“We are focussed on understanding customer needs”

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Hotels.com is a leading provider of hotel accommodation worldwide, offering booking services through its own network of localised websites and telephone call centres, which gives travellers one of the widest selections of accommodation on the net, including both independent and major chain hotels as well as self-catering in over 130, 000 properties worldwide. The company offers a one-stop shopping source for hotel pricing, amenities and availability and also specialises in providing travellers with accommodation during sold-out periods. Abhiram Chowdhry, Marketing Director, Asia Pacific – Hotels.com speaks about the business strategies and services the company provides. 


What is unique about the services provided by Hotels.com? 
As part of the Expedia group which operates in all major markets, Hotels.com, the global hotel specialist, offers more than 130,000 quality hotels, B&Bs and serviced apartments worldwide. If the customer can find the same deal for less on a prepaid hotel, Hotels.com will match it every time. We call it the ‘Price Match Guarantee’ by which we ensure the ultimate hotel booking experience to our customers-that means best price, best choice and no cancellation fees (levied by Hotels.com).
We offer a one-stop shopping destination for hotel pricing, amenities and availability and also specialize in providing travellers with accommodation during sold-out periods. In summary, I would say our expertise and experience, as well as best-priced offering coupled with the simple and straightforward booking method creates a clear differentiation for us.  

How do you reach out to the customer? What is your marketing strategy?
India is a very fast-growing travel market and one that is quickly moving. So we at Hotels.com certainly want to be reaching the customer whether they are online or just at the stage of making travel plans while they are offline. We realize that travel is a product which typically has a longer purchase cycle than most others and we want to reach our customers in every phase of their purchase decision cycle. Therefore we employ both online and traditional offline marketing channels to reach out to the largest possible audience.  
At this stage our marketing strategy is one of raising awareness around the Hotels.com brand in the Indian market while at the same time offering the Indian consumers great value through frequent offers on popular destinations both in India and abroad. We do this through our popular 72 hour sales promotions that offer great value for our customers to the most popular destinations. Another part of the Hotels.com strategy is how we allow our customers to interact with us. While many customers are booking with us online some of our customers still prefer to purchase hotels by calling us. We fully encourage that. Hotels.com has dedicated contact centres for the Indian customers where we can be reached 24×7. So in fact our contact centres are very much a part of our marketing strategy I would say.

What does a customer stand to gain when he uses Hotel.com, instead of the conventional methods to find a hotel? 
Hotels.com benefits from one of the world’s largest hotel contracting teams in the industry, in turn negotiating the best rates for its customers worldwide.  With the 1.8 million reviews from users who have actually stayed in the hotels, our customers can make a truly informed choice when booking.
With our ‘Price Match Guarantee’, we go one step further in ensuring that our customers trust us to get them the best deal while planning their trips. Hotels.com finds the right hotel for its customers since we are focused on understanding customer needs and are creative in the hotel deals we offer to both customers travelling abroad or within the country.
For example, we come up with best deals for customers both short-term and long-term to ensure they get the best value on variety of destinations

Do you have any plans for expansion and diversification? Please elaborate.
In terms of diversifying our product portfolio, I would say that Hotels.com, as a brand, stands for providing the best and widest choice of hotels online. We are one of the largest brands in the world that focus solely on selling hotels. We believe there are a growing number of customers that like to book stand alone hotels when making their travel plans. We are very happy with this current focus and there are no current plans to expand into other products. Having said that, we are certainly an ever expanding business.
We have over 70 sites worldwide and are still growing that portfolio. From a Hotels choice perspective we offer our customers over 130,000 hotels to chose from and this is an ever expanding number. So I would say we certainly have plans to continue to expand the number of hotel partners that we work with and also the geographies that we will reach out to customers in.

What are the responsibilities that you have to handle as part of your job profile?
My overarching responsibility is to grow the size of the Hotels.com business in the Asia and Pacific region. 
Therefore it is my job to come up with a marketing plan and execute on it with the help of the team that I lead. This includes managing both offline and online marketing activities that will grow the awareness of the Hotels.com brand but ultimately the goal is to drive  more customers to book on all of our sites across  the region. 

What are the pressures that this job entails? How do you overcome the challenging situations that you are faced with?
My typical day may involve working across many different markets and with many different marketing channels and many different teams. Certainly there is never a dull moment as a result! Honestly though this is what makes my job interesting. I would say aside from the normal pressures of working with many time zones and being part of a 24 x7 business being that we are online, the most interesting bits are around how to prioritize one market versus another or how to decide which marketing activities will give us the maximum return on investment. Some of these challenges are easier for me than it may be for others in similar roles in various companies. At Hotels.com we are supported with a very good team of people that I depend on to help me get my job done whether these are marketers, analysts or technology professionals. We take a rigorous approach to our marketing activities and so instead of “shooting in the dark”, at Hotels.com I am much more confident and sure of  the marketing decisions that I make.

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