Caribbean hotelier says get online or get left behind
Sanovnik Destang, Executive Director of Bay Gardens Resorts in St. Lucia, is encouraging fellow tourism industry professionals to fully embrace the use of technology to drive business to their hotels, restaurants and attractions
Destang opined that continued investment in the benefits of technology is critically important if regional businesses are to survive in today's highly competitive environment.
The former president of the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA), Destang, who addressed a session on "Maximizing Booking Conversions: Keeping in Step with Big Game Changers" at the recent Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's (CHTA) Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) in Miami, said keeping apace with technology has become a "full-time activity" for professionals in the industry.
"The technology is constantly evolving, and we need to invest our time, resources and energy into ensuring that we learn what's available and how we can best leverage the internet to increase our share of direct bookings from customers," Destang said after the session.
The award-winning hotelier declared more and more consumers are making purchasing decisions on smartphones, so optimizing content on mobile platforms is important, as well as staying apace with search engine optimization imperatives so that businesses can easily be found through online searches. "The brick and mortar approach of doing business is now passé so we must ensure that we are speaking the language of today's global travel community," advised Destang.
To increase visibility, drive web traffic and increase direct bookings, Destang suggested:
Implement a dynamic approach to social media marketing
Build a strong audio-visual team
Develop a targeted approach to email marketing
Launch a rewards program
During the CHIEF session, experts from Expedia and TravelClick discussed how Google Travel assists with booking decisions and whether it should be described as an industry disruptor. "Some key takeaways from our panelists were that direct bookings aren't necessarily as cheap as they used to be but provide certain strategic advantages, such as direct customer access," said Destang, who felt Google Travel will not become an online travel agent in the near term.
Investing in relationships, customer service, personalization and the use of artificial intelligence to predict future consumer choices were additional highlights of the session, Destang reported, while crediting CHTA for assembling global experts to help Caribbean hoteliers understand how best to reach customers. "I'm glad we were able to bring some insights to our members in the Caribbean for those who are not as aware of how dominant it (Google Travel) has become and to be aware of how they can take advantage of it."
Destang was joined by a strong female management team at CHIEF this year. The team included Marketing Manager Yatsuri Marshall; Weddings and Events Manager Nicol Alexander; Reservations Manager Anice O'Neil; and Human Resource Manager Laudra Maurille-Willie. These four women were part of the first ever Young Leaders Forum, which included a select group of 21 promising hospitality professionals in the region. The company's Information Technology Manager Micha Joseph, and Restaurant Manager Amella Willness also benefited from the experience.
Alexander commented that as a young person in the industry, the program gave her the opportunity to learn from her peers and mentors. "I'm really young in this industry and as this is a young leaders program, I feel as if I needed to have some experience, some openness, some more knowledge from people who have been in the industry, their journeys, how they handled different situations and this is exactly what this platform is doing for me. It has been really enlightening."
During CHIEF's opening ceremony and awards presentation, Bay Gardens - the largest locally owned hotel chain in St. Lucia - was awarded second place in the category of Environmental Sustainability.
"We were really able to shine at this year's meeting and we are pleased that all of our hard work is being recognized by our respected colleagues in the region. We look forward to our continued participation in forums such as CHIEF," Destang said.