The Reach Of OTAs Can Be Addictive - Interview with Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels
The arrival of E-commerce has transformed the way hotels sell rooms and online sales have become a crucial part of the business. With the industry being dynamic and trends continue to change every year, in this interview Franco Sterl talks about E-commerce trends, the threat of OTAs and the direct booking landscape.
You have been in the business for the past ten years. What is the biggest change you have seen?
How do you picture the future of independent hotels in the online environment?
All great innovations and new technologies require a substantial investment of time, money, knowledge and manpower. From my perspective, these are the biggest pain points of individual hotels when it comes to digital innovations and solutions. I am sure that more and more solutions will be tailored to the specific needs of individual hotels. The potential is huge!
Which are the most important E-commerce trends for 2018 that hotels should be aware of?
In my opinion, there are two important trends to be aware of: Personalization and "Mobile is key". Modern travelers expect a personalized experience and want to feel unique. To fulfil this need, hotels must rely on digital solutions, on solid/high-quality data warehousing and on well-trained staff. A well-balanced combination of these elements is the key to success for hoteliers. Hoteliers have to offer guests a seamless and unique mobile experience. This may sound old-fashioned, but reality shows that a lot of hotels don't even have a dedicated mobile version of their website. Everyone in the industry needs to understand the growing importance of mobile device usage.
You are now 100 days in your position. How are you planning to expand WorldHotels' digital marketing capabilities?
When I started, my first priority was to build up a strong E-Commerce team with a global setup to serve our hotels with knowledge, guidance and local expertise. The consultants now work closely with our hotels to get the maximum out of their websites and booking engines. We recently finalized our brand-new E-Commerce solution for hotels, which focusses mainly on the following areas: Web Audits, Consultation, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization and modern tracking tools to convert traffic into bookers.
What do you expect the OTA and the direct booking landscape to look like in 2020?
I am sure that the landscape will look more balanced. OTAs will still play an important role in the digital distribution world, but the share of direct bookings will recover. The latest developments and studies have proven that the fight against increasing dependencies on third party distribution suppliers is yielding positive results. Hotels need to keep focusing on their own strengths and channels. This is the only way to escape this vicious circle.
How do you see the online independent hotel industry in the next five years?
Hopefully much stronger! Individual hotels can learn a lot from the big players and from other industries. They just need to do their "online-homework" and the results will be visible very quickly. Independent hotels are the ones giving hotel markets a personality - they can reap the benefits of the digital world.
Do you think OTAs are a threat for hotels?
Yes and no. OTAs can bring great benefits to the distribution landscape of hotels but the usage is also connected with some major risks. OTAs have a reach that an individual hotel will never have. This reach and power can be addictive! Being addicted always means that it is hard to get out of the dependency. Hotels always need to use these channels wisely and in a restrictive manner. Only by controlling these channels very tightly, can they be a great benefit for individual hotels. The focus should always be on your own distribution channels.
Do you expect Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp will become important future distribution channels?
I believe that these channels will play an increasing role in terms of lead generation for hotels. Instagram and Co. are the new hotel brochures with a very high level of credibility. These channels allow guests to get real insights and to interact with hotels and brands. It is very important that hotels actively manage these channels and spend time with social activities because these channels play an important role within the travel decision process.
Which are the three key points revenue and E-Commerce managers should keep at the forefront of their minds?
Guests are people and not a set of data. Switch sides and look at things from the guest perspective, be always up-to-date and keep up to date with technology.
world's most unique independent hotels, including almost 350 member hotels and resorts, collectively incorporating 75,000 rooms. This includes 175 hotels and resorts in Europe, 93 in Asia Pacific, 19 in South America, 11 inthe Middle East, 5 in Africa, and 38 in North America. Each hotel in the Worldhotels portfolio has been carefully selected to ensure it meets the group's strict quality standards. Worldhotels backs independent hotels with the power of a global brand while allowing them to retain their individual character and identity. The group offers an "affiliation model" which provides a comprehensive range of services including a global sales network, marketing, training, e-commerce and state-of-the-art distribution technology. Guests can also earn points with the group's own loyalty program, Worldhotels Peakpoints and redeem them for hotel vouchers. Alternatively, they can collect miles for eligible stays thanks to 22 frequent flyer programs. The company remains based and headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany.
The 40-year-old Worldhotels ( worldhotels.com ) is a global brand that brings together some of the