Tag Archives: International

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

New Babel Multilingual Product designed to help hotels go to the world

After a lot of discussions, test, design and re-design, the two teams that have the understanding and resources to make a truly exciting and excellent product happen, have finally done it. I am delighted to announce that BABEL Multilingual, the new form of international e-commerce marketing for hotels, is now available for hoteliers to get… and if the conditions are right, we will do this for FREE… well, almost!

Almost a decade ago, when I first met with the guys from OBAN in a presentation they did at the Sussex Innovation Centre, I had one of these light-bulb moments. Whilst the rest of us were battling to convince hotels that spending some money with Google for some track-able advertising was a good idea (again, this was a decade ago and the market was very, very different) OBAN were talking to their blue chip clients about the end game. Proper internationalisation projects where everything is done on a per country basis, with thorough and creative local research techniques that would help identify what the search engine AND cultural requirements of each country were, and use all this information for home-grown websites, talking to each customer in his or her language, from within his or her country… why hadn’t I thought of that??!

OBAN and I hit it off right away. These guys were wondering why they had such success with global giants around the world (think BMW, governments and tourism departments of Holland, Spain, Abu Dhabi etc.), yet when it came to hotels, there seemed to be some barriers… We looked at it back then, and we pretty quickly figured it out. The level of sophistication required for boldly investing some serious money to gain a well-worth it international presence, seemed to be firmly in the court of the large chains – those with international presence in the first place. Any single hotel or small chain, which would typically invest under 10K a year on their entire website effort for their .com and .co.uk versions were very unlikely to invest with such commitment…

I immediately knew there was a gap in the market there… hotels are natural targets for foreign customers. And searches from other countries, in other languages will always yield… well… “other” results. An international version of a hotel’s website, living and growing within the target (source) country HAS to be a good thing to have. And having it sooner rather than later, HAS to be a good thing, as age is generally a factor that helps you with your organic listings extremely significantly. I know that if a hotel places a .de version of their website properly in Germany, they will have what is called “early entrant benefits” for many years to come.

There was definitely an opportunity there… Fast forward to today, and I am delighted to say that I genuinely believe we have come up with the answer.

How does it all work?

  • BABEL is a product where we take the hotel’s website and we re-construct it – using OBAN‘s awesome services – in foreign languages and for a foreign audience.
  • First we look at each hotel individually in terms of price, style and location. We then make a call on where we think there is an opportunity for them internationally (given existing AND projected international tourism trends).
  • Then we send the guys at OBAN‘s various international offices the hotel’s existing URL, and we ask them to evaluate if the website will work in that market.
  • Each of the international offices will then re-construct the website from within that country to match both the online behaviour of the guests (e.g. the terms they are using to find a hotel) but also their cultural requirements (I always have fun explaining to hoteliers why their website is going to be having slightly different colours for a Chinese version..).
  • The hotels typically approve any suggested changes right away and we crack on with buying the correct URLs, hosting a site locally (or simulating local hosting – depending on the market) and then fine-tuning the text.
  • We then get the booking engine sorted. Pre, post and confirmation e-mails – as well as modification and cancellation confirmations are translated alongside with room and hotel descriptions. The entire experience has to be strictly seamless.
  • We finally launch and we generate traffic and reservations from these countries.. and there is the kick. A hotel typically won’t have paid anything until that point. They are only asked to pay a commission on the value of the reservation, once the reservations start going through, and only for a period of time. When we have been paid for our work, the then established and well producing sites are returned to the hotels and the reservations from abroad become free!

The real excitement for me is that this has never been done before. Hotels paying on a CPA basis for an established, thorough and otherwise very expensive multilingual expansion and localisation service is a completely new thing – and seeing it move from a glint in my eye a few years ago to a real, working concept that generated revenues for the hotels – where they didn’t have anything before – is just extremely rewarding!

With thanks for reading – and don’t be shy to give us your feedback and thoughts.

Yannis Anastasakis
www.ehotelworks.com

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Filed under Conversions, eCommerce, Hotels, International, Multilingual, Search Engine Optimisation