When I took the role of senior vice president of e-commerce, advertising & digital marketing at Playa Hotels & Resorts, the expectation was simple – grow Playa’s consumer direct business. While the expectation was simple, the task at-hand was no small feat and could only be accomplished with the support and coordination of the entire organization. The early days were challenging as we built the infrastructure to service consumers knocking at our door while simultaneously leveling the playing field with third-party distribution channels that had historically filled the demand void.

While we still have more work to do, the results to date have added significant revenue and profit for our company through lower cost-of-sale, reduced number distribution channels that added little value and, most importantly, simplified consumer decision making by insuring price parity across all distribution channels.

And we did all of this prior to a worldwide pandemic that brought global travel to its knees….

The impact of COVID-19 on our business was immediate and catastrophic as we shuttered resorts and stopped sales and marketing efforts almost overnight. However, as we began to navigate our recovery, it became evident very quickly that our consumer direct channel was leap frogging third-party distribution channels. There was an early opportunity to gain momentum and share…and we seized it. Two-years removed, and that momentum has sustained, and we continue to be on track to achieve 50% of our business coming through our direct channel by the end of 2023.

To meet our primary goal of increasing high-rated, consumer-direct business, we took a four-tier approach. We began by building a strong base, followed by controlling onward distribution, then focused on a holistic marketing plan, and lastly – but certainly not least – we developed deeper relationships with our global hospitality brand partners that include Hyatt, Hilton, Wyndham and Marriott.

Building the Base

The first item to tackle before spending any media was to build a strong foundation by re-launching our resort vanity websites. We developed fast and responsive sites with an easy, clear booking process to enhance the user experience and deliver a simple process for guests to find and purchase exactly what they want.

With the launch of a cloud-based infrastructure accompanied by a global content delivery network (CDN) delivering enhanced usability, speed, and security – mission accomplished.

"We are committed to driving consumer demand and conversions at a pace that surpasses our direct competitors while delivering an experience and service level that exceeds our customer’s expectations"

The success of this approach has been replayed time and time again as we source new demand in global markets and take advantage of new technology (static site generator) to improve page delivery times throughout the world.

Controlling OnwardDistribution

Once we were confident in our technology infrastructure, we concentrated our efforts to ensure third-party distribution price parity. By limiting online travel agencies (OTAs) from unbundling rates and passing them through separate channels, enforcing contractual terms related to distribution and purging the bad actors, the result is an environment much more conducive to a consumer direct purchase.

A Holistic Marketing Plan

With a level playing field in place, we increased our focus on media to capture current demand and cultivate future demand.

With maximized efficiency by monitoring our media spendup to the point of diminishing returns, the results put our consumer direct option at the top of funnel and captured much of what was once a third-party distribution booking.

Secondly, we deployed our findings into new areas where we saw increasing demand. This created awareness in new source markets that had previously not been exposed to our resorts.

Our Brands

Our fourth and final tactic was to create even stronger relationships with our global hospitality partners that include Hyatt, Hilton, Wyndham and (most recently) Marriott. We worked tirelessly to leverage each brand’s already-existing, large and loyal following, focusing on the familiarity and quality consumers have come to know and trust. We worked together on joint marketing plans, which allowed us to cast a wider net and capture more demand. The brand partnerships played a big role as this got us in front of eyes who would normally not be looking for our hotels.

Going Forward

There is still more work to do….and as a company we are committed to driving consumer demand and conversions at a pace that surpasses our direct competitors while delivering an experience and service level that exceeds our customer’s expectations.