Asia OTAs on Loyalty & Differentiation


With massive shifts in the terrain of the online travel industry, how are the big players responding? When quizzed on their response to newcomers and changes in the online travel industry such as meta and mobiles, and how they will differentiate themselves from others who seek to disrupt, Agoda,, and Ctrip agreed that they roll with and even welcome such changes.

At the WIT 2015 conference, said it will continue to play up the customer-centric experience that they are known for. “We are proud to deal with customer service; it’s the nitty-gritty of hotel business,” said John Traas, Regional Director of South APAC for “We have to be there for the customer for the whole process. We get a lot of customers through meta everyday and it’s our job to make them loyal to Once the booking is sold, the customer is reliant on the OTA for customer service. We see it as loyalty creation, during the stay and after the stay. We don’t see it as the hard part, we like to do it.”

Abhiram Chowdhry, speaking for, said his company will take the loyalty and branding track. “We’ve tried to build customer proposition around loyalty,” he said. “It’s a complex industry – everyone is sort of moving into each other’s spaces. Metas are very important for us, just like Google is. The question is how to dig customers that come through meta and build loyalty.” What works best for them has been simplicity, says Chowdhry, who is VP & Managing Director of APAC region. One of their best promotions is one of the most straightforward: stay 10 nights, get 1 free night. “It helps us to create the business we’ve been talking about, and it’s working very well for us,” he said.

Ctrip’s differentiation lies in its diversification of services, offering not just accommodation but flights and tours. Said June Zhu, MD of APAC, “The customer experience in travel is most important for our success. We also see meta as very good traffic, a very good partner. The people who are sitting here are also our partners. We go to Skyscanner,, all of them combined – that’s what we appreciate – many partners. China’s ecommerce has grown so fast, and it’s not just because of one or two partners but it’s everyone involved,” said Zhu, who appeared very optimistic about chances for partnership between OTAs, service providers such as payment channels, and between Ctrip and other countries in the region.

Timothy Hughes, VP of Agoda, gave a simple answer to differentiation: “Be better at it. Our difference is that we talk to all sides,” said the VP of Business Development, whose company has been dabbling in flights and exploring new channels such as business tourism with a strategy to promote their base, Thailand, as a competitive business tourism environment. “Thailand is not the first place people think of in Asia to come for work; usually people think of places such as Singapore – but it’s actually a very comfortable, cosmopolitan place to work.”

While all agreed that customer service is the way to go to strengthen what they have currently, in terms of opportunity they’re looking at mobile channels.

“One of the first questions customers ask after checking into hotels is where the nice restaurants are,” said Hughes, indicating a gap that Agoda is looking to fill. Mobile also presents a challenge. “We’ve all made the shift to mobile phones, the next challenge is to reduce the amount of typing. It’s still too much typing in the phone, and the next challenge is for us to remove this.”

Chowdhry meanwhile spoke of the massive opportunity in mobile for suppliers, and that hoteliers need to take advantage of the exorbitant amount of data that’s available today, and channels available for delivering it. “Hotels could take that and turn it into positive,” he said, referring to new features like that of which has led the way by launching real-time feedback feature for customers who can now post reviews even as they’re checking into their hotel. His company now has more than 300 mobile staff. “It’s moving faster every minute. In mobile we now see even more growth compared to the previous months.”

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Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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