The vaccine rollouts are progressing, which means the rebuilding of traveler confidence isn’t far behind. The next big step is the reopening of international borders, for which we are all awaiting travel bubbles to be established by governments, IATA or other transactional authorities. For hotels that want to capitalize upon this re-emergence of global travel, though, a key step you must undertake right now is to configure and automate the way your content is displayed on third-party websites.
First, we should give some clarity. By ‘content,’ we’re referring to all the non-sellable attributes that accompany a hotel’s nightly rate and address including text descriptions, images, amenities, cancellation policies, COVID-19 safety procedures, onsite service availability and so on—practically everything that influences bookings besides the price.
To understand why content is a leading determinant for hotel selections in this post-pandemic environment, we have to first look at how dramatically customer behavior and hotel operations have changed since March 2020. For this, we sat down with a content distribution expert, Andreas Posmeck, the CEO of GIATA, who shed some light on the forces that will drive revenues from international arrivals in the next few business cycles.
Guests Will Still Be Hesitant
We agreed with Posmeck that—following a full year of uncertainty, traveler confusion and outright fear—international customers have more or less been trained to be hesitant about booking hotels, even with a shot in the arm of vaccine-driven confidence. While people still yearn to travel like it’s 2019, they have cautiously retreated to their most-trusted accommodation sources—ones that show booking flexibility, good deals, packages, clearly stated COVID safety measures and a variety of lodging options.
Adding to this uncertainty are all the changes to various hotel operations; nearly every aspect of a property now comes with an additive layer of COVID precautions along with reopening dates, new hours of operation and other amenity offering substitutions. Customers need to know all these changes in full detail prior to making a reservation decision, and if a hotel isn’t displaying its content to accurately convey all these key points, then guests will book elsewhere—that is, those competitors where all these important points are in fact comprehensively described.
In many cases, this ‘retreat’ to the most-trusted source puts the OTAs back at the forefront, and indeed travel search data from 2020 confirms these websites’ year-over-year growth in search traffic and market share. For certain territories, however, this could also include credible tour operators or wholesalers, especially those that display listings in a customer’s native language.
As something to think about for this last point, there are nearly eight billion people in the world, yet how many consider themselves English-primary speakers? A quick lookup of most commonly spoken languages (this infographic for instance) reveals that each only has a small percentage of the global market share, thus making content translation a great asset for hotels focusing their efforts on generating more booking conversions from the forthcoming international arrivals. That is, while indeed many around the world understand and speak basic English, such customers may prefer, and be more emotionally moved towards booking, if hotel descriptions are presented in their native language.
Especially true when distributing inventory across international borders, there are the channels you know and the ones you don’t. By itself, this necessitates the use of a process or platform to efficiently control your content across all of cyberspace to ensure that your hotel is advertised properly and so that your hotel is seen as the brand of choice in any given market.
As Bubbles Open
In tandem with the need for better visibility on all hotel distribution channels—whether your revenue manager works directly with a channel or not—there are also the prospective guests you see and the ones you don’t. That is, for example, how do you know your hotel does or doesn’t appeal to guests from certain countries if you don’t already have good reach within that territory?
These types of scenarios are what we workshopped with Posmeck, all of which are especially relevant during our current period with so much ‘reshuffling’ of preferred travel destinations and accommodations. Travel bubbles will open, and you have to be fully visible on the most popular channels in a given country to get traction with those locals.
Posmeck demoed how GIATA can help via multi-language text conversions, for which the company has built—based on the work completed by its 64 in-house translators—a proprietary translation and grammatical syntax correction program. And by the way, the resulting texts are licensed by companies like Google and easyJet Holidays.
As one potential scenario, suppose you operate a hotel within the Bay Area and tomorrow the US reaches an agreement with Japan to form a travel bubble with the resumption of regular flights between both countries. While your revenue manager likely has the property’s Expedia and Booking pages already optimized, how is your hotel being displayed on Rakuten, Jalan, Ikyu or the plethora of unfamiliar wholesaler websites popular in that island nation? Ditto for China with Ctrip or practically every other major original market.
Second to this, how would you correctly transliterate (not just translate) content to instill proper language flow and tense structure? Hiring a translator who also specializes in hospitality may be highly uneconomical given that there isn’t a lot of reliable historical data to justify such expenses, especially when such personnel would have to be recruited on an ongoing basis to execute all the little and constant content updates.
Now compound this issue to comprise the rest of the globe. Beyond Booking which provides some translation services, how will you ensure that your content has the right style and syntax in channels catering to the locally preferred channels for French, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic and Portuguese speakers? Your team, as lean as it must be to stay profitable, doesn’t have time to update all the various local travel distribution channels in English, let alone any other language.
Travel Surge Stages
While we all want travel to return to its 2019 metrics, that won’t happen all at once. Certain territories will benefit before others as the situation evolves. For instance, southernly US destinations like Disneyland (and the surrounding Orange County) are bound to see huge swells before northerly, urban centers like New York. Thinking internationally, the announcement for each bubble will likely be carefully periodized to not reopen the world too quickly and cause more harm than good—that is, induce another COVID wave by opening too early.
For any scenario, you have to get ready to pivot. Our worry, though, is that once travel and occupancy numbers improve, your team will find itself too far in the weeds of daily guest service requirements to have the time to effectively keep every third-party website in working order. This is especially true for when you factor in different preferences for each country and high-margin versus low-margin distributors as well as those channels you don’t work directly with for foreign language mistranslations and missing connections that can jumble the way content is displayed.
Automating all that content distribution to thousands of multinational distribution channels is the only way to stay above water, lest you miss out on any of these tiered travel surges. In this sense, the best course is to set up the right software now so that your hotel is first on the list in any market, whether you’re actively advertising there or not.