Covid-19 has exposed a series of shortcomings among OTAs from disputed refund policies to questionable customer service. Leading service providers can exploit this position to boost direct bookings post-pandemic travel.

Prior to Covid-19, GlobalData’s Global Q32019 consumer survey found that OTA’s were the primary choice of booking channel, with 44% of global respondents booking through an OTA. Not far behind, 36% booked directly with a lodging provider and 32% directly with an airline.

Covid-19, however, is likely to have changed attitudes. The process of refunding a customer on a third-party site is considerably more complicated than when having booked direct, leading hotels and airlines to have the ‘upper-hand’ in servicing customers through this pandemic. When booking direct, customers are more likely to encounter better customer service, more flexibility and refund options alongside more favourable prices.

Tourists typically book with an OTA to find the most effective deal as online travel platforms offer a wide variety of choice when choosing accommodation, flights and general experiences within a destination. The pandemic however has accentuated a series of problems for OTA’s causing considerable brand damage and impacting relationships with both consumers and suppliers.

The lack of efficient refund policies has been one of the greatest areas of concern. OTA’s have faced intense scrutiny from their suppliers alongside regulators such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to refund customers what is owed. Most recently, the CMA ordered (OTA) to refund over £7m ($9.3m) to 9,000 angry customers that were still awaiting refunds. These ‘undertakings’ have been demanded to be paid as soon as possible or by 31st January at the latest.

Opportunity for increased direct bookings

Travel and tourism providers that typically work with OTA’s should be seizing this opportunity to encourage tourists to book directly. 82% of global respondents in GlobalData’s latest survey (4th – 8th Nov) declared they were ‘always’, ‘often’ and ‘somewhat’ influenced by how well a product/service aligns with time and money constraints and 80% with how well a product/service is tailored to their needs/personality. This is an area where direct booking providers are likely more at an advantage to offer more efficient travel services whether through app engagement and an increased personalised service.

OTA’s currently dominate the online travel market space and are unlikely to be overtaken by direct travel bookings any time soon. However, Covid-19 has brought increased opportunity for travel and tourism providers to increase their own market appeal. A strong social media presence alongside a simple and easy to use online platform will be even more critical in servicing today’s typical traveller and therefore should be key priorities for all booking providers to gage this ‘window of opportunity’.

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