For years, hoteliers have worked to get potential guests to book directly through the hotels' own channels, using such tactics as withholding free Wi-Fi to lure customers away from intermediaries.
This month, AccorHotels (recently renamed from Accor) made an unprecedented move, announcing it would sell non-AccorHotels properties on AccorHotels.com to increase the value proposition of direct booking.
It's not becoming an online travel agency, it says. But its strategy is not far off.
In July, AccorHotels.com will enable users to search and book independent hotels selected by the company. It aims to add 10,000 properties in 300 cities by 2018. Jean-Luc Chretien, co-CEO of Fastbooking, a French company Accor acquired in April to jump-start the strategy, claimed a great deal of interest from hoteliers in Asia and Europe.
Chretien said AccorHotels wants to make its booking channel a marketplace platform that would expose independent hotels to AccorHotels.com's more than 170 million unique visitors a year and could increase site traffic by making a wider selection of destinations and star ratings available.
"In order to be stronger and to make our value proposition much more attractive for the customers," Chretien said, "we need to enlarge and get a wider choice of hotels and wider choice of destinations faster than what we can do with our own developments."
Chretien said AccorHotels also aims to be a "digital factory" for hotels via Fastbooking, which operates independently. It's a direct answer to Booking.com's BookingSuite division, which provides digital software and marketing services to hotels. Paris-based Fastbooking does the same thing, helping hotels get direct bookings to their properties.
"By serving independent hotels, which is the core of the hotel industry in many regions outside of the U.S., by adding visibility and strengthening their positions on the Web, we make the entire hotel industry much stronger," Chretien said, "strong enough to be able to discuss and negotiate with [OTAs] and not be dependent or see most of our guests and customers looking for a room be captured by OTA platforms."
Chretien said AccorHotels.com's relationship with independents does not extend to negotiated corporate agreements or distribution in other channels like global distribution systems. Fastbooking will offer marketing and digital services separately.
AccorHotels will select the independent hotels based on destination, TripAdvisor ratings and star ratings__most in the 3- or 4- star range. Early markets will be in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Like OTAs, AccorHotels.com will charge a commission for each booking sent to an independent. The exact commission rate hasn't been finalized, Chretien said, but it will be "far lower than what they pay to an OTA."