Tag Archives: Hotels

A Greek Lesson

I think that one of the overwhelmingly consequential stories of 2011, was that of the Greek financial and social issues. The topic has been covered very thoroughly by the world media, so I am guessing that just like me, you will have mixed emotions about my fellow countrymen as a whole.

On the one hand, the irregularities (ranging anywhere from innocent mistakes all the way to blatant stealing – from both Europe, but also from the poor to give to the rich) have happened within the country itself. Unquestionably it has been the Greeks making their own bed (albeit messing up everyone else’s as a result) and that apportions blame squarely and wholly somewhere within the country.

On the other hand, under several very misguided and very unfair governments for almost 30 years now, it is typically the “non-thieving” hard-working type of Greek (majority) that is paying a very disproportionate price for all the irregularities that went on. Which is also hard to forget…

To use some culinary parallels to explain my views: whatever your position on the matter, I believe that the whole mess can be boiled down to a few key ingredients that have been cooked by certain people (from what in Greece is now called “the elite”) for almost three decades; unfortunately these were the same people that also happened to be in control of the books which were also thoroughly cooked.

From these few ingredients, the one that is very easily underestimated is complacency. And in my experience complacency is a very contagious disease.

“The Greek physics law of Inertia” – AKA the Greek version of “mañana”

The one thing for which I will dare to “throw a stone” to my countrymen is that us Greeks are pretty much governed by some cultural imperative, similar to the physics law describing inertia. When we aren’t doing anything, we are very likely to maintain our state and continue not doing much. (Incidentally, although much more rarely, the opposite also applies: when we somehow find ourselves in motion, we can find it difficult to stop). All this can make us relaxed company and great party friends, but in business it can be a disadvantage…

During the autumn of 2007, when our BABEL Multilingual product was still in its infancy, I was starting talking to hotels about multilingual versions of their websites, and international marketing packages. Knowing that Greece attracts people speaking foreign languages in their millions every year, I did some research in new hotels in the country that were more likely to use and benefit from our services.

Amongst many potentials, I remember finding a wonderful candidate. It was a five star property with some 450 rooms, in a prime location in Crete, near an airport (but far enough) and by a superb sandy beach. The hotel was independently owned, and only on the second year of its operation – which to me it meant that there would normally be a lot of room for growth of business. To cut a long story short, this property’s vital statistics made them an excellent candidate. According to my guestimations at the time, they could find themselves generating some pretty impressive profits within the first season of using us. I couldn’t wait to talk to them..

Unfortunately, my initial enthusiasm quickly evaporated by the hotel’s lack of a booking engine on their website. In fact, there was no way to make a reservation at that hotel, other than calling them, or emailing them and hoping for the best. Obviously there is very little point in pursuing, finding and getting visitors to your website from abroad if you don’t have a way to convert them to customers!

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the issue of booking engines, I should briefly highlight here that for such a property having a booking engine is an absolute necessity. I don’t want to send anyone to sleep talking about a the different pricing models of agencies and the comparative costs; so let’s just say that in a country like Greece, a decent-sized independent hotel of this type on its second year of operation, would easily pay the equivalent of 30% for a reservation in commissions to all manner of agencies. Forgetting about the numerous benefits that further enhance the argument and necessity for a booking engine, I will just mention that when someone books a hotel on the hotel’s own website, the commission costs for that hotel would drop to anywhere between one and five per cent. It is relevant to mention here that agencies already squeeze hotels as much as they can, and as hotels have costs associated with servicing a room, bookings over the hotel’s own website represent a staggering benefit in  profit levels – a 25% reduction in commission payments could be very nearly the entire profit on a room sold!

So why on earth would anyone not have a booking engine – I hear you ask. I didn’t know either and I was too curious to let this go, so I decided to find out. I picked up the phone, got through to the General Manager, and basically asked the question.

Well, someone would have to manage it..” – came the answer.

[What? As opposed to bookings from agencies that are OK to be left unmanaged?!!]

I was shocked. That was a prime example of (these days already hard to find) old-style Greek public-sector complacency having permeated the private sector. Of all the people to show such lack of interest in the hotel’s well being, to hear such a blatant statement of laziness from a General Manager… To me, that was just wrong.

A year after this conversation took place, the financial world imploded. Today travel agents control the business for that hotel (and so many other hotels like it) and have forced the General Manager to drop her prices and increase the commission she pays to them. The owners were probably far too removed from the day-to-day decisions to identify the missed opportunity, and have now fully blamed the Greek corrupt elite for their misfortunes. Complacency and lack of understanding are a poisonous mixture for a business.

Following that incident (and a few more like it), and seeing the  suffering of Greek hotels in these trying times for Greece, I have quickly developed a strong aversion to complacency. It is therefore with considerable worry that I share with you my suspicion that this affinity to a “mañana” approach to life is not entirely alien to Britons either…

Having worked with hotels from all over the world [and aware that I have no other evidence than our own contacts with the markets (hardly a statistically acceptable sample)] I would suggest that British hoteliers are on average less keen to move forward with international marketing than their international counterparts.

Despite us being a firmly UK based company, today only 23% of our clients are located in the UK – the rest are based pretty much everywhere else around the world. The hoteliers around the world to whom we sell our services seem to be much more aware that hoteliers sell to travellers and that these days travellers don’t come from the hotel’s neighbourhood, and they don’t always speak the neighbourhood’s language.

Looking at the flickering lights of the world economy today, I am strongly advising hoteliers to go after international business even if they do well domestically. Every incremental demand point is of benefit not only to the hotel’s pricing and yielding flexibility. It is also another point of safety in an unsafe world.

If the pessimists of this world are correct, there is a lot of pressure for everyone in the not too distant future, and it will be only those who are prepared that will stand a chance to thrive.

Thank you for reading,

Yannis Anastasakis

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, International, Marketing, Multilingual, Return On Investment, Sales Strategies

The Royal Park Hotel in London now speaks German

Our first hotel under the BABEL Multilingual brand is now live in German. We are delighted to have delivered the German Version of the Royal Park Hotel’s website to the world, and we are now looking forward to the first direct reservations from the country.

www.theroyalpark.de

The Royal Park in London now speaks fluent German (and is learning French)

Massimilano Naspi, Head of Distribution for the Royal Park Hotel said:

We were attracted by BABEL Multilingual because it was an obvious – and risk free – way for us to increase our international exposure. We were impressed with both the quality of the work that was delivered, but also the ease with which both our website and our booking engine were translated and marketed from within Europe…

The end result is that we now truly have a fighting chance to get international reservations straight on our website, and away from the competition – however big or established they may be. I am very happy with this product.

Yannis Anastasakis, Director and owner of Electronic Hotelworks expressed his delight for the first BABEL Multilingual site becoming reality.

This is not an ordinary translation by any stretch of the imagination. As far as I am aware, our services are a world-first in multilingual website re-construction and international optimisation, as we bring together a unique blend of quality of work and an agency-like pricing model. This is a risk free product for hotels and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to sell roomnights everywhere in the world through BABEL. It just makes sense.”

…”we are particularly proud that we seem to have achieved our aim to ensure that this is easy for the hotelier. Everything, from accessing the .com website files and re-building the website content, to picking up and translating rate-plans, room-types and hotel descriptions (as well as everything else that can be found on the booking engine) was done with great ease for them…
… for the hotelier, building an international BABEL site is proving to be a process that is much, much easier and simpler than building an original .com site – despite the very detailed work we have to do behind the scenes. And all this whilst creating excellent levels of incremental international exposure for the hotels. All this couldn’t have been done without some great partnerships with OBAN Multilingual and CookieBite.net so my sincere thanks to them too.”

“I am told that the team at the Royal Park were so happy with the delivery and execution of their German site, that they have now signed up for French to be developed for them as well.

For more information on BABEL Multilingual, please visit us at www.babelmultilingual.com, or have a look around at www.ehotelworks.com.

The BABEL Multilingual team.

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Filed under Cultural Optimisation, eCommerce, International, Marketing, Multilingual, Search Engine Optimisation

What I wish my iPhone could (and will) do

The future is not impossible to predict. A quick look at where influencing technologies are heading is usually the recommended first step in any effort to unlock its secrets. And there are no examples of obvious future trends that are as vivid, (or as appealing to a technophile such as myself) as those coming from Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch new operating system.

The iPhone OS3 doesn't seem like much, but it WILL change the way we do business

The iPhone OS3 doesnt' look so different.. but the hidden tricks, and most of all the open communications protocol it offers, will change the way customers interact with you.

The iPhone is a peculiarly ignored medium for reservations and guest interaction; and almost never seen as a different segment in internet business segmentation – even from the most aggressive and methodic specialists. Possibly a slightly uncomfortable subject for CRS firms (who usually educate on what they can deliver and forget to talk about the stuff they can’t do) even the most obvious features of the trend-setting platform (because that is exactly what it is) are frequently ignored. Look around (on the net) and see the signs.

There are many examples of full Flash websites without an html alternative… which will not work on an iPhone, making the expensive choice of full Flash design less high-end than what it might have looked on paper… (and don’t expect any great improvement with Microsoft’s Silverlight technology either)

With the new iPhone and iPod Touch related developments around the corner, there is a lot more that is coming our way that should worry us. A lot more than just presentation and usability of our website on such a great demographic (who do you think can afford an iPhone?).

Alarm bells starter ringing about a month ago when Apple invited developers (people that write applications for its Apple Store) to talk to them about the tools that it is now giving them for the next operating system (3.0) for the iPhones and Touch iPods. In their presentation (tailored to the less technically minded person – so don’t be shy if you don’t know your class from your object, and do watch it here) they didn’t fail to point out that their market is just superb. And growing really, really fast.

A few facts of interest:

In less than two years, a completely new and different – and in most places rather very expensive – phone is being sold to over 80 countries around the world.

Just in the 12 months of 2008, Apple sold 13.7 million (yes, million) iPhones and another 16.5 million iPod Touch units. That is a combined 30 million units (did I mention these things don’t come cheap?).

If you are not already getting interested in the size of this market, maybe I should mention that there is over 50 thousand individuals and companies working to produce independent applications for these two machines.

And today, there are well over 25 thousand applications for it.

And over a billion (yes, billion) downloads that have taken place by iPhone and iPod touch owners by the end of last month (in about 8 months since the shop where you can buy them went live).

Given that the iPhone is invariably one of the most expensive phones to buy (yes, I know I mentioned this before, but it is important enough) there is probably a lot of mileage in the demographics behind it. I don’t think there is data for it, but I suspect that in their majority, people that have an iPhone also have money to buy a hotel roomnight somewhere. And that makes them oh, so very interesting to us…

So we know that this technology is here to stay, and we know which way it is going to go (from the presentation Apple did, telling us all about it). And in my personal view, there are a few interesting factors that will make this market an arena for differentiation and profit of those of us that find the means to tackle it early.

The main changes are:

  • iPhone will now allow in-application purchase.
  • It will allow for push technology to be taken advantage of, and
  • peer to peer over Bluetooth is going to be supported.
  • Stereo Bluetooth is going to be supported, and
  • maps can be widely used by everyone who is writing an application for the iPhone.

All in all, if successfully implemented, the way that we interact and relate to our customers has just been opened up to endless possibilities for dramatic, and really cool changes.

In-application purchase means that if you are making a booking over your iPhone through an “App” dedicated to the job, you don’t need to browse a hotel’s website in order to buy add-ons. And third parties with their technology and budget requirements fulfilled, (companies like Expedia and Travelocity, but also hotel chains and representation companies) will be able to offer add-ons dynamically, at any stage of the booking (before or after) and without giving their app customers any extra work to do in the process. In fact, it should be easier for the consumer to be offered and to buy add-ons over the phone, rather than on his or her computer. Naturally, these add-ons can also be free, allowing for post booking customisation of the stay (something not dissimilar to what BA does with their offering to their customers the ability to choose their seats and set meal preferences. Not dissimilar at all in fact – just much, much, much cheaper to develop).

Push technology means that a firm with an app handling the booking on the customer’s phone, can now send messages to its customer without needing to know their mobile number (although consumer permissions will be needed at some stage – so I suspect a new process of licensing will be introduced in the app purchase process). So, in our example of a hotel chain, if the reservation happens through an app, it is easy for the hotel to send all sorts of interesting stuff (calendar notes, location pins, important news etc.) to the consumer – without the need for anyone to be reading e-mails, or agreeing to being sent texts (that are both expensive for the sender, and apparently massively annoying for the consumer). No resistance in “pushing” messages to consumers is in itself a huge subject, but it should suffice to say here that we expect it to provide a new channel to consumers’ mobile phones. Consumers that would otherwise decline receiving that message (at least through text) are now going to seek them..!

Bluetooth peer to peer – using Apple’s brilliant Bonjour – could mean that when a customer is in range, the iPhone can register them with reception, and even receive a key to open the Bluetooth enabled or docking port equipped door of their room.

When in the room, the customer won’t even have to take the earphones off to listen to the TV (thanks to Bluetooth Stereo). The customer could in fact use the iPhone to control every electronic item in the room, from a specially adapted interface for the lights, to radio clocks, to channels on the TV, to ordering room service or booking a table without talking to anyone. Even feedback can be given on the spot – giving you a greater chance to fix the problem before you read about it on TripAdvisor!

Sounds like science fiction? It shouldn’t. Because the hardware is here, and the platform on which the required software (Apps) can be developed is here. The only thing that is needed at this stage is time for the development and the market forces to kick in. And yes, initially these services will be offered separately – one imagines that it will all have to progress from one App per service; customers will have to dock their phones rather than working with them wirelessly. But things will move on and improve as hotel chains will start standardising their software.

So the future looks bright… bright, apple shaped, on a back-lit touch screen hand-held with automatic dimming and a platform that – barring minor annoyances – is better than all of the rest of them.

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, iPhone

An SEO guide to blind dating

I was reading a really amusing article the other day, which was explaining the similarities of link-building with picking up girls in a bar! Beyond the obvious entertainment value – and the obviously interesting advice on picking up girls – the article interested me because it spoke volumes about a typical webmaster’s approach to SEO efforts – and consequently the approach of organisations. It firmly reminded me that there is no business like hotel business, and this is particularly obvious when it comes to hotel website search engine optimisation.

Getting off-line relationships to online benefits

Getting off line relationships into online benefits is actually easy if you are a hotelier

I know you can easily look for the term on Wikipedia, but I thought I should do the polite thing and give you a very quick definition – which should save you reading through multiple paragraphs.

Link building is the process of getting as many in-bound links to your website as possible.

Why people bother with it? Because this is one of the most efficient ways of having your website coming up higher in search engines when someone is looking for somewhere to stay in your area. (I hope you are not missing the irony here. The more it is easy for your website to be found without the use of search engines – because it has links to it from many websites out there – the more search engines will make sure you are easily found through their own listings).

There are obviously many ways to build links. You can buy them (either in the form of advertising or simply as a listing), you can agree to place reciprocal links with a partner company (so you get one from their website and in return they get one from yours), or you can do something clever, like publish a really amusing blog that will be copied by many companies and individuals on their website (the internet world can be remarkably polite like that). My favourite, and the most elusive way to build inbound links is to achieve a PR feat (e.g. get someone famous to do something noteworthy in you hotel) which means that a lot of people will write about you, and hopefully will provide links to your website as well.

So, campaigning to get reciprocal links was the subject of the article in question, and the advice was focused on what you and I would call fist-impression sales tips; all about making the right moves and sending the right signals. And it was generally good advice…mostly.

Don’t overdress or under-dress, don’t use corny lines (equivalent of “did it hurt when you fell from heaven” is – apparently – completely out of the question, but then again can you imagine someone saying anything equivalent on a cold-call and not being arrested?) and even “play it disinterested” (it is completely beyond me how you can go and speak to a girl in a bar and then pretending to not be interested in her – but then again I am by far no expert on the subject).

The very interesting detail? This was an article written by a webmaster and addressed

to other webmasters. And that is where it all gets a little worrying.

Beyond the innocent, and well timed tongue-in-cheek approach, the article confirmed the inevitability of lost opportunity from applying general SEO principles to our industry. Because even the sharpest webmaster out there will miss the bigger, better picture of “doing it right”. A hotel company with its staff working in synch, taking advantages of the existing skill-set and focusing at becoming efficient in getting business to grow from all channels should not have IT people doing sales calls (because that is exactly what link-building calls are).

This is an important area for growth, and it should be treated as such by allocating the most skilled people to work on it. And I am probably stating the obvious but there is no better person than a sales person to do a cold call. Even if your webmaster is exceptional in his interpersonal and social skills, in this world you can’t buy experience. Just like you don’t want your accountant to take reservations however quickly they learn (which, incidentally, is the equivalent of letting your PMS company power your web booking engine), you also don’t want your IT manager to do your sales. Not because t

hey wouldn’t be able to deliver, but because they are going to miss opportunities and because they are going to create opportunity costs (quite frankly they should definitely have better things to do).

When your sales representative is visiting a local company to discuss a contract, or if they are on a maintenance sales call, they could easily suggest a firming up of the relationships by establishing a reciprocal link. They will be coming back with positive answers at least as much as they will do with negative ones, and as far as links go, you could do much worse on the quality front. Links with corporate accounts’ websites will be there for a long time (at the very least for the duration of your rate agreement). And this is a link from a company that will most likely have a high-value website (as companies with travel policies tend to be larger an better recognised names, with decent presence on the web).

In conclusion, please don’t rely on your webmaster’s charm to build links – however elegant personality they may have. They might be fabulous at picking up girls from a pub but they are very unlikely to be your best producers in terms of effort vs. results.*

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, Link Building, Sales Strategies, Search Engine Optimisation

ppc looks so much better than seo… and yet, it doesn’t

It isn't always easy to be seen

SEO - especially in the context of multilingual markets - is by far the most efficient way to achieve online presence for a hotel. You just need to take the long-term view.

SEO actually always bothered me. And from what I have seen so far, the chances are that it bothers you too! The reason? Its nice looking, clean-cut, always on time, reliable sister: Pay Per Click.

A few years ago I was selling electronic media advertising. Back then, GDS advertising was by far the largest contributor of revenue to the company (and my sales figures) but internet advertising was also just starting to take off. Even in those days, for those clients that ventured off to what was then uncharted fields of internet campaigning, there was a very clear gravitational pull between a Director of Sales and PPC.

You see, once the PPC campaign was turned on, the customer was practically hooked in this neat little machine where we would put a pound coin in one side and anything between a 10 and a 20 pound note would come out on the other. This meant that sales would grow for everyone, and that kept everyone happy. So happy in fact that it was very, very hard to convince a hotelier to consider investing their money on anything else on the web. In a very obvious way, SEO was the victim of PPC. Of course this was not the case because it was ever given a fair chance, but because it never had a chance.

And in a way, back then that was OK. These were the days that PPC was the newest buzz-word and the most complex presentation you could do was to explain what PPC was, talk about click-throughs and tracking..! Customers buying into PPC were practically on the cutting edge and their ROI was almost guaranteed to beat 15 to 1. Who could ever argue with the figures? Not that I wanted to argue anyway as (as I have already mentioned) I wasn’t that comfortable with SEO.

Although I had a fairly good idea of what it could do, there were a few things about it that didn’t like. Without going in to detail on this, I thought SEO was always too vague, lacking saleability in the specifics department.

The inescapable fact – and what makes search engine portals such profitable business for their owners – is that Pay Per Click, when done in a half-decent way, works. When it is done properly, it is sensational.

For the untrained eye, a comparison between the two was almost unfair! PPC is tangible, responsive and an accountable investment. SEO was (and still is) largely seen as non-accountable, intangible and (by comparison to PPC) takes a long time to kick in. Additionally, SEO was more difficult to grasp all round. Apart from providing me with difficulties when I was asked “what will you do for me exactly?” (try to explain why Alt Text or Headings are important to a non enthusiast and you will see what I mean), it was also difficult after all the work was done since results take time. With hoteliers only knowing about PPC, the delay was frustrating for them.

Pay Per Click was always clean cut and (very much in line with Caesar’s famous request to his wife) isn’t just truly honest; it also appears to be honest. When it came to first impressions, PPC always had a firm hand-shake and came to the job interview with impressive, tangible and provable success stories. SEO was the person that turns up late, looks shifty, you don’t know what she has been up to, and you know that most of your competitors wouldn’t employ her. It all practically makes you want to shake a finger in front of her face and ask in a fed-up voice why she can’t be a little more like PPC.

For better or for worse, and as it is always the case with emerging technologies, things have now changes a lot.

One thing that has changed for sure, is the hoteliers themselves. I can tell you with a great level of certainty that one in every two clients I meet, would give any uncertain e-marketing salesperson a life-changing scare. Today it is easier to talk about concurrent website monitoring than it was to even mention organic vs. paid-for listings some ten years ago. More savvy hoteliers means that the more difficult concepts can now be explained and sold where appropriate.

Another thing that is changing, is that the entire marketplace of on-line advertising. The battle for the right keywords is now a science. A good friend of mine is starting this month his PhD in UCL on applied mathematics and algorithmic trending – which will basically train him to write programmes that calculate the mood of the surfers, practically identifying not just the current SEO trends and customer wants, but also to predict future ones. And some heavy-weight player will employ him to do SEO work, whilst a lot of hoteliers out there aren’t even looking at SEO yet. Unlike PPC, SEO gives early entrants massive advantages – which means that those that go early will remain ahead of the pack for a long time.  In PPC, when a keyword becomes expensive for you, it is equally expensive for everyone (and richer players have more room to push you out). In SEO early entrants have the advantages and it will take the richer players a significant amount of disproportionate effort to push you out of the way.

Finally, I have definitely changed – especially since SEO and I were properly introduced. And this is one acquaintance that I can’t recommend enough.

Today, I find myself arguing that SEO is exactly where hoteliers needs to go. The varying degrees of understanding it, and its much weaker image behind PPC are indications that much fewer people in the industry are trying it out. And those that do? Given that there isn’t a small number of companies that would charge peanuts to undertake it (and deliver work of equivalent value), one must assume that on average the work that is done, isn’t done as well as one would hope.

All these challenges mean one thing. This is virgin territory – an arena that draws from tangible no-black-hat sciences like consumer psychology, mathematics, economics and principles of demand and supply – where if you are making any effort, you are already ahead of the game. This is the market to be in – every time.

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, Marketing, Pay Per Click, Search Engine Optimisation