Membership OTAs are a hot topic right now, while the traditional marketplace model remains the most popular in the vacation rental sector, new formats of OTAs are evolving and embracing a membership model to help drive guest loyalty.

Tripadvisor, for example, recently released their own subscription-based model, Tripadvisor Plus, as they have confidence that “regular travellers are ready to embrace a subscription model”, said Steve Kaufer, CEO of Tripadvisor. 

We asked two very different membership only OTAs – Golightly (women only) and Bidroom (no commission) – to give us some first-hand insight on why membership models are different from typical OTAs and why property managers should consider getting listed on them

Here’s what they had to say:

What makes membership OTAs different from a typical OTA that doesn’t require travellers to become members?

Membership models are gaining popularity, with big OTAs such as Tripadvisor releasing subscription products to drive guest quality. While membership models have been around for years and typically provided by the luxury sector, they are gaining traction in other sectors too. 

Customers are looking for something more personalised and unique with great end-to-end experiences that put their needs first rather than a one-size-fits-all package. This is especially true for millennials, who are much more open to the idea of paid loyalty as long as they continue to receive added value

Victoria O’Connell, Founder & CEO of Golightly, an invite-only home-sharing and vacation rental club for women, says their membership model is based around security: “the fact that we’re a private club gives Golightly a “friend-of-a-friend” feel — you’ll see who you know in common — which creates trust and a more secure booking transaction.”

All properties on Golightly are owned or managed by women, and members are all vetted before being allowed to join. 

Another reason for membership models is that travel savings are interesting and appealing to just about everybody regardless of how much money they make. And typically, the savings in travel doesn’t mean travellers put it back in their pocket and instead apply it to get more out of their trip. Staying longer, going to a nicer restaurant, or booking that excursion they wanted. 

Bidroom launched a membership model that is rooted in savings. For a guest typically their most expensive purchase tends to be your vacation rental. Their new generation booking platform is membership-based and a commission-free community helping connect property managers and travellers while giving a bunch of great benefits that you can take advantage of from those savings. 

Daniel Carvalho, project manager at Bidroom, says, “Bidroom is a closed booking platform, where our members can find the lowest possible prices, even up to 25%. We also offer discounts on other partner services such as car rentals, insurance, tours and more.” 

How does your member’s club work for property managers? What are the benefits of joining it? 

Membership OTAs typically have a close partnership with property managers, due to their expectation of a great customer experience for their guests. People show up as membership guest – so now it’s the property manager’s opportunity to make them a brand lover for life.

Membership OTAs need their partners to deliver excellent experiences and care about their members as much as they do. In return for this, property managers receive benefits such as repeat visits, guest access, and brand recognition. 

According to Victoria, “Every PM who is a Golightly member will have the full benefits of our network of connected, international and influential women. A member can network with women in her industry, alumni from her university, or other members who live in her community. All members share a passion for travel and believe that women deserve a safer alternative when travelling and hosting. We hope that a PM would not only feel safer hosting with Golightly but would feel safe travelling within the Golightly community too!” 

Bidroom is also about providing as many advantages to both property managers and guests alike. Through their advantageous “membership model, property managers can easily increase their revenue, and travellers can save more.” says Daniel Carvalho from Bidroom. 

Bidroom provides property managers with direct bookings and doesn’t charge property managers any commission. In exchange, they ask property managers to offer their members a minimum of 5% discount on the public prices visible on other booking platforms. 

Who’s the target audience? Who are the people that are becoming members and making bookings? 

Membership OTAs fill the white space in the market that the travel agency models have not managed to reach. 

For example, Golightly provides their female membership travellers with a safer place within a vetted community. According to Victoria, Golightly has noticed solo travellers, businesswomen and families prefer to book vacation rentals where they can uphold a certain level of privacy and seclusion, knowing that they can trust their host. 

Victoria also noted, “since the pandemic, there has also been a spike in the number of members wanted to book longer stays since teleworking is now an option for so many people.”

People also care a lot about flexibility. With membership models, travellers have a wide variety of choices that don’t necessarily require allegiance to one particular brand in travel but give people the freedom to receive the best value and best access to vacation rentals worldwide.    

This is precisely what Bidroom offers, with over 120,000 properties spread across 128 countries. Their “quintessential guests are frequent travellers who are passionate about travelling. Typically, they plan trips six weeks out and are looking for the best possible experience,” says Daniel Carvalho from Bidroom. 

What makes these membership OTAs unique, and why should property managers get listed?

Security is a comprehensive benefit of membership OTAs. With a loyal customer base paying a regular subscription, their resilient business model keeps the cash coming in. This was especially true during the COVID-19 travel downturn when many OTAs struggled. 

Due to a steady cash flow, membership OTAs have more opportunities to focus their product development around what their customers specifically want and need with less risk. 

Not only do membership OTAs provide you with security, but they also provide transparency for property managers. Golightly provides property managers with “access to their female members, providing property managers with a high level of accountability.” Being such a close-knit community, ” a property manager can see how she is connected to her prospective guest, similar to Linkedin.”

“Those making the bookings will always be members of Golightly but can travel with whomever they wish. Golightly launched in late January 2020 and already has over 6,000 vetted, connected members across 70 countries,” said Victoria. 

Bidroom’s membership OTA offers property managers the opportunity to receive direct reservations with zero commission.  

“We operate on a membership model: no business – no pay, which means that the property managers pay us an annual membership fee once we deliver the minimum of revenue, based on the number of rooms. The first 1,500 € in direct bookings is on us,” said Daniel Carvalho 

On top of that, by joining Bidroom, not only do you receive commission-free bookings, but you will also be in direct contact with your guests with access to their marketplace with a partner network reach of 50M+ users worldwide.

Are you ready to build a tech-based distribution strategy? Discover how our enterprise-level Channel Manager can get you more bookings.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2020 and has been updated for accuracy, depth and comprehensiveness.