After book-direct push to squeeze OTAs, hotels offer incentives to agents

In the eyes of travel agents, hotels appear to be increasingly divided into “they love me” and “they love me not” camps.

Among the former is JDB Fine Hotels & Resorts, which pays agents two percentage points above the typical 10% commission and offers perks such as arranging for a private boat to pick up clients from the airport when visiting Venice.

Meanwhile, Marriott International would fall into the “love me not” category, at least for members of the Travel Leaders Group agent consortium. Marriott, the largest U.S. hotel company, is one of a number of hoteliers that have recently stepped up efforts to sway potential guests away from OTAs and toward direct bookings, but it is the only one of the four largest U.S. hotel companies — the others being Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood — that does not participate in the consortium’s Worldwide Hotel Program.

“The larger hotel companies are being more aggressive with direct-booking efforts, but we’ve seen hotel companies with a parallel strategy to ensure agents bring business to hotels,” said Erick Rodriguez, senior vice president of Travel Leaders Group’s hotel division. “It varies across the board.”

Indeed, there has long been a broad spectrum of approaches taken by hotel companies to either maintain or boost travel agent-based hotel bookings, ranging from the basic, commission-only policies of ower-end or moderately priced chain hotels to fam trips, guaranteed upgrades for clients and other perks meted out by luxury hotels that are either independently run or part of smaller chains.

With the largest hotel operators shifting much of their marketing dollars toward getting prospective guests to book direct and U.S. hotel-room demand growth heading toward a plateau, the spectrum appears to be evolving into more of a line that separates hotel companies that are redoubling their efforts to widen the travel-agency sales channel from those that aren’t.

Much of the agent-friendly contingent is represented by marketing specialists representing independent properties and smaller chains. JDB is a New Jersey-based marketing and reservations company that represents about 100 independent European hotels and conducts 100% of its business through travel professionals.

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