Travel

SOFT­WARE FROM AN AUS­TRALIAN-BASED COM­PANY IS HELP­ING HO­TELS AROUND THE WORLD COPE WITH THE PRO­LIF­ER­A­TION OF ON­LINE BOOK­ING SITES.

The Australian - The Deal - - Contents -

With mul­ti­ple web­sites hawk­ing the same ho­tel rooms, the dan­ger of dou­ble book­ings has al­ways been a headache. Not any­more.

ON­LINE TRAVEL AGENTS

can help ho­tels of all sizes reach a global au­di­ence, but they can also de­liver a world of con­fu­sion. With mul­ti­ple web­sites hawk­ing the same ho­tel rooms, there is al­ways the dan­ger of dou­ble book­ings. And keep­ing ev­ery dis­trib­u­tor abreast of ever-chang­ing rates and in­ven­tory can quickly be­come a ma­jor headache.

Mike Ford, a South African IT pro­fes­sional who moved to Aus­tralia 12 years ago, be­came aware of the prob­lems fac­ing hote­liers af­ter he in­vested in a back­packer busi­ness in the mid-2000s. At the time, he was run­ning a team for med­i­cal billing com­pany ICS Global, de­vel­op­ing a switch to al­low hos­pi­tals and pri­vate med­i­cal funds to trans­fer claims elec­tron­i­cally. But he saw the op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply his ex­per­tise to the travel in­dus­try.

In 2006, Ford and ICS Global col­league Mike Rogers re­signed and launched Site Min­der, a soft­ware prod­uct that al­lows ho­tels to en­ter rates and rooms once on a sin­gle plat­form and then dis­trib­ute them to mul­ti­ple web­sites. As soon as reser­va­tions come in, Site Min­der au­to­mat­i­cally up­dates the in­ven­tory across all chan­nels. It also cap­tures book­ings in the ho­tels’ prop­erty man­age­ment sys­tems, elim­i­nat­ing what was pre­vi­ously a slow, costly and some­times in­ac­cu­rate man­ual process.

The com­pany quickly dom­i­nated the Aus­tralasian mar­ket be­fore turn­ing its at­ten­tion to Asia and Europe. It now works with more than 9000 properties in 150 coun­tries, and em­ploys 167 staff across of­fices in Syd­ney, Bangkok, Cape Town and Lon­don. “We view our­selves as one of the top four providers glob­ally in this space, and we prob­a­bly have­more ho­tels by num­ber than any of our com­peti­tors,” Ford says.

Es­tab­lish­ing a phys­i­cal pres­ence in tar­get mar­kets has been vi­tal to the com­pany’s de­vel­op­ment. “Hote­liers are very con­ser­va­tive in their adop­tion of tech­nol­ogy. They don’t want to be the guy who made a mis­take by try­ing to go for some­thing new and bet­ter. That means get­ting recog­ni­tion is tough be­cause peo­ple view you as this lit­tle com­pany fromAus­tralia. It’s too hard and too far away for them to have that trust that it’s great tech­nol­ogy.

“We over­came that by say­ing: OK, we’ll set up where you are, and­make the brand a lo­cal brand. We lit­er­ally plonked an of­fice in Lon­don and moved a cou­ple of peo­ple over, and that was the start to our suc­cess in Europe.”

Site Min­der’s ag­gres­sive growth was ini­tially fa­cil­i­tated by small an­gel in­vestors. Then in 2012 it re­ceived $5.6 mil­lion from Bailador In­vest­ment Man­age­ment, es­tab­lished in 2010 by for­mer Fair­fax Me­dia chief ex­ec­u­tive David Kirk and pri­vate eq­uity in­vestor Paul Wil­son.

The com­pany is us­ing the funds to rapidly enlarge its Euro­pean foot­print and to launch into the US mar­ket, where in June it opened a satel­lite of­fice in Dal­las. “In the US, I don’t think chan­nel man­age­ment is wide­spread at all, partly be­cause there were only four main [on­line] play­ers. But now they have new dis­tri­bu­tion sites such as agoda.com and kayak.com,

HOTE­LIERS ARE VERY CON­SER­VA­TIVE IN THEIR ADOP­TION OF TECH­NOL­OGY.

as well as Ctrip.com in China and Rakuten Travel in Ja­pan. If Amer­i­can ho­tels want that busi­ness, they need to list on those sites. It’s be­com­ing a global game very quickly, so I think the ac­cel­er­a­tion and adop­tion of dis­tri­bu­tion tech­nolo­gies will be su­per­charged in the next three years.”

Site Min­der’s prod­uct suite is also evolv­ing. In mid-2012, it launched the Room Dis­tri­bu­tion Ex­change, which es­sen­tially en­ables prop­erty man­age­ment sys­tem providers to bolt chan­nel dis­tri­bu­tion on to their branded prod­ucts, backed by ex­ist­ing cus­tomer sup­port ser­vices.

“So cus­tomers don’t know di­rectly about Site Min­der. They only know that they now have dis­tri­bu­tion that they can man­age them­selves. It’s an out-of-the-box, plug-and-play chan­nel man­age­ment so­lu­tion for a prop­erty man­age­ment ven­dor to call their own.”

The real ben­e­fit of RDX, he says, is that it al­lows Site Min­der to scale much faster than if it were try­ing to sell di­rectly to ev­ery ho­tel.

The com­pany has also de­vel­oped an “all-in-one” so­lu­tion that al­lows small properties to man­age their rooms and dis­trib­ute them to travel sites at an eco­nom­i­cal price. And it is help­ing ho­tels list rates di­rectly on emerg­ing chan­nels such as Google Ho­tel Finder and pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­si­ble book­ing sites in China and Ja­pan.

“We want our cus­tomers to be able to reach peo­ple any­where. As soon as we are con­nected to Ctrip.com, we will have our ho­tels sell­ing their in­ven­tory di­rectly to Chi­nese trav­ellers.”

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