If you’ve always loved computers and the internet, have worked in the travel industry and have a flair for the creative and a passion for marketing…then a career in online marketing & distribution in a hotel may be just the thing for you!
The role, often referred to as e-commerce, e-business or online marketing & distribution (though these are quite disparate terms) usually pertains to a growing niche in the hospitality industry. It’s often confused with revenue management, public relations and worse still…IT, but the focus is really quite simple…and it isn’t rocket science. Online marketing & distribution would be best described as a combination of traditional marketing, PR and sales taken to a whole new level on the Internet platform.
Terminology: Firstly, to clear up some misconceptions regarding the terms often used to describe the role. E-Business is the broad term that usually encompasses the entire value chain from purchasing, supply chain management, customer communication, business to business interactions, etc with the help of automated information systems on the Internet, World Wide Web, Intranets or Extranets (or a combination of these). E-Commerce falls under the e-business umbrella and usually involves using the Internet or World Wide Web to add a revenue channel, improve efficiency and interaction with customers or partners (often the hotel’s websites are the first “touch-point”, where a customer experiences the brand and web 2.0 features are making this interaction more and more sophisticated). E-Marketing on the other hand, involves an electronic or digital marketing focus, using disciplines like Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search Marketing, Banner Advertising, Email Advertising, Advergaming and so on.
E-Marketing: Before you get turned off by all the technicalities surrounding the terms though, you should know that this article mostly pertains to careers in hospitality e-marketing, which is the area most hotels are increasing their focus on. A lot of the e-business and e-commerce infrastructure has been (and continues to be) maintained at a corporate level for purposes of consistency, cost-efficiency and strategic management. This holds true for most if not all hotel companies, small and big. E-marketing is a whole new ballgame though – aside from the dictates of brand guidelines, the specific marketing demands of different geographic regions and cultures just can’t be standardized or met quickly enough to pro-actively tackle the needs of today’s discerning customer. This is why many major hotel chains allocate resources for e-marketing at various levels ranging from divisional to regional to area…and a rare few even at the property-level.
Facts and Figures: So what’s the big deal? Why is e-marketing suddenly so important? Consider this…at present, about 17.2% of the world’s population is using the Internet – that’s roughly 1.13 Billion people! The growth rate in internet usage from 2000-2007 has been phenomenal, averaging at 214%, with Africa and the Middle East leading the way in terms of penetration growth and North America leading in terms of penetration, with 69% of the population already connected to the Internet. (Source: Internet Usage and World Population Statistics as of June 10, 2007 – internetworldstats.com) And what does this indicate? Merely this…as more people get on the Internet, overcoming the initial learning curve and become comfortable with applications other than email and the occasional browsing for information, we’re set to see a lot more purchases / bookings made online, customer reviews, critiques, stories, videos, blogs, social networking and gaming on the internet. In fact, in most developed parts of the world, this is already the norm…and savvy companies have realized and tackled this head-on.
The current trend: Back to e-marketing for hotels…the emerging trend in the industry, especially with hotel chains who’ve embraced the online revolution, is to increasingly focus on the role at the property, hotel complex and area levels. In the Middle East for example, the concept was almost non-existent just a few years ago. A case in point is Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which had about 4 to 5 property level online marketing executives / managers in 2005 in the Africa & Middle East region – today this same number is over 13 in the Middle East region alone!
The revenue contribution of the Internet as a distribution channel has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, with some hotels in high internet-penetration divisions like North America reporting as much as 50% of their revenues generated on the Internet. Hotels in the Middle East have seen modest revenue channel contributions of 5-10% but the growth year-over-year has been extremely positive and the future looks very bright. Overall, looking at the top 21 hotel brands worldwide, TravelCLICK’s eTRAK reports that the Internet accounted for 38.3 percent of 2006 brand hotel bookings, driven by a 20.2 percent growth rate compared to 2005. As hotels continue to shift marketing funds from offline to online, more bookings will be made directly through hotels’ own websites (at present, many customers also tend to research their stays online and book offline, hence the Internet is a strong indirect booking influence too).
Given this strong new revenue stream, changing guest booking behaviour, cost benefits and the ability to respond quickly to soft spot marketing needs, early-adopters have realized the value of having someone in-house focusing on this role full-time. Others are focusing on the role but choose to be more cautious about exploring this new territory, often combining it with other responsibilities like revenue management, field marketing and in some cases even public relations.