[Des] As part of the company’s growth in Poland, Bookassist has recently joined IGHP, The Chamber of Commerce of the Polish Hotel Industry. What does it mean for Bookassist to be part of IGHP?
[Joanna] The primary thing is that it shows to Polish hotels that we are a verified, trusted partner for hotels on the market. Bookassist is a member of many similar organisations across all the company’s markets also of course, and the IGHP is itself a member of HOTREC which promotes direct business for hotels and encourages less dependence on expensive intermediaries. Polish hotels that are IGHP members can now access the extensive expertise that Bookassist brings to help them to increase their profitability.
[Des] We’ve been discussing a number of reports on the Polish hotel industry recently that were published by the IGHP at the start of the summer. We know from our operations that Polish hotels were concerned coming into 2022 because forward bookings were weak, but what did the IGHP reports and your own data show for the summer months and since?
[Joanna] Despite hoteliers’ concerns at the start of the year, the number of bookings and occupancy rates during this summer in Poland were actually at a reasonable level. According to the IGHP statistics, the vast majority of hotels participating in the survey achieved an occupancy level of over 70%, which could be better but is certainly not bad.
The IGHP data is in line with the data collected directly by Bookassist in Poland. Our statistics still show a very short booking window, however a good sign is that there has been a steady increase in bookings over the last two months. We hope to see similar dynamics in the following months against some unfavourable geopolitical and economic conditions.
[Des] It’s good to see performance returning, but overall we know that direct business is still not as well developed in Poland as it could or should be, so there may be missed opportunities. What’s your view of the current state of play with hotels in your market?
[Joanna] We see that the Polish market is constantly developing in terms of new hotels, both hotel groups (hotel chains) and independent hotels, which is great to see. Based on our international experience across Bookassist we know that direct guest acquisition via hotel websites and booking engine must be at the core of any hotel’s strategy, not just an afterthought. But we also see that there is still a lot to be done in this area when it comes to the Polish market compared to our other markets.
The Bookassist mission for many years has been to educate hoteliers and to help them to build independence from OTAs and take control of their distribution, which we put into practice through expert consultancy, high quality software, and by working hand in hand with them to develop and implement strategy.
Our aim with Polish hotels is not just to provide the tools, but above all to build successful direct sales-focused strategies
So our aim with Polish hotels is not just to provide the tools, but above all to build successful direct sales-focused strategies with the hotels. These are the main reasons why Bookassist decided to be active in the Polish market. There’s still a lot to do, but it’s a win-win for hoteliers to understand and embrace direct business as their core strategy.
[Des] Do you view education as your main goal at the moment?
[Joanna] A lot of it is about education, helping hotels better understand the direct space, understand how they can market themselves better and reduce OTA reliance, and understand modern revenue management which has really evolved very quickly in the last few years. But I would say our goal for Poland is to be recognised as the strategic partner for hotels to boost their revenue and (price) distribution strategy and also to support them on a daily basis. We really work the data daily, and Bookassist Intelligence gives our hotels real dynamic information to drive conversions and performance. It’s all about results!
[Des] What opportunities do you see for the coming year, and threats also?
[Joanna] The Polish hotel market is still developing, and there is still significant investment potential in the sector. Even though there are thousands of hotels and accommodation options, it’s nowhere near the capacity of many countries in Southern and Western Europe in terms of hotel rooms per head of population. This is our opportunity to bring new tools, new quality and new strategies for increasing direct sales to hotels in Poland. There is a real chance for hotels to increase profits by focusing on direct, even if they are selling the same rooms at the same rates. We are a relatively new player on the market, so we can bring more diversity in product and approach, a better offer, we can leverage real international know-how and experience, and maybe just bring a freshness that can make a difference.
It is also about thinking “outside the box”, creating new ideas and adapting new best practices on the local market. We know we need to build trust and bring clear results to our hotel partners. That takes time, building brand awareness in a new market. But we are steadily growing our portfolio here and we are prepared to give it the time it needs to grow our market share, as we’ve done across many other countries over the years. Nothing happens overnight!
Threats I guess would be some of the macroscopic issues, with inflation, energy prices and the conflict in Ukraine. Instability is never good for business confidence. But on a more local level there is also the issue of hotels being presented with false claims or promises, and choosing software or services that result in costly mistakes. We always prefer to be very straight with hotels and to refer to our previous successes in Poland and abroad as proof of what we can do, rather than make empty promises about untested technology or unrealistic performance growth.
[Des] What would you say you can bring to hotels in Poland in terms of a value proposition?
[Joanna] I would sum it up like this: By working with us, hotels can access the extensive international knowledge that Bookassist brings to help increase profitability. The value that Polish hotels receive by working with Bookassist’s Polish office is the opportunity to benefit from the vast international knowledge and 22 years of experience in the market. Here in Poland, we focus exclusively on local partnerships with hotels and work hand-in-hand with hoteliers, while at the same time our development teams are working on developing our tools and products. Clients can benefit from the shared experiences of all our international hotel clients – all focused on growing their profitable direct business. Our international team of experts located across Europe deliver maximum value to our hotel partners locally every day with a unique approach tailored to every single one of them.
By working with us, hotels can access the extensive international knowledge that Bookassist brings to help increase profitability
[Des] We operate in many markets and you can share knowledge with other market managers in Bookassist. But we also can tailor that knowledge to the local markets as you mentioned above. Are there any particular ways that you are tailoring the Bookassist approach to Poland?
[Joanna] When it comes to technology, each hotel needs a good sales and marketing strategy to be visible online. So we provide that wide range of products and services: websites, booking engine, channel manager, marketing services, metasearch. All are supported by local customer success team experts.
But most important of all is that we spend most of our time on update calls with clients to understand their specific operations, and we constantly monitor their performance, exploring new opportunities for better sales. For booking engine optimisation, we look at price comparisons and local distribution issues with OTAs. These competitive strategies are very specific and local to each market, and to each hotel, which is why Bookassist has teams on the ground in each market. This strategy of supporting the hotels locally with local knowledge but international experience works in every market, including Poland. Hotels can improve a lot from our approach.
[Des] Compared to other competitors in Poland, that approach would be considered unique?
[Joanna] Yes. We are a growing team but none of our competitors here in Poland offer the strategy and support the way we do. We regularly work with our clients to improve their direct sales strategy and increase direct bookings – very often without any additional cost. We believe that we have the same goal as hotels have and if they are successful then we will be successful. This is why we want to be treated as a partner, not just as a software provider or a supplier.
[Des] How did Covid change your plans for Bookassist growth in Poland?
[Joanna] The hotel industry was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and still continues to face many challenges due to the current energy and political crises. It has been a challenging time and has definitely slowed our planned growth in Poland. However, we have not stopped supporting hotels even for a moment during this difficult time. We created a dedicated Covid-19 page on our site to advise and support hotels, and we also offered a lot of benefits and discounts on our products. We know how impacted the industry was so we decided to help them as much as possible, even while we were obviously impacted ourselves also.
[Des] Can you share some of the future plans for Bookassist in Poland?
[Joanna] As we look to the future of Bookassist Poland, we are thinking about how we can continue to develop and improve our technology solutions, as well as the quality of our customer service. We are also continually improving our marketing strategies for existing customers and looking for opportunities for potential customers in Poland.
My personal goal is to build strong Bookassist brand awareness in Poland, create positive and long term relationships with clients and drive real results in direct sales. I am very proud of our team – we all have a strong background in hospitality and have excellent access to data and best practice across various Bookassist markets. We are a team of hotel specialists with experience in Front Office, Revenue Management, Digital Marketing, Web Design, Metasearch and GDS. Together with our colleagues in other Bookassist offices across Europe, this means that we can recommend best practices with confidence, identifying strategic mistakes and offering personalised advice to drive hoteliers to the highest number of direct bookings. It’s a great foundation for us to build on, and for our clients to rely on.
[Des] Competition is always tough, though it also helps us all to improve. In Poland we are relatively new to the market and many hotels are already comfortable with their existing strategies and technologies. How do you convince hotels that you can do better than the services and technology that they are currently using?
You need to face the unknown, overcome prejudices that some have towards new products, towards thinking differently, towards breaking habits
[Joanna] Introducing a new brand on the market is always a challenge. You need to face the unknown, overcome prejudices that some have towards new products, towards thinking differently, towards breaking habits etc. This is however something we are well prepared for. Poland is not the first market Bookassist has entered or has grown in against difficult conditions. As I said before, it takes some time to build trust and brand awareness. I strongly believe in growing an honest and straight-talking local team with genuinely happy clients who see the value we can bring every day – it’s the only way to ensure longevity.
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