OTAs on the Path to Recovery – How to Prepare for a Post COVID-19 Traveler

Given the COVID-19 situation, we are now witnessing one of the biggest crises and the most severe decrease in the number of bookings for vacations, business trips, and everything in between. For online travel agencies (OTAs), travel management companies, or other third-party booking platforms, the current situation can have consequences just as severe as for hotels. 

In the midst of these uncertain and trying times, two things are becoming clear: one, that the world will eventually travel again and two, that travel will be significantly different. From the booking journey to traveler behavior and the actual stay, it is safe to assume that the industry needs to prepare for the new face of travel. 

While we wait for the world to slowly shift to a new “normal”, the only thing left to do is to carefully assess the current situation and prepare for what’s to come. Here are a few of the most important predictions and how OTAs and other third-parties can anticipate them in the most beneficial way.

The Rise of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

After so many canceled vacations, postponed business trips, and months of self-isolation, it’s safe to assume that the majority of people will be eager to travel again sooner rather than later. Recent studies by GBTA have shown that “travelers are eager to get back on the road” and although they will be more cautious than ever and their travel priorities might shift significantly, now more than ever, the fear of missing out will play an important role in the equation. 

Traveling has always been at the top of peoples’ bucket lists and we all have places we want to see, cultures that we want to explore, countries and cities that we want to mark on our travel maps. Right now, on top of all that it is added a simple psychological concept that increases our desire to travel even more: the fact that it is currently not an option. It’s human nature to want the exact things that are scarce or even prohibited. Just like the 1920s American prohibition had the opposite effect on consumers, the 2020 travel bans are coming with unfulfilled desires attached and with a plan of making them happen as soon as the restrictions are lifted.   

Less Competition on the Booking Front

FOMO is one crucial factor that will prove to be of great use to OTAs and booking platforms. Because many travelers will be in a hurry to plan a vacation or a trip in a timely manner, bookings will go through regardless of the channel. With hotels having lost so much revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of them will focus on driving conversions through any available means, including OTAs. The direct booking competition might be kept on standby for quite a while, at least until travel gets back to its previous normal levels - and that can take months, if not years. Consumers will be encouraged to travel and make a booking, any booking, and direct booking campaigns will not be a priority anymore, which is basically a great opportunity for OTAs to cover more ground than before. 

Recent findings are showing that the greatest disruptor in the industry, Airbnb, might be facing some major difficulties in the upcoming period. As accommodations listed on Airbnb are oftentimes the host’s own place or a shared space that lacks the solid and complex management system enabled by hotels (especially hotel chains), travelers will be more selective and cautious when booking a place on Airbnb. It’s crucial to keep in mind that safety and cleanliness will most definitely be travelers’ top priorities and many Airbnb listings lack the capacity of assuring trust in these categories.  Airbnb falls from the chess table for a while, other booking platforms have a good chance at the check-mate. 

More Focus on Cleanliness and Safety

In a post coronavirus world, health and safety will most likely matter even more than price. The traveler behavior will shift towards a more cautious approach and a desire to feel as safe as possible during trips. In this case, OTAs have a great chance of stepping up and prioritizing the exact hotels and accommodations that have a great score in the cleanliness department and are trusted by previous travelers.

It’s important to keep in mind that reviews and recommendations from fellow travelers and people who share similarities are oftentimes perceived as more trustworthy than self-advertisement. In fact, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. This is why reviews play an extremely important role in the booking decision and why OTAs and booking platforms should leverage them to the fullest. The best way of doing so is through summarized review content, such as TrustYou’s Meta-Review, the TrustScore, or the different widgets that the marketing solution enables. Displaying review badges that show the cleanliness score of a hotel or accommodation can guide the booking journey and encourage travelers to make the right decision and the more specific the rating is, the better. For example, the TrustYou cleanliness badge is based on scores and semantic analysis that apply to different areas and target the bathroom cleanliness, the dining area cleanliness, the room or pool one, as well as the overall hotel cleanliness. 

In a nutshell, OTAs which enable visual and relevant review content such as badges or categories have a higher chance of capturing bookings because they provide the exact information that travelers now require more than ever before. Not only that but OTAs that are using the TrustYou Meta-Review are able to prioritize hotels with a highly rated cleanliness score at the top of the search results, which is easily achieved through the cleanliness badge.

Locations Being Kept… Local

It’s not only the booking behavior that will change in a post COVID-19 world but in the short-term, the travel preferences will also suffer some changes. While the best vacations are often the exotic and far from home ones, in the future, more emphasis will be placed on domestic travel. This is predicted to be the first type of travel to rise from the coronavirus outbreak and it makes a lot of sense of that being the case. Travelers will want to stay close to home in case anything unaccounted for happens and unfortunately, many of them are probably taking a financial hit during these times, meaning that they will not be able to travel too far in the nearby future. 

In this new landscape, OTAs are encouraged to highlight local destinations in order to meet the travelers’ demands and expectations, along with additional recommendations for activities and outdoor experiences. This is also a case in which the Meta-Review badges that market activities can come in handy and help promote the fittest accommodations for each person or group. Another factor to consider is that after such a long time of staying indoors, it’s only natural that travelers will want to also experience nature and activities outside of the hotel space and every accommodation that can provide that should be actively promoted during this time. Also, we will notice a shift in transportation methods and preferences since the post COVID-19 traveler might want to avoid airports, airplanes, or even trains. In his case, OTAs should definitely include car rentals in their offerings or dynamic packages. 

Takeaways and actionable items: 

- Expect a slow increase in domestic travel first and promote local destinations and hotels

- Prepare for a new wave of bookings after the direct booking campaigns will be placed on hold

- Provide travelers with valuable information extracted from verified, impactful, and trustworthy user-generated review content

- Leverage badges and other marketing widgets to highlight the exact accommodations that excel in the following categories: cleanliness, location, great for small groups (solo, couple, or family travel), activities, and outdoor experiences

- Use the accommodations with the highest review scores higher in the search results and promotions, to successfully meet the needs and expectations of future travelers

- Encourage conversions by displaying accurate and personalized data through scores, badges, the Meta-Review, and the TrustScore. Keep in mind that badges have proven to be one of the most effective data points in driving user engagement and conversions and TrustYou generates over 50 badges that are awarded to hotels with excellent scores

At TrustYou, we have anticipated the pain points and needs of third-party booking platforms and we have developed the best-in-class semantic analysis that generates more than 4 million guest reviews per week for over 750.000 hotels and vacation rentals worldwide.

Our comprehensive analysis is trusted by global leaders like Google, KAYAK, and Hotels.com, who are currently using the TrustYou solutions to personalize and enhance the hotel search experience, as well as to boost their conversion rates.

What is an OTA?

OTA stands for "online travel agency"

What is FOMO?

FOMO stands for "fear of missing out"

What is the Meta-Review?

The TrustYou Meta-Reviews is a form of summarized review content that allows users to power their booking platforms with immediate and customizable review content compiled from millions of global hotel and restaurant reviews.

Laura Badiu

Laura is a passionate bookworm and a gifted writer. Since joining TrustYou’s marketing team, she has embraced topics in the travel and hospitality sector with enthusiasm. Using her degree in Journalism, Laura creatively weaves words into insightful stories with a focus on reputation management.

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