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Africa Adventure Academy - your helping hand in sustainable and responsible tourism development

Which is better - Booking portal, Travel portal (DMO) or OTA


Let us look at the difference between booking portals, travel portals (Destination Marketing Organisations) and OTA's (Online Travel Agencies). I know it is a bit of a read but I urge you to persevere if YOU are serious about your online marketing.

What is a Booking Portal?

Put simply, an online booking platform or booking portal is a website where potential guests can reserve accommodation without connecting with the proprietor directly. Instead, they fill in a form, pay in advance, and get an electronic document as the confirmation of the booking.

What is an OTA - Online Travel Agency?

An online travel agency (OTA) arranges and sells accommodations, tours, transportation and trips on an online platform for travellers. They are third parties who sell services on behalf of other companies. They also include a built-in booking system which allows instant bookings. An OTA operates usually on two models:

Merchant Model
In this model, hotels sell rooms to OTAs at a discounted or wholesale price. Then, the OTA sells them to the customer at a markup price

Agency Model
This is a commission-based model where OTAs acts as a distribution partner. OTAs receive full commission after the stay has taken place. The hotel directly receives the payment from the end customer and does not wait for the payment transfer from third-party distributors.

NOTE: Most large booking portals have become an OTA offering add-ons such as flights, tours, experiences to their initial accommodation offer.

What is a Destination Marketing Organisation

 A Destination Marketing Organisation promotes a town, city, region, or country in order to increase the number of visitors to the destination. Africa Adventure is a Destination Marketing Organisation

Which is better - Booking portal / OTA or DMO Portal?

Simple to answer - non is better or worse because they both have their place. Even though booking portals / OTAs can help to fill rooms, accommodation businesses and other tourism service providers must maximize revenue through their own website to be sustainable!

Especially as direct bookings make up on average more than 75% of all bookings and allow for a much higher ROI (Return on Investment).

Direct booking inquiries also strengthen the "sales pipeline" with names, email addresses and even social media connections of potential customers for the future!

However, only the DMO "cares" about the destination, may it be a specific town, region or country / countries and uses the products to enhance the experience a destination offers!

A Booking portal OTA on the other hand focuses on the commission they earn, meaning they do "not care" about a specific destination as long as the traveller books with them. E.G. If you don't book South Africa for whatever reason come and book Jamaica / Caribbean ....

Booking portals and the "Billboard Effect" 

The number of online booking portals which listing establishments / businesses for "FREE" and "ONLY CHARGE COMMISSION" becomes uncountable and from many you will never get a booking anyway - so why bother to get listed there?

Very simple - travellers, scout the internet before making any "buying" decision and many of them find it to be beneficial to use large booking portals to see what is available in a specific area / town. Remember - this happens ONLY after they decided to visit the destination e.g. town / country

Once they have found a suitable establishment they immediately book - right? No, of course not - that is why so many booking portals have besides the booking option the "get a quote" or "launch an inquiry" option.

Take yourself for example - you are looking for a place to stay during your next holiday in XYZ and you use the One establishment really stands out and you would like to get more info about it, the area etc. but you can only launch a booking or an inquiry via an online form.

What would you do?

Many travellers would use Google to search for the establishment online, e.g. to search for the establishments own website and to find out more about the establishment before starting an inquiry - right? For my part this is the time when I most often use the CTRL+C and CTRL+V commands on my keyboard (copy and paste) and copy the establishments name into the search bar of Google. That is what is called the "Billboard Effect". 

Now let's have a closer look at DMO travel portals

As you can imagine, there are as many as booking portals and you have to make a smart choice - unless you have unlimited marketing funds available to use at your disposal. What should you look out for?

1. Look at what markets you want to target and ensure that the portals you use are in sync with your requirements. Sample, if you would like to get more Chinese tourists go and find portals which are used by Chinese travellers, if you would like more Spanish tourists use portals used by the Spanish and if you would like to get more Germans you need to focus on the portals used by German travellers ....

2. Ensure that you get what you are paying for! If you pay for being listed on a travel portal, that portal should at least enable the traveller to contact you directly.

3. Look at how the portal enables the traveller to contact you. This is vital as this will make or break your success! If they only allow the tourist to contact you through an inquiry form without any other option such as a link to your own website you know you get only half of the bargain. Why? Because the internet and its users have evolved - inquiry forms are "so last century" - because the internet can satisfy any instant information requests from the modern traveller but inquiry forms don't!

4. What contact options should be available to the traveller in pay portals? There is an easy answer for this! All contact details you as the advertiser would like to give - or has for this matter.

Make sure that a DMO portal links to your:

1. Email address - Modern websites use spamboot protectors for your email address, meaning human beings can read and click on them to send you emails but spam computers scouting the internet for email addresses can't.

2. Own Website - YES, this is what the traveller wants to see!

3. Social Network - If you use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc the portal should link to your social network - so the traveller can check latest offers from you and ensure that you are still around. For that you need to keep your social media up to date and post at least once a week!

4. Reviews from travellers - those trust indicators on Trip Advisor, Facebook, Google etc are the best promotions It's digital "mouth to mouth" marketing!

5. Of course there should be the phone number and physical address of your establishment but what does an address help if the traveller doesn't know where the address is or sounds like "on R25, 5km west of XYZ"?

6. A map would be helpful, wouldn't it? To motivate the traveller to contact / interact with you on any of above channels they first want to see if your location suits their needs! And if that map is interactive - like Google maps - even better!

Once you can tick all of above boxes you can be sure that the portal who charges you for your listing (membership) cares about YOU and the TRAVELLER - and not only themselves!  You will see that this approach will eliminate most of the portals who would like to get hold of your hard earned cash and not deliver what they promise. Now look at the remaining choices and see if your budget allows you to market your tourism business with all of them. If your budget does not, ask following questions:

• Does the portal reach travellers in their native language?
• Does the portal promote not only me but my destination as well?
• Does the portal reach travellers at their home while planning their holiday?
• Does the portal assist with general information on tourism?
• Is the portal a standalone website or part of a destination marketing organisation?

How many portals are now left as possible candidates? Certainly only a few and definitely My Africa Adventure!! 


By all means, get listed on each and every "Free" booking portal you can find and ensure that you have a proper update routine established for all of them.

Ensure that your very own web presence is strong by having an up-to-date website (no, not that old, outdated thing from 10 years ago), use at least one social network channel which you feed once a week, comment on your trip advisor feedback regularly and get found on Google Maps.

Increase direct bookings (really good for cash flow) by joining the right "pay" portals which you have identified by the criteria above. And always remember, the internet provides information rather than hiding it!

Confused? In need of recommendations?

Not a member of Africa Adventure?

If you provide quality services to travellers within the listed countries of sub-saharan Africa and agree to adhere to our code of conduct including relevant government & travel industry regulations as well as all statutory requirements you are welcome to apply for membership to Africa Adventure.

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