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OTA Ghosting in the Glamping and Hospitality Industry – Episode #44

Finding Land And Achieving Planning or Zoning Quickly For Your Glamping Business #34

Ghosting is becoming increasingly common within the hospitality industry but it’s likely you haven’t heard of it before as OTAs are doing a great job of covering their tracks with this underhand technique, which they are using to boost their profits.

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A case for supporting direct bookings between the host and guests and relying less on OTAs (online travel agents)

In this episode, I discuss what Ghosting is and how it is becoming increasingly common within the hospitality industry but it’s likely you haven’t heard of it before as OTAs are doing a great job of covering their tracks with this underhand technique, which they are using to boost their profits.

Today’s episode is brought to you by The Start Up And Grow Club, which offers an accelerator program and support group for those who want to set up their unique holiday rental or glamping businesses quickly.

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Sarah Riley: So, have you ever heard of ghosting No. I’m not talking about when your friends have a little bit of a hissy fit and decide not to accept your calls or your emails or your texts. That’s a different kind of ghosting. Now, this is ghosting in the hospitality industry. It’s something that online travel agents, OTAs are doing increasingly, and actually, we’ve seen them change their terms and conditions to make sure they can do it legally. And actually, the only person that does not benefit is the actual hospitality business owner themselves. This is something you need to know about, and this is something we’re dealing with today. Welcome to episode 44, glamping and unique holiday rentals are surging in popularity with the growing desire of customers to book holidays that deliver an experience. They are also the new business of choice for those wanting to improve their work-life balance. So how do you build a strong business like this that gives you the life you need and a great investment. I’m Sarah Riley. And I want to share what I’ve discovered after being immersed in this industry for over 20 years, to inspire you to find out more about what’s going on. Welcome. This is the business of glamping and unique holiday rentals.

Sarah Riley: Hello, and thank you so much for joining me. It’s great to have you here. I wanted to share something with you today. it’s something that we’ve been talking about in my startup and grow club because it’s really impactful on the small business owner in hospitality. And personally, I think it’s really unfair because I think the online travel agents are taking advantage of small business owners for their own gain. They are not thinking about anyone else other than themselves and making their own profits, but they are using the content of the small business owners listing to actually make more money in their own platform. So this is what you need to know about it, but let me first tell you how I discovered this. I was planning to stay in a property that I’d stayed in before. And I got in touch with the owners directly and said, I’d like to book a stay.

Sarah Riley: And I was doing some research in the area and they said, oh, I’m really sorry. We’ve sold our property. We’re not renting it out anymore. So I said, okay, fair enough. That’s fine. I’ll probably because I was strapped for time, really needs to book something quickly. I decided to go on Airbnb. So when I was there, I was looking around in the area and I discovered that the house I wanted to stay in was still being advertised as available on Airbnb. So I went back to the previous owner and said, Hey, do you have the contact details of the current owners Because I think they’re still renting it out and through Airbnb. So I just wondered if I could make contact through you. They so happen to live next door. So it was a really simple thing to do. They said to me, well, I’m sorry, but they live in it.

Sarah Riley: They’re not renting it out at all. So actually that property is, should not be on Airbnb. And I don’t know why it’s on Airbnb. And the owner told me that when she looked at it, she discovered that they were using her pictures for when she owned it. And it was an all on Airbnb being offered before. So I said, okay, this is a bit suspicious. I wonder what’s going on here. So I left it at that cause obviously it was for her to take up with Airbnb then not so long ago earlier this year, we had a notice that TripAdvisor was changing its terms and conditions, and this was no trivial change. In fact, it was hugely significant, basically the terms and conditions they were changing. If someone’s signed up to that, it meant that they had TripAdvisor had access to all texts and images from the hospitality owners, websites, which they could harvest at any time and have perpetual irrevocable.

Sarah Riley: Royalty-free transferrable civil licensable rights over. So this grab for content was something that they had made possible through changing the terms and conditions, putting them in front of the hospitality owner, and saying, please sign up to our terms and conditions and let’s face it. Who of us goes through these terms and conditions and reads everything and understands everything. It’s very few of us and even fewer of us who actually get a solicitor or lawyer to check them over before we sign. And in fact, many of us feel that we’re actually being put in a position where we don’t have any other choice, but to sign. So actually what’s the point in checking. So it’s totally understandable that people are actually signing this and what they’re doing is they’re giving away their content. So when I heard about this, I started putting two and two together, and then I started doing a bit of research around it.

Sarah Riley: And that’s when I found out about ghosting. So in a nutshell, ghosting is this. You have put your property on an online travel agent platform. You’ve signed up to certain terms and conditions you have decided. And at a later date to take your property off you no longer want to list with that online travel agent. However, a ghost listing of your business still remains on their platform. And the travel agent still uses your business, your images, your text, to promote their platform and to attract bookings for all the other properties on it. So if a customer is looking around and decides that they want to book your property, they click on it because your property no longer is listed on there. It will say this property is fully booked and it will give some alternatives that people can look at. So not only does this mean that you don’t get any publicity through the images that stay on the platform, but also if people maybe, could get in touch with you because they know who you are, they know your business and they do actually have a direct telephone number for you.

Sarah Riley: For them. There’ll be thinking, oh, they’re fully booked. Well, okay, I’ll see if I can find someone else. So this means that you might actually lose bookings as a result. And so all of this is really negative to you, the hospitality owner. So after all that, I’m sure you can understand why we were talking about this in the club. This is a real concern to business owners, especially small business owners who are working so hard to get the bookings that they need to make a profit, especially after such a difficult few years with COVID in a health crisis, but there are things you can do. First of all, you need to figure out if you’re being ghosted in the first place. One of the ways you can do this is to do a very clever image search using Google. Now, this is something I did all the time.

Sarah Riley: When I was working on various books, we identified pictures of structures we wanted to include in the books, but obviously we needed to find the photographer to get their permission, to use the images and also the owner to get the permission to use their property in the books. So we would do an image search to find out all over the web where that image had been listed. And ultimately we would always find the details for the owner and would be able to contact them and then negotiate with the photographer to use those images. So Google image search, you just need to go to Google a search page and then just put in their Google limits image search. And it will come up with the image search platform. Then once you have had a look across the web at all the times, your image has been used, you will start to identify places where you don’t want it to be used.

Sarah Riley: Now, there is a little bit of a warning here. Don’t think that way your image has been used that every single place is a bad thing. It’s not, there’s often a website or someone who’s been writing a blog, or maybe a guest who has stayed or a partner that you have been working with in the past with some Viet PR or maybe you’ve been working with a local business, the supplier of say hampers and food, and they’ve chosen to use your images and linked to your business. And so sometimes you will find that your images have been used in a place that you didn’t know about, but that, that is a really positive thing because you’re getting something back too. And even in cases where your image has been used and the link has not been given to go to your website, all you need to do is contact them and say, Hey, I see that you’ve used my images for my business.

Sarah Riley: I’d really appreciate a link so that you can continue to use my images. And in most cases, people will actually include the link. And that’s fantastic for your SEO and getting your business higher up the search engine rankings. So it’s definitely worth remembering that not every time it’s been used, your images and texts had been used as a bad thing. So bear that in mind, don’t go throwing out emails left, right, and center telling people to cease using your images, because that won’t be good for you. But what you need to do is look at those listings where your images and texts have been used and assess. Is it a positive thing that your business is being used in that way Or is it negative Are you benefiting in any way or are you not So the next thing to do, if you find that your business has been linked to an OTA, an online travel agent, and yet you’re no longer using them and you want them to remove your details, you need to first check the contract that you signed up to.

Sarah Riley: When you first signed up to that OTA, this will tell you whether you have a problem because in that contract, if it uses wording around the fact that they have the right to use perpetually and exclusively and irrevocably your images, then you will need to take a slightly different approach when asking them to remove them. So once you have found out who’s using your images, that you’re not happy with, you can do certain things to try and get them removed. And we did discuss this in great detail in the club because it’s obviously something you need to keep control of. It’s your business, they’re your images, it’s your brand. And so it’s important that you keep hold of that. In fact, it’s this unique brand that can help you to keep control. So one of the things you can do is make sure that your logo and the name of your business are trademarked.

Sarah Riley: And if you have these trademarks, which doesn’t cost an awful lot of money, you don’t need to go through a solicitor to do it. It is quite simple and straightforward. And again, I’m sharing this in the club, how to do it. You can actually go and put a light watermark of your logo and your name in your image. So then if an OTA starts using your image with your trademark in the background, as a watermark, you can approach them and say that it is trademark infringement, that they are using your image. Without your permission. All you need to do is you need to write a letter and say, it’s trademark infringement and give them a date, a deadline date when you would like them to remove it. So you can give the end of the month. You can give them a couple of weeks, whatever you think is reasonable.

Sarah Riley: This is one way to do it. There are other ways as well. And in the UK, we can focus on trading standards. We can look out the consumer protection from unfair trading regulations, which replaced the consumer protection act and this prohibits unfair commercial practices. And it makes it a criminal offense. So it gives you certain powers to be able to approach these businesses, these big corporations that are using their strength and power to overcome you as the smallest business owner, then you can also go to advertising standards. So there should be in most countries, but particularly in the UK, there’s advertising standards authority. And there’s a precedent that has been set within this, within the structure of these regulations, which actually says that after a certain amount of time, it is not reasonable to use, another business’s images and text for the benefit of another business that doesn’t own them.

Sarah Riley: So it means that you have much more power to ask them, to remove these images and remove the content that you’re you gave to them originally for a certain use, but then they are now using it for their benefit for another reason that you did not agree to. So it very much depends as well on the terms and conditions that you signed up to. So you must make sure whenever you are signing up to an online travel agent or any other business, look at those terms and conditions read those terms and conditions. And look for these words, whether they are asking for the rights to use, whether it is irrevocable, whether it’s perpetual or exclusive, and that they are asking for a license to use in whichever way they wish. I know that it’s really quite a negative topic to be talking about, but it’s really important to, it’s really unfair that these big corporations are using small business in this way.

Sarah Riley: And I think that that needs to be dealt with, and the only way we can deal with that is by raising awareness of it, but also allowing small businesses and business owners to understand that there are ways that you can get around this, that you can actually fight this because it’s not fair that they using you in this way for their benefit. So I hope in some way that’s helped. I certainly hope in some way that will give you a little bit of awareness about how online travel agents are using small businesses and not in every case. This is not the case for every online travel agent. Certainly, within the glamping industry, we have some much better travel agents, online travel agents, and they are much more supportive to the small business owner. And they don’t have quite the same kind of negative approach to all of this, but there are a lot of larger ones that do so please do your homework before you sign up to any contracts, please make sure that you’ve done your research, that you trust that online travel agent, that you have it in writing exactly what to expect and that you follow through to make sure that you’re protected.

Sarah Riley: So one of our club members, she has made it absolutely and utterly her priority that she is going to be attracting direct bookings from her guests directly to her and not going through online travel agents. And this is why this is one of the reasons why, because of the unfair practices that are going on out in the industry, and particularly during the COVID period, when there were lots of cancellations and problems between, the guest and the owner, and there was an online travel agent in the middle as a third party, who was raking some of the commissions for the booking. And there were all kinds of trouble around when that booking was canceled, who got the money who had the money to give the refund back to the guest. And, oh, it was just a nightmare. So this is another reason why people like Jane who’s in the club are really working hard to make sure that they get more direct bookings.

Sarah Riley: And, oh my goodness, me, you know, it’s times like this, when you hear about all of this unfair activity, that’s going on that particularly Jane, she pat herself on the back and says, this is why I’m putting all this effort into generating direct bookings. And it is so true. This is why we do the hard work. This is why we encourage people to do it, to take control, take control of their bookings of their occupancy, to maintain the strength of communication between them as the host and the guest who’s coming to stay. And to make sure that it’s a really strong relationship, the connection is made, and it’s not being shielded by an online travel agent who does not want you the business owner to speak to the guest. Why is that Because they don’t want the guests to come direct to you and actually purchase their stay directly with you because it means they don’t get the money.

Sarah Riley: This is what their business model is built on. And this is why it’s so unfair in so many cases. So if I were you, you should definitely follow James’ example, try your hardest to get as many direct bookings as possible that you know exactly how that’s done. You know, how to increase it. You take the advice you need and you know, what do, please ask me, I can signpost you in any way that you want to go to find out more about how you can take control and how you can do that for your business. I hope you found this useful, and I hope you apply this advice because it’s really important that you keep control of your business. And, you know, I hope as well that you join me back here again, the next time I publish an episode is fantastic to have you join me. If you want to leave a review or put out a request for some content, then please do on whatever platform that you use. I’d love it if you did it on iTunes or the Apple podcast because that’s really great for me. It’s where I can find those reviews really easily and respond to you in a way that I will know that I’m giving you exactly what you need in terms of information and everything you want from this industry. So I hope you have a fantastic we

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