The distribution landscape for golf courses is not much different than the hotel industry. For the last 25 or so years, OTA’s (online travel agencies) like Bookings.com or Expedia, have promised hotels distribution to a wider audience, in exchange for a handsome commission on each reservation sold.
Overall, the hotel industry is far more advanced than the golf industry in how they analyze the impacts of OTA’s on their business. Hotels are also far more advanced about in how they work to drive direct sales and minimize the impact of these OTA’s.
Check out this hotel industry article on xotels.com that describes what steps can be taken to mitigate the dependence on third-party OTA’s. The same principles can be applied at the golf course level to minimize the impact of third-party tee-time aggregators.
- OTA’s promise wider distribution? Yep.
- OTA’s collect customer data and remarket to that customer? Yep.
- OTA’s create great loyalty programs to make sure that customer books with them again next time (probably at a competing hotel). Uh-huh.
- OTA’s heavily invest in Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing to generate eyeballs and conversions? Sure do.
This is also happening in the golf industry. Third-party tee-time aggregators are operating under the exact same model and creating competitive displacement in the golf industry.
There are many parallels between the two industries and the distribution landscape that exists. As I mentioned above, hotels are far more advanced at analyzing the impacts of OTA’s and working to minimize their impact.
You are probably wondering if that is the case, then why do hotels continue to use OTA’s?? To understand the answer to that question, I think we need to look at how the distribution landscape is different in hotels vs. golf courses. The answer? Consumer behavior.
99% of the time, a consumer is traveling when staying in a hotel. Often when traveling, a consumer may not know what lodging options exist in an unfamiliar market. Right off the bat, an OTA can provide a menu of different options and offer brands that a consumer may have a level of trust with, Hilton, Marriott, etc.
The trust level is extended through the thousands of customer reviews that can be seen for each hotel and the fact that the consumer is traveling cannot be understated when analyzing buying behavior.
The mindset of the consumer when booking golf is COMPLETELY different. Unless you operate a golf course in a travel market, the golfer already knows the landscape of courses available. How much of your golfer database lives within a 20-mile radius of the club? Probably most of it!
This golfer has an idea of where they want to play before they ever go looking for a tee-time. The mindset of a golfer making a tee-time is more comparable to a consumer making a restaurant reservation than it is booking a hotel reservation. That’s not to say that restaurant aggregators don’t exist, they do. Let’s use OpenTable for example. Do you use OpenTable to make dining reservations in your hometown? Probably not. Would you use it in an unfamiliar place? More likely. Would you use OpenTable to make a reservation in your hometown if your dinner cost you less? Hmmmm…..
So why do so many golfers book through GolfNow?? There are a few reasons, but most importantly, that is where they can find the lowest rate.
As golf course operators, we must put tools in place so we can can better understand our existing golfers, and when we do, work to understand the cost per acquisition of a new customer.
Is it possible GolfNow is bringing golf courses new customers? Of course, but we need to understand how many and at what cost.