The lowest hotel rate tough to find, but OTAs a good bet

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Where's the lowest hotel rate? Online shoppers may have to do a lot of research to find it, a Piper Jaffray study indicates.

And when they do find it, OTAs and travel search sites will have the lowest rate more often than hotel supplier sites.

Piper Jaffray surveyed 1,000 U.S. customers who reserved rooms at 86 chain hotels in the world's largest 25 cities. It found that OTAs and travel search sites had the lowest price 21% of the time, while hotel supplier websites had it 13% of the time. In about two-thirds of the cases, room pricing was the same across distribution channels.

Of course, if an OTA or search site has the lowest rate, shoppers still have work to do. Is it on Expedia? Hotels.com? Booking.com? Kayak?

Still, the lowest rate isn't on supplier sites often enough to siphon bookings away from OTAs, Piper Jaffray concluded.

"These results provide further evidence as to why consumers will not begin to shift towards hotel direct as a primary booking option, despite increased marketing resources," wrote Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson, the report's author, in a note to clients.

In the past two years, Marriott International, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group and Hyatt have launched campaigns promoting direct booking, promising rate discounts and perks. (In most cases, these discounts and perks, such as free WiFi, are available to traditional travel agents.) The hotels have been making a big push to take share from the OTAs, which are the hotels' most expensive distribution channel.

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta estimated on the company's May 2 earnings call that Hilton's first-quarter web bookings as a percentage of total bookings increased 2 points, to 30%, from a year earlier. Still, hotels overall are losing ground to the OTAs, Phocuswright reports. Phocuswright estimated earlier this year that OTAs will have increased their share of online U.S. hotel bookings to 52% in 2020, up from 47% in 2013.

Piper Jaffray's Olson wrote, "Today, Priceline and Expedia (combined) only account for 10% of worldwide travel bookings. We believe both can continue to gain share in the coming years."

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