By Udai Singh Solanki, MD & CTO, eRevMax Technologies
Headquartered in London, eRevMax Technologies enhance the opportunities of online revenue generation for hotels through real time distribution, market intelligence and connectivity solutions. The company provides specifically tailored solutions within its core product brands – RateTiger, RTConnect and LIVE OS.
More people in India today have access to mobile device than toilets. While the irony is tragic, what can’t be ignored is that mobile phone has become a necessity in India. At the beginning of this year, Indian mobile phone subscriber base have crossed the 1 billion mark. To say that the figure is mind blowing would be an understatement. With easy availability of low cost smartphones, mobile is driving the internet penetration in the country and currently has around 371 million mobile internet users according to the latest report from IAMAI.
Truth be told, mobile technology has empowered us and altered communication modes and social behavior. Travelers are today carrying a digital world with them. The disruption is the most visible in transport sector where the rising popularity of app based on-demand cab services like Ola and Uber have made huge impact on the taxi market. With mobile becoming a driving force for decision making, the hospitality industry, too, has to fundamentally change the way they do business. Putting that in perspective, today we deal with a customer who has access to market data all the time. Right from planning to booking to sharing feedback, the traveler is using the web, largely through a connected mobile device at every step.
According to a Google report, Indian traveler hotel searches in Google from mobile saw 2900 percent growth from 2011 to 2014. This is much higher than matured markets like US or Europe. Mobile is the primary screen for media consumption in India and it’s important for the hospitality industry to provide seamless user experience. However, seamless online experience requires technology knowhow. Apart from the bigger players, a large number of small and individual properties, which constitute the majority, have found it challenging to adapt to technology due to lack of investment capabilities and skill set. These, along with the lack of standardization and extreme fragmentation are reasons why 2 in 3 bookings are made on online travel agencies (OTAs).
Oyorooms was one of the first to tap into the unorganized sector and brought budget properties under its brand. They provide the technology and handle revenue management. Many other startups followed suit to cash on this segment which is estimated to be worth over Rs. 88,000 crores. For smaller hotels, this has opened an opportunity to expand their market and increase occupancy manifold. However, keeping multiple online sales channels up-to-date have been a daunting task. Channel management technology has helped hotels to manage OTAs, but hotel business is not just about publishing rates and availabilities.
Travel is all about experience and sharing it with others. In a hyper-connected country like ours, social media is the place where the sharing happens. There are around 15 crore social media users in India, of which close to 10 crore access it through mobile. We spend on average 2.5 hours a day on social media. This has made social media as one of the most popular marketing channels for the travel brands. As marketing shifts from outbound to inbound, hospitality industry is using social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for promotions and customer engagement.
While I was writing this article, one of the pioneers of IT revolution in India, tweeted about his experience in an airline. Social media gives potential guests an opportunity to directly interact with the providers. According to Phocus Wright survey of TripAdvisor users, Indians are most likely to avoid booking a hotel with no review. TripAdvisor alone has over 3 crore reviews of Indian hotels and attractions. While this is a double edged sword, globally it has been found that brands which acknowledge mistakes and engage with the customers, score high on trust quotient.
In India, where online research drives hotel bookings, it is important for hoteliers to capture potential guest’s attention at every stage of the travel buying journey, from inspiration to 'showroom’ viewing to purchasing to finally posting review. However, it is likely that the probable guest is using mobile while on the go, and hence has a shorter attention span. OTAs with superior technology know-how have been able to adapt to the changes and been taking on the ‘mobile first’ approach. Hotels of all sizes and categories should also follow suit. To start with, they can invest in responsive web-based brand site which provides an optimal viewing experience, easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling across a wide range of devices.
For OTAs, mobile app has also become an entry point, especially for the first-time users. It might not be financially viable for an independent property to develop a mobile app. However, ignoring this all important channel would amount to loss of potential revenue. For hoteliers, this essentially indicates that unless they treat mobile as a high demand channel offering easy and safe booking options backed by dedicated promotions, a lion’s share of bookings will go to the OTAs which have been early adapters of this change.
Mobile is here to stay and that is the reason major travel players have come to consolidate in the mobile sector and combine services for a cohesive planning and booking experience. This brings its own challenges, however, the speed and scope for growth is enormous.