Consumers scouring the Internet for the best travel deals is really nothing new, yet local industry players may still have some way to go in terms of keeping up with the demands of travellers in cyberspace.
“Consumers are very tech savvy, but the industry is not fully technology driven yet. It needs to embrace technology more,” says Rohizam Md Yusoff, chief executive officer of Creative Advances Technology Sdn Bhd. “An online presence is required to give greater confidence to consumers.”
He says that most bookings nowadays are made through online travel agents (OTAs) due to the convenience that it brings to consumers. However, travel related businesses such as hotels may end up losing out on profit margins since there is less direct traffic to the hotel’s website.
Rohizam believes that this happens because a majority of businesses within the travel industry still do not fully grasp the role of information technology (IT).
“They don’t understand the concept of an online business. It’s not just about having a website, it’s placing the full cycle of your business online,” Rohizam says. Rather than staying in the dark about IT, he advises organisations to seek help whenever a need is identified.
“Better to admit that you don’t know and to find people who can help do it for you. It’s very costly (to do it on your own) because there is no economies of scale,” he adds.
One possible solution to the problem is for a business to standardise the prices of its products or services across all online distribution channels. This is what Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur (KL) practises.
“Our hotel chain has actually implemented what we call the Best Rate Guarantee across all of our 78 hotels and resorts around the world,” says Rosemarie Wee, area director of communications at Shangri-La KL. “Travellers can make accommodation arrangements without having to spend time hunting around for the best deals.”
This guarantee assures travellers that the room rates found on its website are the lowest rates that are publicly available on the Internet. Should a consumer find another cheaper rate on the Web, the hotel promises to honour that rate and will even give the consumer an additional 10% discount.
However, the method itself is not really as important as ensuring that a high quality web service is made available to cater to the needs of travellers.
“When you’re on the Net, you’re only as good as your website because that’s the only thing the travellers would see. The key is how to differentiate yourself from your competition so that people will spend more time on your website and hopefully make an inquiry before they go off,” says Michael Fong, who owns and operates Sarang Galloway Bed & Breakfast in Kuala Lumpur together with his wife, Christina Foo.
“The competition online is quite intense. You don’t have to search nowadays, you are being searched. You have to make yourself relevant so that you can search out guests while they’re searching for you. It’s a two way street.”
Don’t second guess
Fong says it’s especially important to know what guests actually want. He shares that he and his wife started out by drawing from their own past experiences as travellers.
He adds, “Our data collection (on what guests want) comes through personal interactions with our guests, besides the information from queries made on our website.”
Besides that, Fong says having reviews from guests published on well known travel community websites such as TripAdvisor.com helps to stimulate business too.
“People trust third party opinions,” he says. “But that is something built over time. It’s not like paid advertising where you pay today and see results tomorrow.”
However, Fong emphasises that travel businesses should not become too obsessed with getting raving reviews.
“The key is not to do things for reviews. You should do your best in servicing your guests and leave it to them to write the reviews. If you have done well, you can expect good reviews,” he says.
The influence of community
Meanwhile, Law Cheok Gheen, chief executive officer at Aeroline First Class Sdn Bhd says that social media is a powerful tool that cannot afford to be ignored.
“It’s changed the way we interact with our customers,” he says. “The travel industry has become more transparent as a result. It doesn’t matter what you advertise in the media anymore. The best measure of how well a company is performing and the quality of its service is the feedback which it receives from customers (through social media).”
Furthermore, Law says social media has made advertising a much cheaper affair. “It helps to spread the word. By far, it is the most powerful tool for any company.”
Law adds that being online has enabled Aeroline to reach a wider customer base. “That’s the power of technology. We are no longer dependent on distribution channels,” he says.
The right track
On the whole, however, the local travel industry has been heading in the right direction, despite initial challenges faced when implementing IT strategies. In fact, Law believes that the industry is quickly catching up with global expectations.
“We are getting there finally. We’ve reached the tipping point as there’s now greater mass adoption,” he says.
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