BOOKING ONLINE: I've started so I'll finish

If I book online, make sure you follow up with me online, too

Louise Oakley, group editor, ITP
Louise Oakley, group editor, ITP

What a difference a year makes. Last January, I revealed I owned neither a Blackberry nor an iPhone, let alone an iPad. I’m now the proud owner of both an iPhone and iPad and not a moment too soon; how else would I be able to keep up with all your news and announcements and check out ever-evolving mobile websites and applications?

For example, without the Facebook feed on my phone, I’d have missed the news last month that Atlantis The Palm, Dubai is extending its Aquaventure waterpark to include a 40-metre high waterslide tower.

Rather than send a press release, they told their 127,045 facebook fans directly, and cleverly linked to their own blog for more details.

And if I hadn’t seen the sneak preview photos of Aspen on Kempinski Mall of Emirates’ Facebook page, I wouldn’t have realised that this outlet is reopening with a completely new look. Again Kempinski decided to communicate with its 11,621 fans, not the lowly media.

Social media is just the start of the journey, of course. By using this medium to engage with those that ‘like’ or ‘follow’ you, hotels can seek to turn these virtual friends into real customers. Research shows a growing number of people in the region are willing to continue their relationship with hotels online, not just to browse, but to book.

New figures from a study carried out by PhoCusWright predict unprecedented growth in online travel in the region, with total web sales expected to reach $15.8 billion by 2014. In the UAE alone, online travel bookings represented $4.7 billion in 2011 and are expected to double to $9.4 billion by 2014.

Currently, one fifth of all travel bookings in the UAE are made online, with 16% in Saudi Arabia and 12% in Qatar.

While many hotels are investing in SEO, website design and app creation to capitalise on this, there is another trend to get up to speed on — continuing to engage online with your customer once they have booked.

To do this, Hilton Worldwide has launched Conrad Concierge, dubbed the first service-enabled technology to be completely integrated with hotel management systems across a brand’s portfolio.

Conrad Concierge invites travellers to customise the details of a hotel stay before, during and after each visit from a smartphone or tablet, through which they can choose from three lines of bath amenities or pre-order dinner through room service.

I’ll admit, I’m still not the most savvy of online users, but this makes sense; if I have chosen to start my relationship with your hotel through your Facebook page, then booked using your app, I’d like to continue the relationship in this way. If nothing else, it will help improve my navigation skills.

Louise Oakley, group editor

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