What is rate parity?

Rate parity, or price parity, is a contractual agreement between a hotel or B&B and its distribution agents that its room rates will remain the same across all booking channels — including the property’s own website.

As you might expect, rate parity is highly beneficial to online travel agents (OTAs) that have access to a vast number of travellers and charge commission rates to property owners/operators. 

There are two main types of rate parity:

1. Wide rate parity

With wide rate parity, a hotel or B&B agrees not to undercut the room prices that an OTA charges for their hotel. This agreement generally applies to all distribution channels.

2. Narrow rate parity

Narrow rate parity clauses allow hotels to offer lower rates than other OTAs, but not publicly through their own websites. With this type of rate parity, hotels can offer lower direct rates through indirect or offline channels such as email, phone booking and customer loyalty programs.

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What is rate parity in the hotel industry?

Rate parity is a term you’ll often hear in the hotel business. It’s all about keeping your room prices the same across the board. So, whether a guest books a room on your hotel’s website, through an online travel agency (like Expedia or Booking.com), or any other booking platform, they’ll see the same price.

The idea behind rate parity is to keep things fair and square. It means no booking channel can offer a cheaper rate and get an unfair advantage over others. It’s good for hotels because it helps them keep control over their pricing. And for guests, it means they can be confident they’re getting the best deal, no matter where they book.

But rate parity isn’t without its controversies. Some argue that it stops competition and doesn’t let hotels offer lower prices on their own websites. Because of this, some regions have put rules in place about how rate parity can be used in contracts between hotels and online travel agencies.

Even with these debates, rate parity is still pretty common in the hotel world. It helps manage what customers expect and keeps a hotel’s brand value consistent.

Why is hotel rate parity important?

So, why is rate parity important? Well, for starters, it helps you keep control over your pricing. You don’t have to worry about one booking channel undercutting the others and causing a price war. This can help protect your bottom line and keep your pricing strategy on track.

Rate parity also helps manage your guests’ expectations. If they see different prices for the same room on different websites, it can cause confusion and even frustration. By keeping your prices consistent, you’re giving your guests a clear and straightforward booking experience.

Plus, rate parity can help maintain your hotel’s brand value. If your rooms are consistently priced, it sends a message that your hotel is fair and trustworthy. This can help build your reputation and keep guests coming back.

But remember, while rate parity can be a useful tool, it’s also important to keep an eye on the market and adjust your rates as needed to stay competitive. So, keep rate parity in mind as you manage your room rates and distribution, and you’ll be on the right track to success.

Is rate parity mandatory for hotels?

When you partner with an OTA, they will usually require you to agree to rate parity. You are not allowed to undercut the rates they display for your rooms on their websites.

Many countries around the world consider rate parity to be a completely legal business practice, despite the fact that it can be a disadvantage to small business owners.

However, there is a movement in Europe in which several countries have begun to make rate parity illegal in hopes of levelling the playing field between large distribution agents like OTAs and independent accommodation operators. 

The countries where rate parity is currently illegal include:

  • Austria
  • France
  • Italy
  • Belgium

Other countries are in the process of banning rate parity policies, including Switzerland. Germany has also enforced stricter regulations on rate parity for some OTAs.

In other European Union countries as well as Australia and New Zealand, certain OTAs have adopted narrow rate parity clauses. In other major markets, these OTAs use wide rate parity clauses.

The pros and cons of hotel price parity

The idea behind rate parity is that it will level the playing field for all distribution agents. However, the perception is that it ultimately punishes hotels and B&Bs that earn less revenue when the majority of their bookings come from larger distribution agents charging hefty commission rates.

In reality, there are both benefits and drawbacks to rate parity:

Rate parity pros

It can boost your overall revenue. Rate parity is a basic requirement in most agreements with OTAs. As a small accommodation provider, you need to partner with the major players, like OTAs, to increase your visibility and attract travellers from across the globe.

When you make rate parity a priority, you’ll be able to easily connect with agents who will help boost your revenue. 

It can help prevent business complications. When your room rates are inconsistent across platforms, you run the risk of upsetting your customers and angering your distribution partners.

Inconsistency in room rates also leads to overbookings, which is a customer service nightmare for any travel brand.

By achieving rate parity, you will find that daily operations at your B&B run much smoother than if you had inconsistent room rates across your distribution network.

Rate parity cons

Paying commission on top of your lowest possible rate cuts into revenue. In small hotels, every dollar counts.

While it’s fair for OTAs to ask for commission for promoting you to thousands of people every day, paying commission on top of your lowest possible rate cuts into revenue you would have earned had these people booked directly.

Rates need to be consistently checked and updated. OTAs are known to change their rates according to factors like device and location.

OTAs can deliver reservations to hotels at a net rate, meaning they can and do reduce prices below minimum contracted margins by reducing their commission margins.

This puts tremendous pressure on small hotels to keep checking the OTAs’ rates so they can match their prices, but it’s a time consuming activity.

Managing rate changes across multiple distribution channels can be challenging.

When OTA channels aren’t directly linked to a small hotel’s PMS system through a channel manager, rate parity is even more difficult to manage. Small hoteliers have to log into multiple systems to update their rates.

How rate parity issues affect hotel revenue

While rate parity is meant to keep things fair, it can sometimes throw a spanner in the works when it comes to your hotel’s revenue. Here’s how:

Losing the Reins on Pricing

One of the biggest issues with rate parity is that it can feel like you’ve lost control over your own room prices. Because you have to keep your rates the same across all channels, you can’t adjust them to suit different situations or strategies. This can be a bit of a headache when you’re trying to maximise your revenue and manage your hotel’s occupancy levels.

Direct Bookings Take a Hit

When guests see the same room price on your website as they do on an online travel agency (OTA) site, they might choose the OTA for its perceived convenience or rewards program. This can lead to a drop in direct bookings, which are usually more profitable for hotels since they don’t involve commission fees.

Personalised Promotions? Not So Fast

Rate parity can also put a damper on your ability to offer personalised promotions. Let’s say you want to offer a special discount to guests who’ve stayed with you before, or maybe you want to give a deal to people who book a long stay. Rate parity can make it tricky to offer these kinds of deals, especially if they’re meant to be exclusive to certain guests or channels.

Say Goodbye to Customer Loyalty

Lastly, rate parity can make it harder to build customer loyalty. If guests can get the same price from any booking channel, they might not see the value in sticking with direct bookings. This can make it harder to build long-term relationships with your guests, which are often key to a hotel’s success.

So, while rate parity is meant to keep the playing field level, it can sometimes feel like it’s doing more harm than good. But don’t worry – with the right strategies, you can still navigate these challenges and keep your hotel’s revenue healthy.

How to make parity rate work for your hotel

When it comes to rate parity, small hotels are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you probably don’t have the marketing budget to achieve the kind of reach that your OTA partners do. They bring you business. On the other hand, you need to drive more direct bookings to maximise revenue.

Here are some ways to tackle the challenges of rate parity:

1. Package your rooms to make them more appealing

You can enhance your offering by adding elements like free parking, Wi-Fi, and tickets to a local event. Your OTA may be selling the room at a discounted price, but with your full price there are extras that are more valuable than the discount your guest would be getting if they booked with the OTA.

2. Lower your rates to a limited audience

While you can’t publicly advertise lower room rates, you’re allowed to do so to a limited audience. This means that to drive direct bookings, you can offer deals to:

  • Facebook fans
  • Twitter followers
  • Your email database
  • Phone enquiries
  • Loyalty program members

Remember to invite people to join these audiences through calls to action on your website. Tell them they can get special discounts and promotions unavailable elsewhere.

3. Use metasearch engines

Metasearch engines like TripAdvisor are a great way to compete with OTAs for bookings. Through TripConnect, small hotels can bid to be featured at the top of the list. Because this is using a PPC model, it is likely to be cheaper than the commission paid to OTAs.

Metasearch engines are increasingly popular with consumers. Not only can they compare and search properties, but they can choose the channel they want to use to book these properties. More often than not, they will choose to book direct because it is seen as being more reliable.

4. Improve the booking process

The ease of booking directly with you needs to match if not be smoother than booking with OTAs. Make sure it’s easy to understand what rooms are available and at what rate (don’t overwhelm with too many choices), and that it looks and feels secure to make a booking directly through your website.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).