26 Jun Booking.com, Self-Competition
26 June 2018
With 35 million tourists in 2017, and forecasts of more than 37 million visitors this year, Thailand is increasingly claiming its place as a major destination, and both foreign and Thai travelers make up a financial godsend in several sectors. Parichat Haenen from Booking.com talks with Latitudes about the biggest trends in the tourism industry.
For the second edition of “Chiang Mai Connect” organized by the Netherlands-Thai Chamber of Commerce (NTCC) on May 3, Parichat Hainen, the regional director of Booking.com for Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, presented the digital trends in the tourism industry, highlighting the importance for the hotel booking site to have a presence in the region.
“Ten years ago, booking hotels online was something new, and most places only worked through travel agencies. By moving into the region, we have helped hotel owners find out about the platform as well as assist them to promote their property through the site,” she explains.
Launched in the Netherlands in 1996, the online booking site, owned by the Priceline Group, which also includes Kayak, Agoda, and OpenTable, has grown to become one of the leaders in the market. Now available in 226 countries and listing more than 28 million entries from hotels to guesthouses, from bed & breakfasts to private apartments, Booking.com boasts more than 1.4 million nights booked every day all over the world!
After working for three years with the Accor Group for the Sofitel and Novotel brands, Parichat Haenen started her career at Booking.com in 2007, at the very beginning of
the group’s expansion into Asia. As the group’s first Thai employee, which at the time was only present in Singapore, she initiated the creation of an office in Bangkok in 2010.
Since then, others have opened in Thailand (Phuket, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai), but also in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Yangon, and most recently, Vientiane. From 500 hotels listed in 2010, Booking.com Thailand now has more than 26,000 lodging options, with 7,000 in Vietnam, 2,500 in Cambodia, and 900 in Laos.
“In Bangkok, Phuket, and Samui, the development was very swift, mostly because many hotel owners were foreigners and were more open to being listed on Booking.com. However, in Chiang Mai in the beginning, it was a real challenge. The community there is more conservative and we came in with something that was truly new,” adds Parichat, for whom human relations with hotel managers is crucial, just as much as providing assistance in their own language, both to convince them to agree to be listed on the site and to help them promote their business as effectively as possible.
Room With a Review
Online hotel booking sites have radically transformed the way we travel. Whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure, the site is aimed at a wide audience, giving similar visibility to beach bungalows as well as luxury hotels.
“The internet has created such transparency that it has become a threat to brands that aren’t sufficiently differentiated. However, it’s the best ally for brands that have a strong identity,” explained Darren Housten, the president of Priceline and Booking.com in a recent interview with Le Figaro.
To stand out, hotels have to rely on the quality of their photos, but above all, on the ratings left by clients. “Internet users who want to book a room only look at the photos and reviews, the description is not so important. This is why we don’t censor criticism. We post everything and let the hotels reply so they can explain themselves if they get a negative comment. Today, the site has more than 130 million reviews,” says the regional director.
According to a recent study by PhoCusWright carried out for TripAdvisor, 83% of the people questioned stated that reviews help them to choose the right hotel, 80% read between 6 and 12 reviews before booking, and 53% wouldn’t plan on booking anything without checking the reviews.
Other selection criteria include a comfortable mattress (44%), an incredible or “Instagrammable” view (39%), a large breakfast (35%), a spacious room (33%), and a good Wi-Fi connection (32%). “In the past two or three years, social networks have been playing an increasingly important role in the choice of a hotel, especially with Thai people,” says Parichat.
Indeed, although international tourism is constantly increasing, local tourism is also booming, with the top destinations for Thai travelers being Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Rai, and Cha Am. As for traveling abroad, Japan and Taiwan are their preferred destinations because of low plane ticket costs and because there’s no need for a visa to visit. “During Songkran, you’re likely to come across more Thai people than Japanese people in Tokyo,” says Parichat jokingly.
Booking.com has matched 128 million client comments with the results of surveys carried out with 19,000 people in 26 countries to reveal the biggest travel trends in 2018. It turns out that travelers are increasingly trusting technologies and suggestions made when it comes to activities and destinations.
Nearly a third (29%) of world travellers appreciate a computer program that can organize their next adventure using their travel history, and 64% would like a preview of their destination using virtual reality. The reasons for traveling include the desire to visit one of the wonders of the world, or to spend a few days on an island paradise. Cultural activities and sports are also decisive factors for traveling.
For 39% of those surveyed, inspiration comes from blogs and recommendations of their favorite YouTubers, while 36% prefer to go to where their favorite series, movies, or music videos were shot.
In Thailand, the success of the film Lost in Thailand has attracted many Chinese tourists to Chiang Mai and the rest of the Kingdom. At the local level, the city of Pai has seen the number of Thai tourists increase after the release of the movie Pai in Love. More recently, the television series Bupphesaniwat (“Love and Destiny”) has put the former capital city Ayutthaya at the top of the list of destinations. More than a fifth (22%) of travelers would be tempted by a major sports event, 43% of whom for the Football World Cup in Russia this summer.
“Wellness traveling and spas are continuing their rise in popularity,” adds Parichat. “The latest trend in this type of traveling is ‘living like a local,’ but not with a local! People want a unique, original experience as close as possible to the local population, but not necessarily having to constantly talk with them.”
Booking.com is continuing to expand its services and options. “Actually, our greatest competitor is ourselves! We have gone from a hotel booking platform to a site where you can book any kind of lodging. We currently offer more private apartments than Airbnb, and our listing is continuing to grow. We’re also testing out a way to effectively integrate our various services so you can simultaneously book a hotel, car, or restaurant from one platform. We want people to be able to book anything on Booking.com. We’re setting up an ‘experience’ service. Once you book a hotel, you can plan your activities during your stay and the visits you might want to do. For the moment, Booking Experiences is available in 40 cities all over the world, including 4 in Asia: Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Tokyo. But we should soon be adding other cities such as Chiang Mai, which shows great potential for us,” says Parichat Haenen.