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Distribution is becoming part of the everyday language for hoteliers, but how to position yourself?

Web giant Google is offering a new way for accommodation providers to push direct bookings to consumers as of 17 March. A series of new services, partially free of charge, will allow the hotelier to push rate information right through to the act of purchase to the internet user who searches via Google Travel or Google Maps. The tool already offers reporting and the functionalities are to be developed by April.

The Covid 19 pandemic has changed the habits of consumers but also those of accommodation providers who have turned even more to digital tools to reach their customers. Between closures and reopenings, reception and sanitary conditions, the direct link has shifted to the preparation of the reservation whereas it had been increasingly transferred to the consumption of the night only. Hoteliers are regaining ground in customer relations, taking back some of the value they shared with the OTAS. As consumers become more educated about booking directly, the need for information and reassurance has tightened the links between accommodation providers and their customers.

More and more hoteliers want to regain control of their customer relationships to retain maximum value. Jean-Michel Dalmasso, founder of Dalmata Hospitality invests in assets and operates properties in the French market. He has made maximising the direct link one of the spearheads of his performance strategy for his group's properties, in addition to the meticulous work on the day-to-day management of the Dalmata Hospitality portfolio.

The end of the crisis may mean a return to certain habits, but properties can access tools that enable them to retain the value of customer relationships internally. Groups and brands are supporting their franchisees in the evolution of their digital tools, they are also working to improve the referencing and performance of their internal reservation platform. Best Western France, for example, began in-depth work on its tool in 2019 and is continuing its momentum with other actions planned for 2022. The MICE clientele is notably included in the development of new tools that will allow member hotels to have a space on their website where the corporate client will be able to pay for their service (meeting rooms, overnight stays and catering included).

The inventiveness of digital or how to distribute products differently

Dayuse launched the dynamic in 2010 by proposing new reservation slots made available to consumers by hoteliers. After raising funds in 2015, it entered the international scene and offers products such as Hotel Arrival in the Morning and Hotel on the Hour. This is a way for properties to fill their rooms differently and make their square metres even more profitable. However, this comes at a cost, as it requires the management of repeat visits.

Off&away has been available since February of this year and allows to fill up on Sundays and during traditionally slow periods in the markets. The platform is positioned with accommodation providers who offer a premium and luxury offer by allowing them to package a stay until Sunday evening for example. By adding a few extra hours, the hotelier is able to make a better return on his investment and also to eliminate an irritant for his customers, who no longer need to wake up on Sunday morning to free their room on time. This approach is all the more in tune with the times as it focuses on "off the beaten track" offers and therefore has a high added value, insisting on the privileged aspect of the moments available on the platform. The founders, Gilles Dufour, who worked for 15 years in the sector and in real estate, and Hadrien de la Tour, who knows the ecosystem through his role as an investment banker, convinced the former CEOs of American Express and Relais&Châteaux to invest in the tool.

French player Decathlon launched the Decathlon Travel tool in July 2021 with the aim of capitalising on its highly developed customer base in France and its ecosystem around sport to propose offers around sporting adventure. "We started from a double observation: a growing physical inactivity of the French population, as shown by a study published by Santé Publique France in June 2020, and a difficulty in organising so-called active trips", indicated Estelle Verdier, general manager of the subsidiary at the launch of the offer. The platform offers trips on all continents and selects a wide variety of incoming agencies specialising in sports trips.

New players for a more responsible tourism?

The online distribution sector is following the societal trend of the need for responsible and sustainable consumption. Responsible travel players are flourishing and intermediaries are no exception.

The historic player that became HomeExchange in 2019 was created by two Frenchmen in 2011. By dint of acquisitions and fundraising, it has become the leader in the exchange of accommodation between individuals. Positioned on responsible tourism that promotes travel with a different vision of accommodation, the platform claims 450,000 accommodations open to barter. Although this tool does not concern professional accommodation providers, its development reflects consumers' appetite for more responsible travel.

The service providers for commercial accommodation have not been mistaken.

The German platform Faircations was launched in March 2022 and highlights tourist properties with a responsible and sustainable approach. The tool also offers its users carbon compensation for their journeys. At its launch, the platform offers 200 hotels located in 14 countries around the world. Users can also contribute to the development of the platform by investing directly.

GreenGo was also launched in October 2021 at the initiative of French engineers. Here again, the idea is to offer for sale accommodation providers involved in an environmental approach. The platform charges a 10% commission and aims to offer tools that are as efficient as the historical OTAs with a seamless customer experience. GreenGo claims to have 1,200 accommodation providers listed and to have passed the 1,000 customer mark.

The OTA (Online Travel Agency), which has long been seen as the enemy, is now a partner

Thus, the Indian OYO has made an official partnership with Hotelbeds for the American market, and IHG has also signed an agreement with the Expedia Group in 2022 to optimise their distribution solutions. Closer to the French market, Contact Hotels has partnered with Minutup to provide a non-overnight stay offer.

Destinations also work with distribution platforms

While many tourist offices have booking platforms and generate revenue by selling their territories' tourist services, regions and departments are also looking for a way to promote the tourist actors in their territories.

Since 2021, the Alentour platform has been offering territories the opportunity to promote their tourism service providers through their online tool. The Côte d'Azur France Agency and the Savoie Mont-Blanc destination are pilot territories for the deployment of this new offer. The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has also joined the movement by signing a strategic and technological partnership with Alentour in 2022.

The return of physical distribution?

At Decathlon Travel, there is no hiding the fact that the group may capitalise on its 310 shops in France to return to physical distribution despite the flop of its initiative abandoned in the early 2000s. The partnership between the Spanish heritage hotels Paradores and the Spanish retail giant El Corte Inglès also illustrates this trend of returning to the store.

However, both of these examples involve capitalising on existing, well-established brands that attract large volumes of customers. The Paradores corner in the Corte Inglès was active for two months, resulting in the sale of 2,000 rooms.

Digital tools have now been adopted by accommodation providers, technological developments and the renewal of the generations of staff working in the properties offer new prospects. While initiatives are flourishing, distribution management remains a sensitive area for hoteliers who must assess the cost benefits of each channel used.

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