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Connecting travellers online, TravelIndex revolutionizes legacy travel directories.
Saturday, 22nd October 2011
Source : Ron Callari
Travelindex is an exciting and revolutionary new way for travellers to plan their travel and for travel marketers a showcase of their facilities and services where perfectly matched customers can meet quickly, effortlessly and without hefty price hikes and fees from intermediaries or middlemen.

Travelindex.com offers the travel professionals and marketers a powerful, free, marketing platform. It is the ultimate travel directory and travel vertical where travel people connect.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryBernard Metzger (right), who conceptualized and started this open-source repository database of the World's travel and tourism resources under the Travelindex Network, also established the Travel & Tourism Foundation as a non-profit organization.

The Foundation aims to support and assist countries and regions that lack the framework or resources to achieve growth in the travel and tourism sector by working with governments, local leaders and professionals to identify and overcome barriers to growth while being sensitive to people's needs and aspirations. The core purpose of the Travel & Tourism Foundation is to build and promote knowledge that will enhance international cooperation, reduce poverty; improve healthcare and advance human welfare.

At Flip.to, it's been our intent to assist hotel brands and travellers with a more meaningful and streamlined means to connect with each other, using the most current technology and marketing techniques available today. In discussing these topics with Metzger, we received some unique insights based on his vast experience from both the commercial and non-profit segments of the travel industry.

Since Travelindex is both a B2B as well as a B2C, how does your website benefit hotel brands as well as the individual traveler?

Our slogan is "Connecting travel people", and I would like to add "Direct". The benefit for hotel brands and as well as for the individual travelers lies in the "direct connection". No intermediaries, third parties or OTAs to "interfere" with that very special hotel-guest relationship.

For hotel brands the benefits of a listing at Travelindex.com are multiple, to name just a few

  • Increased online visibility at no additional costs.
  • More direct bookings on the hotel own website without having to pay any commission to third parties.
  • More bookings via phone, email and fax as all our listings with full, direct contact details are free.
  • Offering more personalization and get enhanced loyalty through direct communication.
  • Global and local exposure as we have a travel index for each country in the world
  • Reaching a highly targeted audience through our own network of websites (100+ sites): WorldGolfDirectory.com, AirlineHub.com, VisitSingapore.org and more.
Travelindex helps the traveler to cut through the clutter of travel information with fully human-edited content and a structured navigation for maximum authenticity and accuracy.

On one clean webpage with rich-media and video he will be able to get information about a company and easily establish direct contact by phone, fax or email or by visiting their website.

He will find information not available anywhere else or at least very difficult to find as our team of editors constantly search the deep web and offline sources for valuable data.

With the MyTravelindex feature he can build his own travel rolodex of travel companies relevant when planning his trips.

The Travelindex direct connection model eliminates distribution costs and when a value chain is shortened many of the savings are passed on to the individual traveler in the form of room upgrade, late check-out, complimentary breakfast and bonus points.

As a former director of travel guides, how does Travelindex's online directory differ from legacy print travel guides, say 15 years ago, pre-Internet?

Online travel guides, and even more so online directories, have numerous advantages over printed editions, for the publisher as well as for the reader.

Print guides are expensive to print and to distribute and updates are likely to take 12 months or more to be reflected in a paper series. A guidebook is limited by size, weight and costs and cannot include detailed background information, reviews or recommendations; it's a one way communication medium.

An editor or researchers for an online publication can update information live or within minutes of walking out of a museum or hotel. The published information can be verified and reviewed for validation within a few hours. Online travel guides provide access to additional media like video, audio tours or augmented reality and allow for live interaction with friends or traveler sharing the same interests.

Online travel guides can better serve niche audiences by focusing on a specific aspect of a destination or attraction and connect users to areas of interest which are outside the scope of printed guides.

The "static" travel guide, printed or from Web 1.0, is becoming more and more an interactive, live updating companion accessible via all electronic distribution channels.

What is Travelindex's relationship with the "Travel & Tourism Foundation" and how do the two organizations differ from each other?

While Travelindex is a commercial entity, with a corporate structure, the Travel & Tourism Foundation is a not-for-profit entity with the objective to support organizations and destinations to manage and distribute available data more effectively and access new opportunities through online technology. Further the Foundation aims to educate tourism professionals in developing countries on how to use online tools and leverage available capacity for the benefit of the local tourism industry.

Travelindex supports the Foundation by giving access and use of our data for specific programs and our team is giving its time and efforts to educate and prepare data for approved projects.

As the founder of both organizations I am particularly keen to see our Exchange of Electronic Travel Resources and Assets (xEtra) program succeed. Its goal is to create a worldwide, open source database of the global travel industry, each entity with its unique global identifier. Unfortunately, so far we have received very little support from other players in the sector and none from the major players like Microsoft, Google and Oracle.

Flip.to is a marketing platform for hotels that converts customers into engaged advocates and extends a brand's marketing reach via their communities on social networks. In your experience, how do you see social media benefitting the hotel industry?

Social media is the fastest growing category of Internet marketing in terms of attracting new users and visitors; YouTube has become the second largest search engine and Facebook is threatening the supremacy of Google as Most Visited website. Social media allows hotels to establish a 1-on-1 relationship with customer like no other media has previously allowed.

As social media continues to grow in importance it has not only become one of the critical tools to interact with customer but is also considered one of the key elements impacting organic search and ranking for the hotel. Hotels that take advantage of the social media channels are seeing significant benefits in terms of online placement and revenue.

Consumer reviews and user generated content still dominates hotelier's view of social media. While the consumer reviews are absolutely critical, social media extends way beyond consumer reviews into a growing number social media channels. The travel industry in general and hotels in particular can only benefit from a platform like Flip.to, encouraging hotel booked guests to spread the word and share their upcoming trips with their social media connections and friends; the guest becomes an extension of the hotel's marketing department.

A social media presence with a well-developed social media strategy in place can no longer be ignored and leveraging the Flip.to services will make hotel tweets and postings stand out and encourage more page visits while building brand loyalty.

FastBooking, one of Travelindex's partners allows Travelindex visitors to book directly with a hotel. This process differs from the standard online travel agent model generating bookings separate from the hotel's website. What are your thoughts regarding the "Book Direct" vs. "OTA" booking channels?

The direct online channel is not only the most cost effective distribution channel, but provides long term benefits and competitive advantages by reducing dependence on OTAs, building brand loyalty and engaging customers pre- and post-stay. Industry case studies clearly show that the OTA channel is in average 10 times more expensive than the direct online channel. In economic downturns, a comprehensive direct online channel strategy can help hoteliers continue to generate much needed incremental revenues and out-smart their competition.

However to be able to take advantage of the steady growth in online bookings, hotel owners and managers need a clear and adequately funded, direct online channel strategy including, but not limited to search engine and social media marketing, listing in professional industry directories like Travelindex.com, website redesign and optimization, email and mobile marketing.

Several OTAs approach us offering enticing commissions for replacing our direct links to hotels with booking links to their own website; however, we politely decline as our vision and model is and remains, "direct". In fact, since 1995 when I had developed my first destination website, with real-time online booking, I am advocating the "Direct Channel" vs. the "OTA" channel.

Our partnership with Fastbooking allows us to offer our visitors a "Book Direct" facility taking them, with one click, to the hotel's own booking page, never to a third party or OTA booking engine.

How does Travelindex's search engine excel over standard search engines such as Google?

We are not so much a search engine than a library and travel data repository of human edited travel information. All the listings on our search results pages are structured in logical categories and the listing's content is hand-crafted by our dedicated team.

Google, and other major search engines, send out robots and spiders to collect information, we do it manually and our human editors search constantly information online and offline. Craig Silverstein, employee No. 1 and CTO at Google said "…200-300 years are needed before an intelligent computer will be able to do as well as today's human reference librarians." Can you wait 300 years?

Google has indexed 1 trillion web pages, at Travelindex.com we have "only" 400,000+ listings (growing daily); we are basically on opposite ends of the search spectrum. Google is very good at search and at delivering relevant information but try for example to get a full list of all 3 star hotels in the US at Google; 278 million search results dominated by OTAs. Travelindex will deliver a comprehensive list of 27,726 hotels in just two clicks.

On a lighter note, with over 187,000 hotels listed on Travelindex, what are a few of your favorite hotels and destinations in the world?

The world is a big place with many attractive destinations and outstanding properties. To name but a few of my favorite hotels:
  • the Crillon in Paris (France),
  • the Richemond in Geneva (Switzerland),
  • the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (Monaco),
  • the Cala di Volpe at the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia (Italy)
  • the W at Times Square, in New York (USA),
  • the Oriental in Bangkok (Thailand),
  • the Langham Place Mongkok in Hong Kong (China),
  • the Little Governor's Camp in the Masai Mara (Kenya),
  • the Mount Nelson in Cape Town (South Africa),
  • the Brava Hotel in Buzios (Brazil)
Destinations; it all depends on what one is looking for; landscape or cityscape, island life or wildlife.
  • for scenery and landscapes: the American West and the Rocky Mountains,
  • for wildlife viewing: East Africa with the fabulous parks in Kenya and Tanzania,
  • for pristine nature: New Zealand,
  • for the beach and island life: the Seychelles,
  • for culture and traditions: Thailand,
  • for city life and shopping: Paris, New York, Las Vegas and Bangkok.
Ron is the VP of Business Development for Flip.to ( http://flip.to ), a marketing solution for the travel industry that helps convert guests into advocates and provides brands with a distribution channel extending advertising reach via social networks.

With over 25 years of travel industry experience, Ron has held sales and marketing posts internationally with Marriott Hotels & Resorts. As a well-known social media strategist, Ron was a selected member for a 2011 Chinese Tourism Mission, has been interviewed by BBC radio, writes a weekly social media marketing column for several websites and is the author of a graphic novel about Facebook.
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