mobile booking serviced apartment

Having unveiled its mobile-friendly website and online chat facility last year, Ascott opened up its global inventory to major OTAs through a web-based connection in April.

Meanwhile, Frasers Hospitality rolled out its mobile website in February, while Far East Hospitality’s (FEH) brand website went live late last year.

Pan Pacific Hotels Group is also intending to relaunch its website by June, targeted to drive more business for both its hotels and serviced residences.

Shifting importance
Frasers Hospitality group director sales and marketing, Joanne Ang, said: “Our shift towards online channels has been substantial over the past three years, and is expected to increase further in tandem with the industry.”

She revealed that among all channels, direct reservations currently rank first, contributing 35 per cent of Frasers’ business. However, website bookings are catching up, with a close 30 per cent. The GDS, which is utilised by travel consultants and TMCs, stands at 10 per cent.

“Using e-channels forms a big part of our marketing strategy, and we have benefited greatly from working with OTAs and our brand website,” said Ang, adding that the company also receives a handful of corporate bookings from travel agencies’ web portals, which have started to feature serviced apartments in packages.

“This will enable users of OTAs to view real-time availability of our serviced apartments and receive instant booking confirmation.
Our focus is to ensure customers can make bookings as conveniently as possible.” – Anthony Khoo, Ascott’s senior vice president, brand and marketing, on sharing inventory with OTAs

Ascott, on the other hand, declined to reveal percentage breakdowns. Its senior vice president of brand and marketing, Anthony Khoo, would only let on that the performance for each distribution channel differs according to market demand.

He said: “For example, in Europe, where we have more guests on shorter stays, the bookings are mainly through OTAs and GDS. In Vietnam, however, where most of our guests are on long stays, bookings come mainly directly from the companies through phones or emails.”

At FEH, even though over 90 per cent of bookings come from email and phone enquiries, building awareness of its online sales channel remains a key initiative, shared COO, Raphael Saw.

He said: “The bigger online footprint has given rise to greater awareness of our serviced residences offerings. As a result, take-up rate through our website has grown noticeably.”

In addition, Saw pointed out that business had been coming in from OTAs too.

According to Andrew Donadel, general manager of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road, the two Pan Pacific-branded serviced suites in Singapore receive more than half of bookings from corporates by phone and emails, 15 per cent from their websites and five to 10 per cent from OTAs and GDSs.

Despite the reliance on offline channels, he shared Saw’s sentiment. “The website is an important channel and we aim to drive more business through the website,” said Donadel.

On screen attraction
Cost, convenience and the opportunity to gain new markets were reasons cited for wanting to pursue a more aggressive online strategy.

Oakwood Asia-Pacific senior manager, revenue management, Maybelline Teo, found the brand website to be the most effective channel.

From 2011 to 2012, Oakwood’s website saw booking volume jump by 99 per cent. To boost traffic further, an interactive campaign was launched last month to offer online exclusives.

“Not only are distribution costs lower than other e-channels, the opportunities for branding, cross-selling and upselling are easier and within our control,” said Teo.

“Online channels appeal to transient leisure travellers and the more IT-savvy corporate bookers. We are able to enhance their experiences with us at a lower cost and with a wider reach.”

Similarly, FEH’s Saw noted that direct bookings through the website or through calls/emails “generated more in terms of revenue percentage” compared to other channels.

The ability to move sales round the clock is another draw of online. Said Ascott’s Khoo of the group’s tie-up with OTAs: “This will enable users of OTAs to view real-time availability of our serviced apartments and receive instant booking confirmation. Our focus is to ensure customers can make bookings as conveniently as possible.”

Frasers’ Ang added: “The market currently favours both brand websites and online travel portals as they are always available and have their own host of unique navigational experiences.”

In its early days
Despite the eagerness among brands to turn on the online tap, it seems the bulk of business still lies in offline for now.

FEH’s Saw explained: “As the duration of each stay is usually for an extended period, especially for longer-term stays which can be up to a few years, bookings are generally confirmed after enquiries are made over email or phone. Some clients will also need to view the serviced residences first.”

Donadel concurred. “Our focus is more on the longer-staying guests who can stay from one to three months and they tend to prefer contacting our sales managers first. GDSs and OTAs are mostly used by the travel (consultants) and FITs who are mostly short-stay guests.”

However, this situation is likely to evolve, given that more apartment operators are making inroads into the short-stay market and consumers are becoming more comfortable with web bookings.

When this happens, agencies with an online presence will be best suited to ride the wave, providing a comparison shopping option for residences.

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