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We talk with Graham Hills about the shift and marriage of online and offline in the travel industry in Asia , how localized content is important to connect consumers and suppliers and the transformative power of travel for him. Find out what Bleisure travel is as well. Have a listen.
How has the online travel industry changed in the recent years?
There has been a real shift from an offline world to the intersection of online and offline. It’s also moved from monetizing on just advertising to monetizing on transactions of flights and hotels. As online bookings became more prevalent, you have the rise of the meta search space.
How are travel agencies going to survive?
Travel agencies are still there. But there are extra layers there that will save you time going in-between sites to compare prices. Essentially, meta-search took off between the mid to late 2000s. I think what lags behind, which takes me to where I am now is the in-destination space experience of travel bookings. It’s still very much an offline industry. In Asia, only 11% of tours are booked online and that’s half the global average.
How does BeMyGuest help the suppliers and people offline in Asia?
As a consumer, you won’t see the BeMyGuest brand- we help enable online travel agencies sell experiences online. We are there in the background providing the technology connecting the demand with the supply. A big focus for us as a business is helping suppliers get online. This is an industry where a lot of bookings still happen with pen and paper. It also helps operators improve their business efficiency in terms of inventory and booking management.
We aggregate things to do around Asia- we focus on Asian destinations. We cater from mass well-known products from Universal Studios, right down to a cooking class in Krabi. We are really catering to all ends of the spectrum. For small businesses, they might have a website and brochure, but their site will not be enabled for bookings. It could be like unlocking a market like South Korea into a destination like Thailand. The operator in Thailand typically wouldn’t speak Korean—we are helping bring them customers in new origin markets.
What were some of the insights your gained about the destinations industry in Asia?
An eye-opener was the lack of adoption of technology. For consumers to adopt technology to make bookings is not a new thing anymore- but for suppliers, using technology to tap into that is new.
The trends that jump out are the change of pace in booking behavior. A lot of what we see in what’s being booked, it’s from travelers already in the destination. 41% of our bookings are from people looking to do something on the same day.
How do you use content to connect consumers to suppliers accurately?
The content is really about selling the experience—explaining the attraction and what stands out from it. If it’s a day tour, what do you visit, what’s included in the price, what’s excluded. Can I be picked up at my hotel or do I head to a meeting point? The content provides everything the customer needs to know in order to make that booking .
We are localizing the content into a number of different Asian languages—so the end customer is well-informed. We really need to understand the needs of the consumer and that influences the content—for example if they are vegetarian or can only speak their native language.
In this heavily Instagrammed world, how do you still find new, unique places and experiences?
This industry is so emotive—the pictures and videos create a lot of desire for travellers on where they want to go next. Technology has just made it easier for users to create their bucket list that might not be just 10 things anymore—it might be 100 things. It might be difficult for us to not sharing experiences.
It is ingrained in people’s behavior. The way to find the new thing is to go out there and explore, walk and talk to locals. There is still the human element of where humans tell the story of what’s on offer in the destination.
What does travel mean to you?
Travel helps achieve self-actualisation. I started out studying accounting and finance and it wasn’t until I was on a six-month exchange programme in my third-year of university in Jogjakarta that I realized I didn’t want to be an accountant. I changed my major and started my journey in the travel industry.
Correction: Graham Hills is the Chief Commercial Officer for BeMyGuest. Not the Chief Operating Officer.