Paul Evans – Clarity is key to web sales

I always enjoy World Travel Market. It is the time to see old friends and review the summer just gone, and look forward to see what opportunities there might be ahead. There is no doubt that the new online players are now being taken seriously by all the hotel groups – but it took a while.


I can remember when I helped launch Holiday Hotels some years ago (now part of Lastminute.com), I used to struggle to explain to overseas properties what we were trying to do in linking hotel with the expanding flight-only market, and how online and dynamic packaging would grow.


They would listen politely, nod with interest, and give me rooms primarily, I think, because it was me, and I had a past track record of delivery with Airtours and First Choice. I don’t think they really understood the concept or the opportunity.


Hotel beds were bought with the now antiquated system of giving out allocations, signing release dates, sending rooming lists – a method that many of the dinosaurs still use today.


I remember when I was still a dinosaur (with Airtours) when Sandals, which was the first hotel I know of to introduce all rooms on a ‘free sale’ basis, told me how it worked – basically, first come first served – and me thinking at the time the company was mad. How wrong could I have been?


Most hotels are now moving to free sale – first come, first served –  with the ability to stop the sale if needs be. Many of the large chains are introducing direct connectivity or extranets to control room inventory


Controlling the cost of sale is fundamental to the profitability of any business, which is why I have always resisted the extranet. We at Lowcost are probably in the half-way house, with slick laptop technology that allows us to now put a contract on sale from point of delivery in the hotel in seconds if we need to – often from overseas.


Others, like Expedia and HotelBeds, choose to favour the extranet system, giving, in my view, too much power to hotels to load and control rates and allocations, putting the onus on the supplier to update rates and availability.


I don’t know which is right, but I suspect that once you get to a certain critical mass, content management is just too complicated, time consuming and inefficient – especially if you don’t hand over a part of the loading to your suppliers, which is why larger players choose to go down this route.


What I do know is that the advent of XMLs, free sales, extranets and the Internet has improved access to stock and speed to market enormously.


We are seeing similar occurrences in cruise and flights, though these sectors are perhaps a little more unclear as to where they stand on direct connectivity with agents and operators


Good technology is so important that, frankly, it is now even more important than good rates. Sad, but true.


The passenger journey through a website, allowing it to be easy, clean and clear, is so fundamental to taking a booking online. Therefore conversion and sale success are, in my view, the most important elements of this distribution channel.


Passengers are loyal to websites that work – period. Yes, even above rates!


We recently undertook an outside review of all of our sites and the findings were scary in some instances.


The lesson I learnt through the process is this: do not presume clients know where Majorca is, or what a transfer is, or even what some terms – that we in the industry consider as standard – mean.


Information has to be presented very clearly and simply if a passenger is to navigate their way through the site – otherwise you will lose them.


Paul Evans is chief executive at LowCostBeds

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