Key industry players geared up to “Reboot” and tackle the big issues like how to surf the wave of technology that pervades the industry (without being caught in the riptide), engaging consumers through mobile, the growing pains of the Indonesian travel market, and the potential for consolidation in the future.
Drawing on both travel research and views shared by industry panellists ranging from hoteliers to villa owners to start-ups, ten key lessons stood out in particular.
1) Customers don’t care how they book, look after them
The lover’s quarrel between hoteliers and digital companies grinds on as OTAs like Booking.com and Agoda continue to hold sway over distribution channels.
The arguments are not necessarily new – with hoteliers expressing continued concern over high customer acquisition costs and OTA consolidation, while digital players refute responsibility for any losses in customer loyalty.
However, there was a noticeable shift in attitude as Timothy Hughes (Agoda) reminded panellists that distribution should be regarded as a team sport, not a competition.
He concurred with Oliver Hua (Booking.com), who argued that hoteliers and OTAs are big and little fish co-existing in the same ecosystem. For each species to flourish in the travel market, they need to develop a symbiotic relationship wherein both sides can reap greater benefits in the marketplace.
Timothy went on to argue that ultimately, consumers do not necessarily see the difference in types of booking pathway, but base preferences on the seamlessness of the booking experience.
Hoteliers and OTAs alike must therefore focus less on which channels customers choose to book and more on how to improve their experience of the process.
2) Differentiation is (still) key to loyalty and direct distribution
Understanding consumer driven demand would show companies how their unique strengths could be used to create their own space in the travel marketplace, according to Alfan Hendro (Traveloka).
For example, Alfan attributes part of Traveloka’s success as Indonesia’s largest air and hotel booking site to its in-depth knowledge of Indonesia and the fundamental differences between segments of the Indonesian market.
In accommodation, Oliver Hua (Booking.com) warns that hotel consolidation poses a risk to differentiation, noting that hotels are becoming increasingly similar to each other and consumers are ‘tired of it’.
Oliver observed that high performers on Booking.com tend to offer particularly unique experiences to the consumer based on different geographies, such as ryokans in Japan or private villas in Bali. By delivering positive, memorable experiences, Oliver is optimistic that customers will keep that hotel in mind when booking in future.
It is critical advice for smaller, independent hotels that may struggle to compete against larger hotel groups. However, Jean-Luc Chretien (FASTBOOKING) quickly noted that this opportunity for differentiation would not go amiss amongst ‘big hotels’, to help them ‘emerge from the crowd’.
3) Hoteliers are not powerless when it comes to online distribution
Jack Tan (newly-appointed COO of Tune Hotels Group) argued for a need to find balance between OTA and traditional offline sales, highlighting it as mission critical to ‘get to a level playing field’ by improving the state of their own technology.
Christine Tan (FASTBOOKING) acknowledged that the reason OTAs get direct business is because consumers tend to conduct their travel research through these channels.