Hotel Online  Special Report

Now That Online Hotel Booking Is Here to Stay,
New Challenges Emerge
By: Neil Salerno, Hotel Marketing Coach April 2005

The “promise” of the Internet is now within sight. Its popularity continues to grow exponentially. If there is any remaining skepticism about the viability of electronic marketing, it lies among those few with their heads still in the sand. 

There has been an explosion of new technology in recent years. To see where we are headed, we need to see where we’ve been. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love new technology, especially the Internet, but I fear that we are losing the basic principle of our industry…our sense of hospitality.

The Global Distribution System

Look at how far we’ve come. Those of us, who have been around long enough, remember the early development of the Global Distribution System and how it revolutionized travel. Imagine having the ability to call your favorite travel agent to book airline, hotel, car rental, and land tours; all with just one phone call or personal visit. We marveled at the technology and consumers loved it. 

Travel agencies grew in enormous numbers during the 70’s and 80’s and travel flourished. Travel agents do much more than simply book travel; they promote travel. 

Travel agents are the human contacts who also dispense personal advice on travel; the best schedule to follow, best airlines to book, best hotels, and best tours. Consumers listen to their personal experiences, gained from many familiarization tours, and build a bond of trust in their advice. If something goes wrong, travelers have a human being who will hear their complaints, console them, and make everything alright.

Hoteliers fell in love with this relationship. We instantly gained a whole new and powerful sales force to help us promote and sell our hotels.  Hotel franchises were quick to make management of the GDS a central part of their franchise agreements; recognizing the GDS’s huge revenue potential. Hoteliers happily paid the GDS a commission and fees for they knew that travel agents were promoting hotels in ways we could not do as hoteliers.

We watched eagerly as hotel voice reservation centers honed their training skills to enable their reservation agents to provide the very best in sales and service. We loved this sales network.

The Internet is changing all that. Now, consumers have hands-on control over their own travel arrangements. Let’s face it; they can make reservations on their own in just a few minutes online, without outside human contact or assistance. As wonderful as this new technology is, what are we sacrificing? 

Travel agents do much more than simply book business. They provide personal human contact and advice to the travel experience. Are we really going to be content with letting a web site and our “best rates” tell the whole story about our hotels? For many travelers, this will suffice, but, for many others, human intervention will always play an important role in promoting our hotels. 

Will the success of the Internet signal the demise of the commissioned travel agent and the GDS? One company recently predicted the end of this model for doing business, part of the new breed of technical thinking. Others rebut this philosophy, believing, as I do, that the success of the Internet will spawn a new breed of travel intermediaries; perhaps, travel advisors. Travel agents will adapt if we work with them.

Anyone, who has read my articles since 1996, knows that I have been a long-time supporter of the Internet, but I am also from the old guard who fears that the evolution of the Internet is causing us to lose the personal human dialogue which accompanied the travel experience. It seems not long ago that we had no choice except to talk to a human being to make our travel arrangements; hear a friendly voice, and tidbits of advice at the same time.

Do you remember when we relied on human beings to answer the phone? As imperfect as it was, don’t we sometimes crave that human contact? Ever feel frustrated with automated phone systems designed to keep us from talking to a human being? We have a love-hate relationship with voice-mail; we love the efficiency, but hate that we are being distanced from actually communicating with someone. 

We know that business travelers love the Internet and why not? We’ve shown them how to beat our rack and negotiated rates; we’ve guaranteed that they can find our lowest rates on our web sites and they enjoy that too. Our industry has made the Internet a shopper’s bargain basement in our eagerness to get people to use this amazing tool. 

For vacation travel, wholesalers, who faithfully served travel agents by packaging travel for easier selling, have now moved to selling directly to the consumer online. Travel agent, when it comes to the Internet, you’re on your own. 

It’s amazing, but some franchises are even experimenting with human-less kiosk check-ins at the front desk. Oh, I know all this is progress; technology can be a hypnotic influence as we seek efficiency and more profit dollars. We’ve been trying to reduce front office payroll for a long time. Do you remember at the advent of the computerized front office system it was promoted to save labor? In some ways it did, but it also replaced the $7.00 per hour front desk person with the $10 per hour technically skilled front office representative. That’s progress.

A Challenge 

So what should we do now? I would like to challenge all those bright technically oriented people to find ways we can use technology to keep and enhance the “human factor” in our industry. We do not have to sacrifice one of the most the most important elements in the travel experience…human influence.

Progress can be insidious. I watched in awe at our industry’s outrageous negative reaction to third-party Internet suppliers. These suppliers spend $millions to promote travel and our hotels. Hotels which would never get good exposure on the Internet were promoted and sold by the suppliers. 

Ironically, third-party suppliers only posed a danger to the franchises themselves. After all, if suppliers were allowed to take over the Internet, why would we need franchises to promote out hotels? It was even anticipated that some franchise hotels would shed their franchises as a result. The franchises used their collective brain-power to wrestle back control of the Internet and now all is well. 

I suggest that we use that collective brain-power to now find new ways to better partner with our travel agent sales force to promote our hotels. We share the same mission. Is there an hotelier who would not happily pay a 10% commission for new business? 

Travel Advisors 

Maybe travel agents will evolve into travel advisors. Perhaps a new alliance needs to be developed. Our partnership with people who avidly promote our hotels and travel should not be allowed to wither. As wonderful as it is, the Internet will never be our sole source for business.

Some believed the end of the travel agency was predestined when airlines decided they no longer needed them. Many travel agents did disappear, but many also are looking for ways to adapt their businesses and continue to promote travel. The airline industry never enjoyed the “hospitality” relationship with the traveling public. There never was any emotional attachment involved in booking a one hour flight. 

I may be a rare breed but I believe that personal service still has a place in the travel buying process in our industry. The Internet is still a just a toddler growing and evolving and new technologies are being developed faster than many of us can track. Let’s remember that this is still the “hospitality” industry. Internet technology and our tradition of hospitality need not be mutually exclusive. 

Improvements in technology will continue to enhance our lives and bottom-line profit margins, but we do not need to relinquish hospitality to do it.



Neil L. Salerno, CHME, CHA
The Hotel Marketing Coach

Also See: Independent Boutique Hotels Can Compete With their Big Box Neighbors / Neil Salerno / April 2005
Who Are Your Most Important Guests? We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! / Neil Salerno / March 2005
New Consumer Hotel Booking Preferences - They Love the Internet…Now What? / Neil Salerno / March 2005
Who Would Have Thought - Today's Hotel Marketing Necessity Is Also its Best Value / March 2005
Time For a Hotel Web Site “Make-Over”? Methods for Building a Successful Web Site Change / Neil Salerno / March 2005
Create Impact by Developing a Link Strategy For Your Hotel Web Site / Neil Salerno / February 2005
Steps to Develop Your Hotel's Presence on the Web / Neil Salerno / February 2005
Five Hotel Internet Marketing Myths - Busted!/ Neil Salerno / January 2005
How Does Your Hotel Web Site Measure-Up? 2005 Will Be the Internet’s Most Productive Year so Far / Neil Salerno / January 2005
Are You Being Out-Hustled By Your Competition? How to Dominate Your Hotel's Market Set / Neil Salerno / December 2004
Why Are Some Hotel Companies Plagued By Management Turnover? Is This Systematic of Poor Performance? / Neil Salerno / December 2004
Basic Components of a Hotel Website: Current Weather, Flash Animation, and Virtual Tours?? Plain Talk About Internet Sales / Neil Salerno / February 2004
Don’t Compromise Your Goals In 2004; Five New Year’s Resolutions You Will Want To Keep / Neil Salerno / January 2004
No More Whining About Third-Party Suppliers; You Control Your Own Fate On The Net / Neil Salerno / December 2003
Six 'Maxi’s' Guaranteed To Boost Hotel Sales / Neil Salerno / November 2003
It’s Time To Take Back Control Of Rates & Rooms - But Is The Enemy...Us? / Neil Salerno / November 2003
Booking Engines Are Like A Box of Chocolates...You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get! / Neil Salerno / October 2003
Hotel Web Site & Search Engine Optimization; Always A Work In Progress / Neil L. Salerno / October 2003
Hotel Budgets and Marketing Plans; Oh No, Is It That Time Again? / Neil L. Salerno / September 2003
Increasing Hotel Internet Sales Is Not Rocket Science...And It Doesn’t Have To Be Costly Either / Neil L. Salerno / September 2003
Are You Treating Third Party eWholesalers As Competititon Or a Valuable Marketing Partner? / Neil L. Salerno / August 2003
How Often Have You Heard, 'I could have gotten a better rate but the client saw our rates on the Internet' ? It’s Time To Get Back To Selling Location, Facilities, and Services / Neil L. Salerno / August 2003
Before You Begin that Marketing Plan Challenge Your Sales Team; Expect More and Get More / Neil L. Salerno / July 2003
Jump Up and Shout Yes - Delivering Best Online Customer Experience, Nice Job Vividence! / Neil L. Salerno / July 2003
Is The Internet Delivering On Its Promise? Well, It Depends on How you Look at It / Neil L. Salerno / June 2003
Coaching and Mentoring, Sometimes A New Paradigm Can Go A Long Way / Neil L. Salerno / June 2003
Sales Training Works Well, But Sales Mentoring Makes It More Effective; Mentoring Lasts a Lifetime / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
Is It Time For A Sales Tune-up? How Healthy Was Your Last Forecast? / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
Hotel Web Sites; Want it Creative or Effective? / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
If You Always Do What You Have Always Done.... You’ll Always Get What You Always Got! Hotelier’s Mantra... Thinking Outside The Box / Neil L. Salerno / April 2003
Good Sales Planning - The Basics Still Work / Neil L. Salerno / April 2003

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