who subscribe (click to sign up) on our web site, or on our Facebook page. We’re in the process of scrubbing our email list, ensuring it only goes to those who want to subscribe, making it easy to unsubscribe any time, and ensuring we’re GDPR compliant—all because we intend to start using the list more! You can always update your information via that same page on our site.

  3. Google and other search engines will try to divert you from our web site when you search for us to reserve. (Why? Read on.) So, for the best published rates always book by entering www.thekalamazoohouse.com directly into your browser, or better yet, bookmark us.

Examples where rooms were available, but Search Engines say “NO”—with ulterior motive.

Examples where rooms were available, but Search Engines say “NO”—with ulterior motive.

Google works hard to divert searches to OTAs who make commissions.

Google works hard to divert searches to OTAs who make commissions.

The two reasons for the shift: First, online travel agents (called “OTAs”) are increasingly working with Google to literally hijack and steal people trying to find and book directly with us, and diverting them to commissioned travel sites. Why? Google makes money, and the travel sites make 15% to 20% of the entire booking volume, if they can snag you. So the incentives are high! When you google a plumber’s name by you, you’ll have no problem reaching the plumber. But search a lodging site like us (or almost any hotel), and the wolves come out to try to make sure you don’t find us and book directly; they want your money.

You may see our web site listed in Google after you search, or on a travel site that pops up and appears to be our site, with a photo of the House and everything—but then the search may show you rates (hoping you’ll click that rate and divert you to book through a third-party OTA on which they land a commission), or worse yet the search may tell you that we don’t have availability (even when we do!). It happens all the time, as evidenced by the examples in the image from our friends at https://laketolake.com/why-book-direct/. Why would the search engines say we don’t have space when we do? Because we frequently withhold our best value rates and availability from the OTAs (so our regulars can have first dibs); thus, the OTA/search engine will show us as full. From there, the OTA happily tries to sell you another place to stay, since they get commission from everyone. In short, the big search engines and travel sites are winning more and more of our business as commissioned business. If we can’t find ways to combat this, we may have to raise rates to cover the lost commissions they gain through the diversionary tactics.

The second factor driving our increased use of email and promotions, is actually the most important. We adore and appreciate our regulars and return guests, and want our best rates and deals to go to YOU, not to commissions to OTAs or search engines.

Thanksgiving for your kind support in 2018!

Thanksgiving for your kind support in 2018!

The result of all of this is that we want to communicate more directly and work together with you. If we can do so, you can save some bucks now and then, and help us out at the same time! That seems like a win/win to us. We hope you’ll agree. If you can do the three things listed above, that’ll be a great start. And by all means, please come see us again soon.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all your kindness, caring, generosity, and of course for your business in 2018. You give us so much, not the least of which is meaning and purpose, and we sincerely hope that your holiday season is filled with love and happiness, and that it extends into the entire coming year as well. Peace.

Steve & Steph