Interview: Bookassist bucks the trend with continued growth in revenue and staff
Bookassist CEO Dr Des O’Mahony in conversation with the Hotel & Restaurant Times, June 2009.
Bookassist is in an unusual situation compared to most firms in the current downturn. Bucking the trend, the Dublin-headquartered online marketing strategy and reservations technology company continues to grow its revenues. It has even embarked on another recruitment drive for its offices in Ireland and abroad, targeting skilled senior managers and employees in business development, search engine marketing and sales.
“We’re not entirely insulated from the economic situation, we do see significant changes across all our markets”, says Dr Des O’Mahony, Bookassist CEO and co-founder. “Ireland has certainly seen pressure on rates and on occupancy, but those issues also make hoteliers more aware of the value of the services being offered, so delivering on your promises is more important than ever, and Bookassist works hard on that.”
Bookassist has expanded its staff not just in Ireland, but has recruited a new team for Central Europe based at its Prague office and has begun to build significant business in Spain, Austria, Italy and France. “What we learn in one market, we can apply in another, so having a broad view of the industry and how it reacts in different ways in different countries is a great advantage that we can bring to our hotel clients”, says O’Mahony.
The optimistic view
Having recently given a presentation on the optimistic side of the fence at the Smile conference on May 21st in Dublin, O’Mahony plays down the doom and gloom that much of the industry is dwelling on at the moment and insists that there are opportunities to be tapped into right now.
“There is a big focus on the trends downwards, the averages in rates and occupancy looking bad compared to previous years etc. There’s a lot of negativity and some is undoubtedly justified. But there are two sides to this. Firstly, averages mean nothing to an individual hotel – the beauty of averages is that for every piece of data that’s below the line there’s one above the line, outperforming the average. This is where you want to be. Secondly, looking at rates only hides the fact that if the cost per acquisition can be reduced, lowering of rates is far less painful.”
The discussion on strategy is one that Bookassist staff increasingly try to have with hotels, insisting that despite the software products on offer, no piece of code is going to increase a hotel’s revenue without the hotel changing how they view the marketplace. Bookassist is about “providing strategic solutions to the hotel industry, not just software”, according to O’Mahony.
“We are pushing the strategic opportunities for hotels right now, and are proving directly to our clients that there are real gains to be made despite the situation most hotels find themselves in. Getting your strategy right in terms of diverting as much business as possible to direct bookings means that your cost of acquisition has dropped considerably compared to other channels. And getting that strategy working means that you are far better positioned to build repeat custom online and take advantage of the inevitable upswing that will come.”
Traditional marketing has been rapidly overtaken
Despite the success of the company’s approach in the Irish marketplace over the past 10 years, where in excess of 35% of Irish hotels now use Bookassist technology, O’Mahony still thinks Irish hoteliers have a way to go when it comes to online strategy: “The Irish marketplace is quite advanced in how it embraces the internet, compared to many markets we operate in. But we still find many situations where hotels expect, or want, say 30% to 40% of their total business to be done online, but wouldn’t for a second consider spending 30% to 40% of their marketing budget on that area. This makes no sense at all – traditional marketing has rapidly been overtaken by new online thinking that hotels are simply nowhere near keeping up with. The work that we are doing with our Web 2.0 enabled booking service, customer reviews, blogs, YouTube, Twitter etc, all of these things are not only paying dividends in terms of increasing a hotel’s exposure in the search results, but they are building a hotel’s brand and increasing their online revenue too.”
O’Mahony recently took a team of Bookassist expert staff on the road to highlight the rapidly changing internet environment to the hotel industry, holding all day seminars in the Czech Republic, France and throughout Ireland for the hotel sector. The roadshow continues in Spain and in Austria shortly. “We still find hotels talking about the importance of hits on their websites without realizing that the key issue is conversion. All the traffic in the world is worth nothing if people aren’t booking. To achieve conversion, to grow conversion, is often about good old-fashioned service levels being transferred to the web environment. This is where we believe Bookassist technology has the edge”.
“The innovative approach in Bookassist’s technology is that it is customer-centric, always has been. The quality of service that a hotel expects to give to a guest at the check-in desk, that’s what we aim to achieve with the online booking experience. Anything less is erosion of the hotel’s service levels and of the hotel’s brand and would not be good enough. If you get that online service level right, then you not only increase your conversion, but you significantly increase your chances of getting that customer’s repeat business online also. Service, attention to detail, these things really matter in an environment like the internet where the competition is pretty much cut-throat.”
The company was the first in the industry to directly integrate their booking engine data with Google’s Analytics tracking tool. This allows participating hotels to see which bookings were generated by which online advertising campaigns and how much was spent to get each booking. This analysis in turn leads to fine-tuning of the online spend budget and a significant increase in the conversion rate for online advertising compared to standard tracking methods. “The beauty of integrating Bookassist with Analytics is that you no longer simply say ‘a hundred euros spent gave me 20 bookings’, which is a standard tracking analysis”, explains O’Mahony. “With our approach, you can say that this advert here, displayed online at this time, cost me this many cents, generated that booking right there, and made me that many euros margin. It’s taken all of the guesswork out of online advertising.”
Bookassist goes far beyond booking and online marketing technology, offering content management system web design, corporate booking facilities, loyalty and rewards systems, GDS management and PMS connectivity. The company is working on a number of new technologies that will reach the market place in the autumn. “We are constantly asking our online customers and our hotels what they want us to do next. Practically everything we develop is driven by feedback, not just by what we ourselves feel we should do”, says O’Mahony, adding: “although sometimes we do surprise them all with something completely new and unexpected, just to keep it more interesting for us and for them!”
Bookassist products and services are described on their corporate website bookassist.org. Bookassist also carries out and publishes market research articles and whitepapers on blogs.bookassist.com/blogs/industry/. To stay up to date, you can follow Bookassist on Twitter at twitter.com/bookassist.
©2009 Hotel & Restaurant Times