EasyOTA in Action
The Secret Sauce
Competing without is not an option. African travel businesses need to offer their products and services in ways and through channels demanded by today’s consumers. These customers demand e-commerce capability from you if they are to purchase. It’s a trust and reputation issue.
EasyOTA Digital Fusion
Your website is not your on-line brochure. It is your living business to millions out there. See each visitor as a potential customer, and watch the revenues climb. We ensure your site is the best it can be and is found by people searching the web. We maximise your digital marketing effort, including paid for and earned exposure.
Optimising your customer interactions
Redefine who your customers are; think of them as anyone who visits your website. Now let’s offer them what they need to build their journey. Your services / product PLUS related products and services.
With over 40 years combined travel, leisure and hospitality marketing experience in competitive environments we advise on what your business needs to remain competitive. Don’t allow yourself to be left behind.
Specialist OTAs demanded by customers
Our specialised East African OTA, presenting products and services with the functionality to book complete itineraries off one site. Tripindigo addresses the unique needs of independent travel planning in East Africa.
Brand portfolio strategy and structuring
Do you use all the brands and products in your portfolio to support each other? To work in synergy for each others’ benefit? We help you align and power up your brands for their mutual benefit. This is one of the most powerful yet neglected strategies for multi-property businesses.
The Secret Sauce
We refer to it as The EasyOTA network effect. Imagine having your own products and services available 24/7 for booking online through other businesses’ websites?
EasyOTA enables any travel business to sell via its website not only its own products and services but also those of related, non-competing businesses. For example: how many travellers need transfers as well as accommodation; how many want to go on popular tours and excursions whilst staying at a hotel, and indeed need a transfer to the place of activity?
EasyOTA makes it possible for any business to do this, and to earn commissions in the process.
The network effect takes place when your products and services become available through multiple websites, essentially businesses that want to offer their customers your products and services.
Many product / service owners within a closed business ecosystem share customers across non-competitive complimentary product categories.
EasyOTA enables all these complimentary products and services to be accessed by willing cross-sellers, who see the ‘benefit’ to their own customers by providing an enhanced service, whilst at the same time ‘broadening’ the distribution of the allied products. In return, the owners see their distribution widen within the business ecosystem.
Tourism Industry Business Owners don't realise the Power they have...
The power wielded by the distribution channels is being challenged: by business owners reclaiming pricing strength and margin with EasyOTA
The technology behind East Africa’s leading travel website www.tripindigo.com is now available for tourism business owners.
The juggernauts are here to stay
The juggernaut distribution channels such as Kayak, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Hotel.com, Expedia have been brilliant in their business strategy. And they charge exorbitant commissions. They are here to stay, and we need them. But we don’t have to get so much business from them.
However, we do not need to be subservient to their strategies, and we are in a position to reclaim a lot of the lost pricing power given over to them by changing the way we see our businesses.
Consumers are changing
Consumers are changing the way they buy products and services, at an alarming rate. There are so many ways of doing business. The hotel, car hire, and experiences businesses are already losing sales as a result of lagging in their digital capability.
We need to adapt and evolve, and present our brands, what, where, and when their offer, in a relevant way. This is not only about a hotel bed, food, pool, gym, WIFI: it’s about the traveler. And the role that brands should play in their travels.
Rethink the role we play in our customers’ journeys and new opportunities are clearer to see
The discussion about the big airlines and the fact that they’ve been offering hotels, car hire, travel insurance, and experiences for over 15 years is a case in point. Why did they move to do so? Firstly, they expanded the role their brands played in the customers’ journey. Their brand not only transported the customer but facilitated their customer closing related parts of their itinerary. And they knew that they would earn big commissions doing so.
There are only good reasons to become sellers of 3rd party services
So why, we asked, has it taken so long for hotels and other travel services providers to realise that they too are able to offer their customers the same? We all know that it’s because we didn’t define the business that we are in; we didn’t see that whilst we offer great accommodation (and that’s why the customer has come to our website) our customer was in fact needing related services that WE could offer them. For little effort at all. And too many people still believe that the first purchase by a traveller is the air ticket. Not always.
See your website as your shopfront – now compete with the right strategy
Because of it being so easy to move between websites, there is a real need to do what is necessary
to keep the customer on one’s own website.
We need to understand that we’re not competing for head-on with the juggernauts; we’re taking advantage of the website traffic we already have – a lot of which comes from those juggernauts – they send consumers to your website when the consumer needs to have at look at your property.
We do this by a) having a website that is not merely an online brochure b) that it its design and the customer experience on the site is relevant with all the right clues and signals without which the consumer doesn’t feel comfortable doing business on the site and c) we give the consumer what they need when they need it. Just as the airlines do.
Now things have changed. There is a global movement amongst particularly the big hotel groups: they’re looking to move their brand experience into an area that better services the customer. This includes what their websites do. What their websites offer, and how they offer it.
EasyOTA is positioned to guide businesses through this surprisingly easy process. Of being able to
offer more on the web. Of using what one already has – visitors – and servicing them better. (By service here we refer to the WHAT and the HOW).
Re-frame how you see your customers and watch revenues grow
Driving website revenues, creating a market network.
A leading brand in Zanzibar sees how easy it is to open new channels
Safari Blue is the leading brand and operator of traditional dhow sailing safaris in Tanzania and Zanzibar. Established in the 1990s, the company manages a fleet of 10 boats, with a mix of private charter and individual seats on a boat as products. The day long sail to the islands, reefs and sand banks off western Zanzibar, includes swimming, snorkeling and fully catered meal and refreshments.
The company’s sales channels include consumer call-ins / emails based on seeing the excellent, passive website, referrals and a large network of agents and affiliates.
We approached Safari Blue management with a view to understanding how reservations, inventory and payments were managed, and to gain insight as to their strategy to keep up with the evolving leisure buyer’s changing habits since the advent of the internet and online (e)commerce.
Managing up to 250 bookings / changes / cancellations per day, plus requests for up to 60 transfers from over 300 pick-up points around Zanzibar, the business has relied on phone and email based systems, as well as spreadsheets to manage its business.
Bookings from over 150 affiliates and agents, as well as the general public, were made directly into the office and manually processed along with the necessary payments processed online but through terminals in the office.
Inventory updates manually processed.
From a consumer perspective, no online booking and payment capability meant potential loss of traction and competitiveness, no 24/7 365 ‘open for booking’ hours, as well as presenting an ‘old school’ way of doing business for an increasingly digital market.
This was time consuming and during holidays it resulted in lost sales when no one was in the office.
We provided them with the EasyOTA Online Booking Engine (OBE) and an inventory management system suited to their business model. The Online Booking Engine facilitates direct bookings of either the private charter or ‘seat on a boat’ product, as well as providing the customer with the opportunity to book their transfer to and from the boat’s point of departure.
The water safari experience and the transfer are booked in one transaction, with real time confirmation and immediate payment.
Inventory is automatically updated, in real time.
Customers receive instant email confirmation with all relevant booking details and instructions, and Safari Blue’s office receives via email the booking record for their operations scheduling and customer service staff.
Safari Blue is now open for bookings 24 hours per day, from anywhere in the world.
Safari blue has been using the EasyOTA booking engine since mid-December 2017.
Within a short period the Online Booking Engine proved itself. Almost 50% of on-line boat seat reservations were accompanied by an on-line transfer booking, simultaneously. Safari Blue staff manually processed over 195 fewer bookings, transactions and inventory updates.
The goal is to increase direct bookings to at least 40% of all sales within the next 12 months, realising greater efficiencies and increased operational effectiveness as well as growing the brand’s reputation and positioning in today’s eCommerce world.
The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar
The Rock Restaurant (http://www.therockrestaurantzanzibar.com/) is known around the world and has featured in leading media globally, making the top 10 list of dining venues internationally. It is located on the eastern coast of Zanzibar, and is host to visitors island wide. It is not unusual for customers to make a day trip from the Tanzanian mainland only to dine at The Rock.
Demand for this iconic venue is astronomic, and space limited given its 40 seat capacity and 4 sittings per day. Bookings are made from months in advance to ‘last minute’, on the day in the hope of a cancellation.
Given its wide appeal, and visitation from up to 90 minutes drive away, The Rock offers diners the option to book transfers to and from the venue.
It’s website is one of the most visited in East Africa. The business’ booking channels include consumer call-ins / emails to a centralised office usually as a result of referrals as well as customers having visited the website.
Nigel Firman of the ACN Group, owners of The Rock and 2 hotels, approached EasyOTA for potential solutions to a number of operational and customer experience challenges.
- The central booking office manages in excess of 200 bookings / cancellations and change requests at its peak, daily/
- Booking volumes, changes and cancellations, especially in season, difficult to manage despite a number of agents in the remote office.
- Management of the seating inventory on shared spreadsheets not efficient resulting in reservation challenges, poor customer experience and lost sales.
- Bookings for groups a risk in a venue with limited capacity due to the no-show factor.
- Up-selling customers a transfer to and from the venue difficult to record, confirm and coordinate.
- Maintaining a current list of customers for restaurant hosts to manage arrivals for each of the 4 daily sittings problematic.
- With centrally coordinated bookings, ‘walk-ins’ pose a problem to reservation records.
- Reservation office cannot be open 24/7, a necessity given the global audience and their own time zones.
- Separation of transfer receipts and booking deposits is a manual task and complex.
We provided them with the EasyOTA Online Booking Engine (OBE) and an inventory management system suited to their business model. The Online Booking Engine facilitates web based, direct bookings for both the restaurant and the necessary 2-way transfer. Confirmations are made in real time, with the customer receiving their booking voucher by email.
Groups booking are mandated to provide a non-refundable deposit at time of booking. Non group bookings (ie: 5 pax or less) pay no deposit.
At time of payment confirmation, The Rock receives monies due to it, and the transfer business receives their monies directly into their account.
Both operational entities receive separately emails informing them of the booking for their service.
Inventory is automatically updated, in real time.
The Rock hosts have 24/7 access to any guest list for any day, any sitting. They know the names, the numbers, where they’ve been transferred from, any special requests, as well as details of any deposit paid. Additionally, they have access to the inventory to adjust for the ‘walk-in’ clientele, with the central booking office seeing the new reservation.
The Rock is now open 24/7, 365 for bookings, from anywhere in the world.
Close to 40% of The Rock’s monthly bookings are now done online.
Management has a controllable central office, and the customer experience has vastly improved, including the fact that languages are not a problem in the providing of and recording of customer details, leading to accurate communications.
Instant confirmations to all customers has reduced the ‘no-show’ rate for non-groups, and reduced close to zero the rate for groups.
The restaurant bank account receives the deposits, and the transfer operation its receipts, settled automatically at time of customer payment confirmation, due to EasyOTA’s integration with the regions preferred payment processor, Direct Pay Online.
To increase the rate of bookings to more than 50%
To increase the number of transfer bookings through remarketing, approaching customers closer to their date
The Safari industry is not online for bookings. What has this to do with a bungy jump? 5 hurdles to success.
The Safari industry has been very slow to adopt online, confirmed sales as a serious distribution channel, thereby limiting ability to attract niche segments, reduce costs of distribution and sales. 5 key reasons for the lethargy.
It’s a complex set of emotions taking that leap of faith. It doesn’t matter that so many have done it successfully. It does matter that you’ve read about the accidents, the almost died, the fatal jumps.
The numbers do not matter, now it’s you, the jump master, the last glance at the ankle bindings, and your view of whether the glass is half full, or half empty.
And once you’ve jumped and that momentary moment of your heart being in your throat has gone, there is time to look, wonder whether you’ve actually done it, and then feel; and then let the terror return as you get to the bottom for the first bounce. It is over too soon.
It is always the step into the unknown, or known but seeing glasses half empty, that scares the daylights out of us. Who ever knew of change, real change, to be a comfortable and happy experience? If it was a happy experience, be assured that it was not change in the real sense. Change is about new, and new in this sense is the unknown.
And so it appears to be with the world of the Safari products and their being bookable online. ‘Bookable’ results in a buyer having access to relevant products and services, being able to interrogate them, selecting and ‘checking-out’ whilst making the requested payment, all online.
In the 25 odd year history of eCommerce, travel services were amongst the first to take-off, led by flights and hotels, then car hire, some transfers and latterly, experiences (which as a category has disappointed providers).
Travel eCommerce really hit the east African market with the advent of the meta-search sites and aggregators in the period leading up to 2012.
Many businesses now have too strong a dependence on the aggregators and their effects on market dynamics. A good number of these businesses have responded by growing their own direct, online booking capabilities to open themselves to new segments, reduce costs of distribution, and to reclaim their relationships with some of their customers.
So why has the Safari industry lagged in exploring eCommerce for their products and services?
There are 5 key inter-related answers.
- Complexity of products and many ways to skin the cat = options
The belief that a safari is too complex to sell online, that safaris are tailor made and therefore need massive amounts of customer attention; hundreds of questions to answer with each ‘sale’. This is primarily an Operators mindset arguing with a Marketing one.
Well, this is only true if a brand sees all its buyers homogeneously and not segmented with specific defined personas. Not all buyers of Safaris have the same needs – they may all have multiple similar needs, but they have enough differences for them to be segmented. It is within the segmentation that the big opportunities lie.
There are so many Q&As common to any safari, so the issue of information architecture of the website is absolutely key. The vast majority of safari websites are dominated by extraordinarily beautiful pictures, with accessibility to relevant information seemingly a second thought. (In writing about this, it has become noticeable how many leading safari brands have been taking the information aspect more seriously, thus pushing for inquiries.)
The key success factors in the travel eCommerce website design. Dominated by ease of access to information.
- Complex logistics
True, safari is logistically complex. Multiple locations, many flights & transfers, add to that the odd 3rd party excursion such as a balloon flight, and then to top it off, park fees. These days, looking at personas, shaping relevant products and services to present, and having optimised delivery mechanisms (read: websites and technology) renders this point not always true, only sometimes.
It is 100% possible to build a full safari itinerary online with all logistical / park fee requirements being met.
- Personal, very personal service.
The levels of personal service can be and often are, incredible. Safari is not ‘cheap’, it’s an ‘out there, bucket list adventure’ and for many, once in a lifetime. Add to this, it happens in deep Africa, not the best known and therefore trusted continent.
In an attempt to shorten this article, suffice it to say that if every safari product sale demanded this level of service, there would not have been (at least up until COVID struck) safari goers landing in Nairobi weekly on Emirates flights, and returning 2 nights later – seat in ‘luxury’ safari.
Guaranteed, a 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 night safari does not need the same level of personal service as a 2 or 3 week one. Again, personas, needs and wants come into play.
Additionally, who says one cannot deliver excellent levels of service to secure a booking and that booking takes place online? There are many interactive tools available in everyday use that enable real-time human interactions.
- Legacy issues, dependence on 3rd party distributors, and a dose of honest ignorance.
‘It’s always been this way’. ‘My agents will dump me.’ ‘I cannot see it working’. ‘I also own a Tour Operator, how will I make money if my net prices are seen online?’
This is the complex one! It’s emotional; it’s about disintermediation & some structural change; it’s about transparency and the perceived losses associated with it. It is also about knowing that real change is not easy, it is by nature uncomfortable – it is in itself a safari and requires a trusted guide.
Tour Operators / Agents / DMCs (the lines are increasingly blurred between their functions) exist to deliver a service. For that service, they earn a combination of fees and commissions. Inventory owners who also own a Tour Operator (TO) find themselves in a sticky position as with transparency comes the potential loss of revenue. For some, attracting direct bookings and enabling itinerary building on their own websites is at odds with the TO where the aforementioned service fees / commissions are earned.
The bottom line is that TOs need to add value to justify their fees. And as their customers can ‘steal’ the advice given and go on to make their own reservations, the TO business model is in question. Watch this space, the advent of the more specialised TO is upon us.
- Having access to the Right Technology
Simply put, no business has designed and built the right technology and Online Booking Platform for the safari industry with its unique and very real challenges. And nor has any specialist marketer offered the right services in the right combinations to act as the ‘safari guide’. Until now.
It is not enough to have a single dimensional booking platform, one that can only search and book a single product class or ‘vertical’. Safari businesses demand technology that enables real time searches across multiple product classes and the selection of preferences against options provided in real time. Locations, accommodation options, local / regional flights, transfers, extras, experiences, park fees, upgrades, add-ons etc.
All parties to a safari itinerary want their monies as soon as possible – instantly preferably. And they want reliable notification of what service they’re providing, and when.
The safari business owner does not necessarily want to play ‘travel agent’ or ‘tour operator’, and needs a system whose flexibility brings all parties in to play if wanted and / or has a built in ‘customer help desk’ – a live one, that is!
And, of course, not to forget the Agents, who also need to be able to search availability and even book (blocks, provisional, confirmed), each agent against their own business rules as they have agreed with the business owner.
Two sides to the equation. One, understand and respect the fundamentals. The other, is for the guide to show the way.
Safaris and eCommerce. The need to understand the fundamentals and know that a good leader and guide is required for success.
Once you believe in the fundamentals, execution is done by those in the know, many of whom work on your business already.
It is really a matter of when, and not a matter of if. It is about knowing that one size does not fit all, and therein lies the opportunity.
And that with the leap to take the opportunity, comes a world of new possibilities, new ways to service segments, reduce costs of distribution, create new revenue streams, deploy resources to widen the competitive advantage and collaborate.
Know the Basics
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