In a world flooded with arguably useless acronyms, such as BOGSAT (“bunch of guys sitting around talking”) or ICBINB (“I can’t believe it’s not butter”), we’re excited to share an acronym that is worth learning about because of how it can positively impact your business: OTA. While this may sound familiar, you may not realize the vast opportunities OTAs (especially camping OTAs) provide for campground owners and operators. Let’s dive in!
What is an OTA?
An online travel agency (OTA) is an internet-hosted marketplace where customers can find, explore, and purchase travel-related services. Traditionally, OTAs such as Travelocity and Booking.com have originated from and dominated the hotel, rental car, and excursion industries. As the original private lodging OTA, Airbnb has become synonymous with and shorthand in conversation for OTA—you’ve probably heard someone say, “it’s the Airbnb of ____.” Today, however, OTAs are permeating just about every industry one can imagine, including finding rentable swimming pools. Camping is no exception; as a result, there is immense value in featuring your bookable camping inventory on OTAs, especially those designed exclusively for camping.
On Campspot’s camping-centric OTA, 92% of customers booked at a property they had never stayed at before.
The Value of OTAs
The biggest value an OTA provides is access. There were 62% more U.S. RV owners in 2021 than there were in 2001 with growth trends accelerating today. Undoubtedly, hundreds of new campers would love to stay at your property, but oftentimes they aren’t aware of your offerings due to living out of state, being new to the area, or being new to camping. Listing your property on an OTA allows you to effortlessly make connections with thousands of campers who can learn more about your campground and later book their stay. In fact, on Campspot’s camping-centric OTA,92% of customers booked at a property they had never stayed at before. If this seems intuitive to you, that’s because it should!—an OTA isn’t providing value if it’s only attracting your repeat customers.
Fingertip access is also a value-driver for OTAs that have a mobile application, such as Campspot, because mobile phones account for 55% of web traffic over laptops, tablets, and desktop computers. Furthermore, “46% of travelers with smartphones say they make their decision on mobile, but then book on another device” according to Phocus Wire. Even if a camper waits to book, having your business appear on an OTA app means instantaneous inspiration that generates lasting brand recognition. Knowing that 70% of travelers have turned to an online travel agency before for inspiration, don’t you want to be their source of inspiration?
The second main area of value an OTA provides is a new, low-maintenance revenue stream. The revenue is low-maintenance due to all of the ways an OTA goes to work for you behind the scenes. Through an OTA’s marketing dollars, your individual business or suite of resorts receives amplified advertising attention across the digital platforms where your customers are spending most of their time: Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to name a few. An OTA can also drive earned media coverage through top publications such as Travel+Leisure, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg where Campspot campgrounds have been featured. Your bottom line benefits from the fact that those dollars aren’t being spent from your own marketing budget.
While there is usually a 10 to 15% commission on reservations that come through an OTA, there is no cost to acquire them, unlike a traditional pay per click marketing channel which can have high costs of entry and acquisition.
Not only does an OTA offer a far superior and efficient return, on top of that, Campspot has found that 30% of customers who discover a campground on Campspot.com leave the site and then book directly with the campground, bypassing that commission fee altogether. As mentioned above, an OTA should integrate easily into your existing marketing strategy without interfering with what’s already working well for your business.
How to Make OTAs Part of Your Marketing Strategy
Firstly, you should not rely on any single marketing channel to drive the majority of your business. While OTAs increase brand exposure for campgrounds, they are just one piece of the marketing pie. With this in mind, let’s explore how to incorporate OTA exposure into your broader marketing strategy.
It’s important to strike the right balance of traffic you receive from different OTAs if listing your inventory on more than one. You actually don’t want an OTA to drive too much of your overall online traffic. Roughly speaking, up to 20% of your marketing traffic should come from all OTAs on which you list your property, and no more than about 10% of traffic should come from a single OTA. For example, Campspot.com has enough volume to represent 3 to 5% of your campground’s online bookings. This ratio is both well-balanced and expands your overall customer base by sourcing from new campers. If you are seeking to broaden your customer base even more or build into a new sub-industry, such as by adding glamping accommodations to your park, consider listing on multiple OTAs to reach these goals. As mentioned above, the key is to let OTA marketing dollars go to work for you so then you can later capitalize on the right traffic they send your way.
Relevancy is extremely important when assessing the worthwhileness of listing your property on an OTA. One of our previous blogs cautioned against spreading your social media presence too thick because trying to be everywhere online without having the time or resources to maintain your ongoing presence can backfire. The same goes for choosing the right OTA. You should be integrating with OTAs that closely match your industry and business goals. While certain camping or glamping brands will find value in listing their inventory on an OTA built firstly for the hotel industry, listing through a predominantly camping-based OTA is an equally wise avenue for two reasons. One, a camping-based OTA’s backend and booking process better aligns with the structure of most campgrounds, such as sites and RV amperage instead of rooms and bed sizes. It’s even better if an OTA delineates between different site types and their unique rules—RV sites vs. tent sites vs. cabins. Second, a camping OTA is specifically branded and constructed to target niche camper segments in the same way you either do or aspire to do as a marketer.
In summary, compare both an OTA’s volume of inventory and the relevant traffic it can drive when choosing which OTAs are right for your business. Integrate an OTA into your marketing strategy without letting it overtake your strategy. Lastly, keep relevancy to your overall marketing goals in mind at all times.
What to Expect From OTAs
Expectations for an effective OTA fall into four main categories: user experience, growth, content, and control.
As any driver who has been forced to wait in a long DMV line without having the option to renew their license plate online knows (oh no, another acronym?!), user experience is everything. An OTA should display an uncluttered and attractive web interface that allows visitors to easily search, filter options, and book. Digital user experience and what makes it good or bad is an actual science. At the same time, it’s easy to recognize an OTA that’s doing user experience right and one that’s doing it wrong. The more time and difficulty it takes for someone to click around to find the next step in their search query, the more likely one is to lose their attention…and business. The less imagery an OTA presents, the harder it is for a camper to imagine themselves vacationing at the property. And the worse a visitor’s online experience is, the more likely they are to associate this negativity with both the OTA and whatever brands they interact with while on the site. You expect nothing but the best when it comes to providing for your guests, so make sure your guests’ OTA experience is also the best.
If the last two years of camping have taught us anything, it’s that adaptation is key for success and that our industry is poised for continued growth. Any vendor or business partner that isn’t motivated to innovate and adapt with youisn’t the best choice long term. You should view your OTA—a partner in your success—in the same way. Those that are continually growing their bookable inventory, continually fine-tuning their platform, and continually creating opportunities for you are those to watch. For example, seek to work with an OTA that incorporates behavioral economics into its booking algorithm, or one that partners with leading outdoor brands to create an outdoor almanac for prospective campers (cough, cough, that one’s us!). These few ideas suggest innovative thinking, marketing advantages for you, and value-added for our industry at large. You may be quick to think that more booking inventory means more competition, but remember our discussion of the right volume and proportion of traffic earlier? If it’s the right fit, each OTA should be viewed as another online opportunity where you can showcase your unique brand of camping—not viewed as the sole source of your business. That’s why a growing OTA is an encouraging sign because it really means expanded exposure for you. Therefore, do partner with an established and expanding OTA to share in the growth opportunities without being overly reliant on any one.
Did you know Inc. 5000 ranked Campspot #4 in its 2022 List of Fastest-Growing Travel and Hospitality Companies? Read more here.
Cash may still be king, but increasingly content is king, too. In the same way that you may engage in content marketing, your chosen OTA should also entice audiences by providing meaningful content. This helpful information should relate both to the camping experience in general and the presentation of your property. Consistent presentation of your park is key across all marketing channels, and your OTA should accurately match your business’s unique brand, including your logo, photos, and amenities. Listings are not just about showcasing the inventory though; they should also reflect your backend operating rules, including minimums, maximums, add-ons, and more. These are necessary points of information campers are craving during booking, and you don’t want them to be lost on an online travel agency. Therefore, maintaining the integrity of your park’s brand and offering meaningful content while streamlining the end-to-end booking process is essential.
Last but certainly not least, you want to have control over your content and business, which extends to your OTA listings. An OTA should ensure the following: you own the customer data, you have control over the content you share, and you are able to showcase your unique value. Seamlessly mirroring all the ins and outs of your business rules is a crucial but sometimes lacking OTA function. This is especially important when one OTA integrates with another, such as Booking.com and Campspot. You should be able to manage multiple listings across multiple platforms from within one intelligent, real-time interface. Furthermore, any OTA you work with should act as a supportive but not overbearing partner by helping you make pricing decisions, stay ahead of industry trends, and operate according to your best interest: all integral factors in maintaining control. If you are the driver of your campground, an OTA is there to maintain the smoothest, autonomous roadway for your success.
Campspot Marketplace: A Camping OTA in Action
Campspot.com is the largest camping-specific OTA by bookable inventory with nearly 200,000 listings and serving over 500,000 campers across North America. In Q1 of 2022, total revenue of parks on Campspot grew by 467% over Q1 2021; in the same time frame, traffic to the online marketplace increased by 232%.
The listings that appear on the Marketplace are a direct reflection of the campground listing, ensuring ownership, fluidity, and synchronicity in branding.
Campgrounds on the marketplace are amplified through larger marketing efforts paid for by Campspot including email and social media, seasonal promotions, special reports such as the Outdoor Almanac, the Campspot Awards, and more.
In an effort to ensure campgrounds have options available to them, Campspot also offers integrations with third party OTAs in which campgrounds can sync up their lodging inventory on travel-focused marketplaces. To learn more about how Campspot Marketplace can supplement your campground business strategy and drive results, schedule a demo today.
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons, such as skiing up north in the winter and scuba diving the Great Lakes in the summer. A former Campspot marketing employee, Haley is pursuing a Master of Science degree at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. She is passionate about solving the world’s sustainability challenges, enjoys performing improvisational comedy, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.