Exactly a year ago, I spoke with AustCham members about all the reasons that the world was watching the travel and tourism industry in Asia and posed the question: are the region’s hoteliers seizing the day?
Today, I pose the same question, but for entirely different reasons.
For the team at SiteMinder, rapid change is nothing new. As a technology company that endeavours to stay close to its entrepreneurial roots, innovation and speed-to-market run deep in our DNA and pivoting quickly to face new challenges is generally all in a day’s work for us. Yet, like for so many others, COVID-19 has been unlike any sort of challenge that we’ve collectively been through.
Within weeks, the way we experienced the world (and each other) fundamentally shifted this year. When you’re in the business of providing technology to accommodation providers, who are on the front line of tourism, you feel the impact almost as deeply as they do. Here in Thailand especially, it’s reported that some 40 million international tourists entered the country in 2019, spending roughly two trillion baht and boosting the economy incredibly. They’re figures that our hotel customers won’t see and experience this year, and perhaps for many years to come.
At SiteMinder, we’ve had to remind ourselves that, as a provider of hotel marketing and distribution technology, this period has in many ways made us more vital to the accommodation sector than ever before.
So, from the outset, we made a conscious decision to ensure that every part of our response had to be based around how it would help our customers. We immediately grew our efforts to support them, and worked as a unit like never before to bring to life a number of projects specifically crafted for the industry:
- We built the World Hotel Index within a matter of weeks. Sourced from our 35,000 hotel customers, the World Hotel Index provides real-time updates on how current booking volumes are changing compared to the previous year, which is critical for hotels to understand how their customers’ behaviours are changing and how they can prepare for the future. The World Hotel Index forms the first time that we have ever released our proprietary bookings data, and shows the spirit of both knowledge-sharing and ingenuity that the pandemic has brought out in so many businesses. Indeed, within months, the World Hotel Index has become the leading indicator of hotel reservation and guest arrival trends globally.
- We launched “React, Respond, Recover”, which was a series of virtual forums created and tailored alongside more than 50 of our partners, so hotel businesses could learn about the latest changes happening within their local market. They were attended by over 5,000 hoteliers, and helped to provide a platform for information-sharing that in the early days of the pandemic was desperately needed.
- We created HomeForHotels, a website for hoteliers to share their personal stories and be comforted by reading the stories of their peers. We knew a lot of hoteliers felt isolated, and HomeForHotels was a reminder that they weren’t in fact alone. In Thailand, we shared the story of the White Ivory B&B, which created a new food delivery service called ‘Dad’s Kitchen’, based on the childhood recipes of the two founders’ father.
Internally at SiteMinder, a fast-changing business environment has meant that we’ve had to make a variety of changes to how we operate day-to-day. Like many others, we’ve created flexible working arrangements around the world and, to support the mental health of our team, have placed a renewed emphasis on providing programs and channels designed around sharing and wellbeing.
The strain of uncertainty and change on people, who are ultimately every business’ most valuable asset, can never be underestimated, and ensuring that everyone is doing okay has been crucial to us in the last six months. We’ve partnered with a digital wellbeing service, to ensure access to confidential and proactive support, and we also now have dedicated online channels designed for people to connect socially and learn more about their teammates’ passions and cultures; a missing element when working from home. As fun, office-based activities can’t be easily brought to life, our team in Bangkok is also staying connected via a regular virtual cooking tutorial, although, personally, I haven’t needed any extra push to consume more delicious homemade food while working remotely!
While dealing with a constantly evolving business environment is something that we’ve been used to at SiteMinder for years, nothing could have prepared us for the year that’s been. As a company, I’m extremely proud of how we’ve adapted, assisted the broader industry and risen as a team to every challenge that’s been presented. By focusing on our customers and our people, we’ve emerged a more unified and purposeful company than ever before.