The Transition to a ‘Smarter’ Digital Tourism Model – Interview with Thomas Krabokoukis
Thomas Krabokoukis, a Digital Hotel Strategist at Nelios, explains how the collapse of tour operator Thomas Cook can be approached as an opportunity for hoteliers, rather than a major problem. Nelios is a Greek company whose expertise lies in digital marketing for hotels.
“After the fall of Thomas Cook, thousands of airplane seats for next year are left ‘up in the air’. This can be approached as an opportunity instead of as a problem,” he says.
A researcher for the regional unit of Thessaly, Thomas also analyzes how hotels should aim to increase their direct bookings via their official website and develop loyalty among their guests as best as they can.
“In order for direct bookings to grow, a coherent and professional online presence is needed, that is, digital marketing.” – Thomas Krabokoukis, Nelios
– Let’s begin with a timely topic. In September, the travel industry was shocked to learn of the fall of travel giant Thomas Cook. What does the company’s collapse mean for Greek tourism?
Thomas Krabokoukis: Thomas Cook has been around for nearly two centuries, bringing the first tourists to our country from way back in 1869! It has traveled many generations of European citizens on many journeys, contributing to the development of personal relationships and to the economic development of the countries within the Mediterranean. The collapse of the travel giant known as Thomas Cook was a shock. Shocks, however, are necessary for the global economy, paving the way for a change in the status quo. Therefore, it will stand as the cause to review the current situation of the market. First and foremost, a change in mentality is required. Those who have adjusted to the new reality will incur smaller losses. In the context of a change in mentality, destination marketing is what we should be focusing on.
– Just how successful is Greece at promoting its destinations?
Thomas Krabokoukis: There is great room for improvement regarding the substantial promotion of destinations, whether they are regions or regional units. According to this year’s survey by the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), almost all major tourism markets have shown more loyalty to the brand of Greece than to the country’s competitors. Among the most “loyal” are the markets of USA, Sweden, The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and Austria. The weakness, however, lies at Greece’s regional unit level that displays significant disparities. The “strong players” are Santorini, Corfu, Heraklion and Chania (Crete), Rhodes, Athens, Mykonos and Kos. The rest of the destinations require more promotion. For example, Plastira Lake, which is considered Karditsa’s top attraction, needs to be marketed much more in Greece as well as internationally.
At this point, I would like to highlight that these matters require the right, holistic strategy. At the hotels with which we cooperate at Nelios, we observe bookings from individual guests from over 130 countries. This shows the extent of the dynamic that exists. Yet, after the fall of Thomas Cook, thousands of airplane seats for next year are left “up in the air”. This can be approached as an opportunity instead of as a problem.
– Based on that, how does the ‘next day’ appear for hotels?
Thomas Krabokoukis: The transition to a rational mix of hotel sales channels is vital. At the beginning of the season, even high level executives of tour operator giant Thomas Cook raised awareness through various interviews, about the importance of this, supporting that half of the company’s bookings were made online. The tour operating side covered the needs of large hotel units, ensuring total capacity in occupancy. Furthermore, Booking.com reinforced hotel sales, giving them the choice of having an online presence and influx of online bookings. During the last decade, much has been said regarding direct bookings that are made via official hotel websites. The figures show that guests who book this way are more inclined to spend money in order to “obtain” unique experiences during their holiday.
Hotels should therefore aim to increase their direct bookings via their official website and develop loyalty among their guests as best as they can. According to a Euromonitor International forecast, the online hotel bookings of 2024 will represent 52 percent of total bookings, while bookings via mobile phone are expected at 25 percent. In order for direct bookings to grow, a coherent and professional online presence is needed, that is, digital marketing, as well as the increase in the demand for the destination in question (which requires synergies). The end goal is to make each hotel website visitor say: “this hotel is for me!”. This will happen, firstly, by way of the website itself, which must be user friendly on all devices including mobiles and tablets, and secondly by the digital marketing strategy that acts to complement the website (SEO, analytics, adwords, social media etc). All of the above actions, however, demand the identification of a hotel’s target group and its positioning in the global market.
– The alterations in the hotel sales channel mix, the determination of guest profiles and the positioning of hotels in the global market, significantly change the way many hotels operate nowadays.
Thomas Krabokoukis: Evidently. The above mentioned alterations in the hotel sales channel mix must be done in conjunction with changes in the corporate planning, all the while placing great importance on human resources, a topic that has finally been brought to the forefront of the discussion. Hotels no longer need just any waiters, chefs, reception employees, and housekeeping staff etc. They need people who, through their personal touch to the offered service, will provide an added value to the guest experience which is much more than just a stay. This on its own will act as a comparative advantage.
Furthermore, we need new specialties, including programmers, data analysts, revenue managers and content managers. Many professions will gradually be replaced by technology in the years to come, and this transition will create fewer, yet more productive, job opportunities. This must coincide with a change in the way that human resources manage people, in addition to changes in the hotel’s operation, since the new category of staff will have entirely different traits than the ones before. There is also an imperative for specific, measurable targets, qualitative and quantitative indicators, extroversion and substantial public relations.
In recent years we have been experiencing what Schumpeter had described as “Creative Destruction”: New products and services, new methods of management come to replace what we know, as a result of advanced technology.
– What is the situation like in our wider region?
Thomas Krabokoukis: Initially, I’d like to refer to some general information.
Regarding the number of overnight stays of foreigners, for 2017, the regional unit of Thessaly displays the 5th largest figure of subregional inequality from out of a total of 13 regional units in Greece, due to the important effect of the Sporades island cluster.
Further up in the ranks are the regional units of Central Macedonia (due to Thessaloniki and Halkidiki), the regional unit of Thrace (due to Thassos), the regional unit of Attica (due to Athens) and Central Greece (due to Evia).
Regarding seasonality, the relevant indicator is close to 0,5 which means that between 2010 – 2017 there was not a real issue with seasonality.
Finally, for 2017, the regional unit of Karditsa shows only 9,705 overnight stays made by foreign tourist and for 2016 it displayed the second lowest GDP per person.
Now, returning to your question, regarding the promotional level of destinations, at the top you will find the Sporades and Meteora, for different reasons. In these destinations, hotels exemplify a good online presence compared to the rest of Thessaly. Despite that, alterations are still necessary, both on an individual level but also at a group level. Our wider area is brimming with opportunities and I expect that in the short-term we will see a rise in the number of small scale innovative businesses that will come to be.
– Is there something that you would like to add or show particular emphasis on?
Thomas Krabokoukis: Yes. The website, the booking engine and the digital marketing strategy are all fundamental for the longevity of hotels. We live in an age when consumers choose to trust people they don’t know (comments and reviews on Tripadvisor and Booking.com, etc.) more so than brands. Consequently, hotel enterprises must create an authentic depiction of the experiences they offer in order for them to remain competitive. Moreover, they should use tools in order to evaluate data (investments, human resources, guest requirements etc). The hospitality field is incredibly attractive and constantly moving, as daily we see new tools being added for managers to use.
The interview of Thomas Krabokoukis originally appeared on the Greek-language website Karditsa Portal.
Thomas Krabokoukis was born in Athens and grew up in the city of Karditsa. In 2011 Thomas graduated from the Technological Educational University of Piraeus with a major in Business Administration. In 2013, he completed his Master in Sustainable Development from Harokopeio University of Athens. Thomas gained valuable professional experience as he worked for hotels both in Karditsa and Chalkidiki and developed different skills. He currently is a Digital Hotel Strategist at Nelios. In addition, he is a candidate lecturer for the University of Thessaly, specializing in the field of tourism.