12 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019 • FOGHORN FOGHORNFOCUS: SALES & MARKETING M ention the name of any online travel agent (OTA) in a gathering of passenger vessel operators and you are sure to get a variety of responses ranging from positive, business impacting experienc- es to outright frustration and anxiety. “TripAdvisor”? “Expedia”? “Get Your Guide”? The feelings expressed are likely to be anything but neutral. Why such a wide range of reactions? Let’s explore the hope and promise of working with OTAs versus the reality. I’ll also pass along some best practices shared by your fellow operators. Background An OTA is historically a website that serves as a centralized online hub that future travelers visit to research, compare, and reserve hotels, airlines and car rentals that are offered by the respective suppliers. OTAs are resellers who work on commission. In recent years, OTAs have extended their vision and their technology to also offer tours, activities, and attractions (TAA) to the traveler as part of, or well after, the initial booking. Additionally, a number of activity-only OTAs have cropped up. But are OTAs good for your business? The Hope In a nutshell, the hope is that working with an OTA will substan- tially increase the number of bookings for your offerings by guests who do not already know about the trips and were not already looking for you. This leads to an increase in overall attendance, revenues, and profit that is above current levels. And why not hope for this? The OTAs have millions of customers already buying airline tickets and reserving hotels and rental cars. This means they know who is traveling to your geographical area and precisely when they arrive and depart. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that many of those travelers are likely to book things to do, including dinner cruises, sails, sightseeing tours, etc. To realize this hope and capture your share of an OTA’s customer base, you have to sign-up with them and agree to pay a commission on all ticket sales. Are OTAs Good for Your Business? By John Dandeneau, GoDo