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“The reach of OTAs can be addictive”

Interview with Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels

“The reach of OTAs can be addictive”
Interview with Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels
“The reach of OTAs can be addictive”
Interview with Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels
October 16th, 2018

Frankfurt, 16 October 2018 The arrival of E-commerce has transformed the way hotels sell rooms and online sales have become a crucial part of the business. With the industry being dynamic and trends continue to change every year, in this interview Franco Sterl talks about E-commerce trends, the threat of OTAs and the direct booking landscape.

You have been in the business for the past ten years. What is the biggest change you have seen? 
The biggest change in the last years is related to technology and automation. Unfortunately, the hotel industry has always been quite slow in adapting new technologies and being at the forefront of innovations. This is now changing. More and more hotels and chains are counting on new systems, technologies and innovative concepts to enhance the digital guest experience and to let travelers interact in modern ways with their brand. Nowadays, it is not only about offering a good in-house experience, it is about offering a great and unique experience throughout all stages of travel, including the booking process! 

How do you picture the future of independent hotels in the online environment?
All great innovations and new technologies require a substantial investment of time, money, knowledge and manpower. From my perspective, these are the biggest pain points of individual hotels when it comes to digital innovations and solutions. I am sure that more and more solutions will be tailored to the specific needs of individual hotels. The potential is huge!

Which are the most important E-commerce trends for 2018 that hotels should be aware of? 
In my opinion, there are two important trends to be aware of: Personalization and “Mobile is key”. Modern travelers expect a personalized experience and want to feel unique. To fulfil this need, hotels must rely on digital solutions, on solid/high-quality data warehousing and on well-trained staff. A well-balanced combination of these elements is the key to success for hoteliers. Hoteliers have to offer guests a seamless and unique mobile experience. This may sound old-fashioned, but reality shows that a lot of hotels don’t even have a dedicated mobile version of their website. Everyone in the industry needs to understand the growing importance of mobile device usage.

You are now 100 days in your position. How are you planning to expand WorldHotels’ digital marketing capabilities?
When I started, my first priority was to build up a strong E-Commerce team with a global setup to serve our hotels with knowledge, guidance and local expertise. The consultants now work closely with our hotels to get the maximum out of their websites and booking engines. We recently finalized our brand-new E-Commerce solution for hotels, which focusses mainly on the following areas: Web Audits, Consultation, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization and modern tracking tools to convert traffic into bookers.

What do you expect the OTA and the direct booking landscape to look like in 2020?
I am sure that the landscape will look more balanced. OTAs will still play an important role in the digital distribution world, but the share of direct bookings will recover. The latest developments and studies have proven that the fight against increasing dependencies on third party distribution suppliers is yielding positive results. Hotels need to keep focusing on their own strengths and channels. This is the only way to escape this vicious circle.  

How do you see the online independent hotel industry in the next five years?
Hopefully much stronger! Individual hotels can learn a lot from the big players and from other industries. They just need to do their “online-homework” and the results will be visible very quickly. Independent hotels are the ones giving hotel markets a personality – they can reap the benefits of the digital world.  

Do you think OTAs are a threat for hotels?
Yes and no. OTAs can bring great benefits to the distribution landscape of hotels but the usage is also connected with some major risks. OTAs have a reach that an individual hotel will never have. This reach and power can be addictive! Being addicted always means that it is hard to get out of the dependency. Hotels always need to use these channels wisely and in a restrictive manner. Only by controlling these channels very tightly, can they be a great benefit for individual hotels. The focus should always be on your own distribution channels.

Do you expect Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp will become important future distribution channels?  
I believe that these channels will play an increasing role in terms of lead generation for hotels. Instagram and Co. are the new hotel brochures with a very high level of credibility. These channels allow guests to get real insights and to interact with hotels and brands. It is very important that hotels actively manage these channels and spend time with social activities because these channels play an important role within the travel decision process. 

Which are the three key points revenue and E-Commerce managers should keep at the forefront of their minds? 
Guests are people and not a set of data. Switch sides and look at things from the guest perspective, be always up-to-date and keep up to date with technology.  

About Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels

About Franco Sterl, Director E-Commerce of WorldHotels

Franco Sterl is a digital expert with more than ten years’ experience working with global hotel groups and chains. Most recently before joining Worldhotels, Sterl worked as Director of Digital Marketing & E-Commerce and Member of the Executive Board at Leonardo Hotels Europe in Berlin. He has also served as E-Commerce Manager at B&B Hotels GmbH, where he managed the E-Commerce department and the strategic management and development of the company website.

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