As travellers get smart, hoteliers have to get smarter


The travel business has been revolutionised, bringing pressures and opportunities to hoteliers and travellers alike. WIT, a travel news portal supported by Penang Global Tourism, will try to bring Penang’s hoteliers up to date at a workshop in July at China House.

“How did you book your hotel?” I asked a Penang friend visiting me in Singapore.

“Oh, I checked Agoda, but you know what? Their rates aren’t the best anymore,” she told me. “I used TripAdvisor, and then I found another app which gave me better rates than anywhere else.”

And so goes a typical conversation among travellers these days.

Back then, we had to put up with what airlines and hotels decided to charge us, or we went through a travel agent, hoping they’d have the best rates, not knowing that usually the agents would push the product they earn the most commission on. Now, the Internet has rendered everything transparent and the power is in our hands as consumers.

The ornate facade of the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion on Lebuh Leith. The Blue Mansion, as it is better known, also hosts a heritage homestay programme.

We can shop and compare rates. The average person checks 22 travel websites before booking a trip. We read reviews. More than half of all travellers read reviews before they book, and the average hotel guest checks six to 12 reviews before making a decision.

We can see what a hotel is really like from our friends’ social feeds. We no longer have to rely on “photoshopped” images of perfectly made-up beds and spotlessly clean bathrooms. We can now see things as they are in the world of user-generated content, as it is called in industry jargon.

As consumers get smart, hotels realise they have to get smarter about how they sell and promote themselves on the Internet. Everything has become about “being discoverable”. How do people find you on the Internet?

With the world fast approaching one billion websites, it’s become a challenge for any business, including hotels, to be “discovered” by people searching the web. You can try SEO (which is free) or SEM (which is not), but hotels cannot compete with the likes of Priceline Group (which owns Priceline, Booking. com and Agoda) or Expedia which spend billions of dollars on Google, ensuring they get found first.

Did you know that in 2013, the Priceline Group spent US$1.8bil on online marketing, 90% of which went to Google? That’s three per cent of Google’s ad revenues, by the way.

So in the face of all that, what’s a hotelier to do? Well, you can get creative. You can go social. A lot of hotels have found that using social network sites such as Facebook, Instagram (whose visual medium is perfect for travel) and YouTube can influence traveller decisions. It is more likely that I will book a hotel if a friend has been there and recommends it versus me reading some random stranger’s comment on TripAdvisor.

Penang is a good example of a tourist destination that doesn’t have the big bucks to spend on advertising but whose fame has spread through word of mouth on social network sites. What better advertising than letting your customers rave about you?

You can also try to win your customer’s loyalty by giving them special treatment, reward points or just delivering an outstanding experience each time they visit.

And because a hotel room is perishable – like fish in a market, because if you don’t sell it, it’s gone for the night – you can learn to maximise your yields by making sure you charge the best rate possible for the room on that day. This is both an art and science called “revenue management”.

Understanding the challenges hoteliers face these days – especially the many independent hotels that exist in Penang – WIT, which is an events and news portal specialising in the online travel space, is organising a half-day free workshop in Penang on July 16.

Supported by Penang Global Tourism, the workshop, which will be held at Vic’s at China House, will feature travel experts from brands such as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Google as well as local hoteliers to offer a blend of learning on how hoteliers can best sell and market themselves in the digital world.

After all, you can have the cutest, quaintest property on Lebuh Armenian, but what’s the point if nobody can find you on the web or on a mobile screen? Even the smartest travellers these days need a little help.

Penang-born Yeoh Siew Hoon is the founder of WIT, a media and events company specialising in online travel. She loves to write and she loves to travel. And oh yes, she loves gadgets.

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