Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Destination Thailand: steal market share while they are not looking!

Photo credit: Johan Fantenberg
With the street political protests reaching 200 days, now exceeding that of the 2010 political crisis, with no indication of a resolution in the near future, and the peak tourist season over, destination Thailand is likely to remain depressed through 2014. Visitor numbers and hotel occupancy remained at record low levels throughout the peak tourist season with little hope for improvement going into the low season. Compounding the problem is the marketing void in originating markets caused by the major travel brands shifting their promotion budgets to more predictable alternate destinations.

But this state of affairs unexpectedly benefit both the smaller operators and independent hotels in Thailand and the independent travel agents in the originating markets as the field is left wide open by the large travel brands as they sidelined destination Thailand to shift their focus on other destinations. In good times, it is very difficult and expensive for the small businesses to compete effectively for market share against their larger competitors, so the misfortune of Thailand tourism becomes an opportunity to reach potential visitors who would normally be drawn to the major travel brands by their highly visible marketing.

Give your guests the opportunity to help you!

Social media, SEO and all the trendy internet tools are indeed useful, but past all the hype, the reality is that building an audience sufficiently large to translate into sales within a reasonable time frame is seldom practical or affordable for the smaller businesses. The time and resources required to reach “market level” are not within the human resources capacity and knowledge typically found at a small or medium size independent hotel or local operator.

However there are ways to make good use of social media without devoting your life, or that of your staff to it. You do have develop a familiarity with the different flavors to devise some simple recipes that will work for you. Each channel has a different audience, or a different ear of the same audience, and a span of attention that is 99% of time measured in milliseconds and 1% of the time long enough to serve your purpose.

Obviously you want to create a page about your business on Facebook and at least once a week add pictures with brief paragraphs showing activity with your customers. But don’t be misled to believe that this page will bring you much business because for all practical purposes you are mostly talking with your own customers, you are “preaching to the choir” not engaging new visitors. However, if you post something interesting or funny, funny always gets a bonus, then your own fans are more likely to share it with their own friends bringing a new visitor now and then. If you can get your own customers to post on your page, then you are going to reach that customer’s friends as a first hand account, a personal endorsement, that is far more valuable than any post you make yourself.

Connect with the independent travel agent

On the business side of social media, the tourism industry is quite active on Linkedin with a steady stream of independent travel agents looking for products and contacts. Start building your network in the originating markets most productive for you. Then assess the potential of each agent with a priority to those with a street presence, a shop on high street, and a reasonably useful web site. Before you engage in the conversation, have a plan that fits their business and that will be beneficial to them. Don’t start by telling them about your fabulous property and the great commission you offer, as everybody else has already said that a thousand times, these messages go straight to trash. Think about their business, not yours, start by telling them about something that will help them, as it will, in turn, help you. Offer to exchange business value, for example on each other’s web site “I feature you as our preferred agent in your area, and you feature us as your preferred hotel in Thailand”. It’s not cheap, it’s free to both parties.

Give away something that can make the sale

Include a bonus of real value that is exclusive to each agent (in distinct markets). Never offer a token value, nobody ever choose an hotel over another for the free welcome drink, but free beer for the duration could be a decision maker in some markets. Targeting couples? Include a full spa treatment for the lady, I mean complete with the spa lunch and all, not the 1-hour massage that is no more enticing than the free welcome drink.. Depending on your location, consider a limo airport pick-up and drop-off. The convenience, comfort and especially the certainty to get there worry-free is a huge value for first time visitors to Thailand and a strong selling point for the agent. How much does it cost? Well, how much are you giving up through your OTA (Online Travel Agent)? Certainly more than your official agent commission, so you still have margin to work with. Do make sure to package those deals to avoid any hassle with your OTA over rate parity.

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