Hopping on the online bandwagon

Jitendra Jain explains e-business, and how this growing niche in the hospitality sector will take off over the coming years.

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By  Jitendra Jain Published  May 10, 2008

Mina Seyahi Complex e-commerce manager Jitendra Jain explains the ins and outs of e-business, and discusses how this growing niche in the hospitality sector will take off over the coming years.

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 and distribution in a hotel may be just the thing for you.

As more people get online and become comfortable with applications other than email and occasional browsing, we’re set to see a lot more purchases and bookings via the internet.

The role, often referred to as e-commerce, e-business or online marketing and 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 and 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

It's necessary 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 and business to business interactions with the help of automated information systems on the internet, world wide web, intranets or extranets (or a combination of all three).

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 optimisation, 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 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.

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 standardised or met quickly enough to pro-actively tackle the needs of today's discerning customer.

Facts and Figures

So 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 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, according to Internet Usage and World Population Statistics as of June 10, 2007.

This shows that as more people get online and become comfortable with applications other than email and occasional browsing, we're set to see a lot more purchases/bookings via the internet. In fact, in most developed parts of the world this is already the norm and savvy companies have realised this and tackled it head-on.

The current trend

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.

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.

I'm not a 'techie', how do I get in?

Being a great online marketer in the hotel industry does not necessarily require you to be a tech-guru.

Smaller chains and hotel companies may still require the help of an expert in the e-marketing field to maximise their ROI on the position, especially in the absence of well-developed online marketing tech tools and guidelines, but bigger chains have developed advanced e-marketing tools that allow anyone to run professional email, banner, search and web campaigns that fit branding guidelines as well as employing internet marketing best practice.

All that's needed is the willingness to learn, an active interest in the internet and a knack for marketing and hospitality.

To sum it all up

The future promises to be bright for this growing niche in the hotel industry, so if you're among the rare breed of hospitality professionals that gets a glint in your eye every time the internet is mentioned you may want to consider hopping on to the online marketing bandwagon.

Jitendra Jain is e-commerce manager of the Mina Seyahi.

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