Dwight Linden, HRS: corporate clients and business travellers are a very valuable and important area of work

HRS (Hotel Reservation Service), the leading global hotel booking system, entered the Russian market not very long ago, but has already won the reputation of a very reliable platform for businesses as well as for ordinary customers.

HRS`s goals and objectives for the Russian market, its portal for corporate buyers and business travellers and the importance of mobile sales channels were the topics of the interview of its director in Russia and the CIS Dwight Linden to the Russian Association of Business Travel, whose strategic partner HRS has been for more than a year already.

Dwight Linden

— HRS.com came to the Russian market at the end of 2011. What were your reasons for this step? How do you assess the Russian online booking market, what growth prospects can you see, for HRS in particular?

— Actually, our fully functional office opened in Russia in early 2012. Before that the company was represented in this country by its general director Lana Klueva and several hotel managers.

We took this step because we understood exceptional importance of the Russian market — one of the largest and the fastest growing in the world. Besides, if we take into consideration that it had not yet been divided between the largest market participants, everyone had a chance to occupy his own niche.

HRS.com has its goal — to become one of top three hotel booking companies. And we have everything that is necessary to achieve this aim: a high quality product, a wide choice of hotels and international experience. I would like to stress, that we are focused not only on the B2C, but also on the B2B market, because HRS.com initially came to the Russian market right after large companies, who wanted to work with us not only on European markets, but in Russia as well. Now we have more than 35 thousand global partners and this figure is growing due to the Russian office’s efforts as well.

— Who of the Russian hotel market participants is the most active in terms of business cooperation? Who is more interested in your booking system — large network brands or small hotels?

— The most interest is shown by hotels in large cities or in the cities where the number of hotels exceeds the tourist flow. In particular, the staff of such hotels work in our Intranet more frequently, choose various rates and discounts more often and are always ready to participate in promotion events.

As for small towns or cities where the number of hotels is small and does not meet the demand, the situation is completely different. Hoteliers are sure they can get the client without any effort. This is a misconception, of course: hotels can not be fully booked throughout the year without any marketing activities and promotion. We offer a wide range of tools for that — daily traffic, special offers, promotion sites, mobile applications for all platforms etc.

— In what way does your company differ from your competitors? What business philosophy do you follow and what objects do you plan to achieve?

— HRS.com has a 40-year history on the world market. If we speak about our portal itself, there are more than 250 thousand hotels in our database, which is an impressive figure itself. The companies that can compete with us in terms of this figure can be counted on fingers, they are all international companies that we regularly deal with on the global level. That is why when we appeared on the Russian market we knew our competitors and their product from the start. Our main aim is to fulfill the needs of all client groups. And we have made great success in this direction.

As for B2C, apart from a wide choice, we offer our customers an opportunity to book hotels in the way that is the most convenient for the client. We have convenient web and mobile sites and an application that is compatible with 17 platforms and operating systems. In practice you can book a hotel on HRS.com from any device that can connect to the Internet. Of course, we keep in mind our clients` benefit. For example, we offer a special product, HRS Deals, a site where you can book hotels with a 50% and a higher discount every day. We have launched our HOTELS NOW application for active travellers — a hotel reservation service where you can book a hotel on your check-in date with a discount of 30% and more. If we speak about the B2B sector, we have become an almost irreplaceable independent instrument of business trip arrangement for many of our business partners. Due to HRS.com they can save time usually needed for business trip planning and hotel reservation and cut costs. We also offer them an opportunity to monitor their booking statistics online — it allows them to check where, when and what bookings were made, who made them and what were their costs.

I would like to point out Intelligent Sourcing, our special offer for large corporate buyers. HRS.com analyses geography of its partner’s business trips, offers convenient hotels, arranges cooperation with them and facilitates document flow.

We are also a valuable business partner for affiliated companies. This is stipulated by our product and by favourable cooperation terms as well. One of the main steps in this direction on the Russian market was our partnership with OZON.Travel. At present we are engaged in negotiations with other large Russian travel market players, but we can not disclose their names before the project is launched.

Thus, HRS.com promotes several areas of work on the Russian market simultaneously, and our system approach is our key advantage in comparison with our competitors.

— Please, tell us more about HRS.com corporate portal (http://corporate.hrs.com/portal) — who is it focused at, who can become your corporate client and on what terms? What advantages does the portal offer? What services are available for corporate buyers?

— Business partners are a very valuable and an important growth direction for HRS.com. Any company can become our corporate client, irrespective of the number of its employees, turnover or other figures.

After the agreement is signed we provide the client with a special personal portal which is created and set up according to his individual needs. Here the client gets access to a 30% corporate discount for 30 thousand hotels and net rates of our partner hotels. Moreover, the client can grant access to this discount to his employees for their personal trips, which can be one more incentive for them.

We provide convenient reports and online statistics that give full information about the client’s corporate expenses for business trips. We in HRS.com consider our users` comfort to be very important, so we try to decrease the amount of time necessary to arrange a business trip. The company can add data about its branches and book a hotel near any of its offices just in a matter of seconds.

— You have a special section for business travellers on your site, it is called «business travel». What can you say about this target audience and about business travel development trends?

— Any businessman or a company representative can be a business traveller (it is necessary to have a legal body status for this), even if the company is not ready to work with us for some reason. After the client is registered as a business traveller he gets access to our corporate discounts and the report system.

In general, business travellers are a special group and differ from ordinary tourists. First of all, their high and low seasons are different. For example, for the B2C segment summer is the high season and for B2B it is not. Business travellers become more active in autumn.

Besides, service consumption patterns differ: the average number of nights and the average purchase size, as the result, are different, as well as priorities when choosing a hotel, etc.

We can definitely say that the business reservations market is under development and we are one of pioneers among hotel reservation companies. But even now we can see positive trends and growth of the corporate sales share.

— According to HRS.com forecasts, in 2014 20% of reservations will be made through mobile devices. Are you actively engaged in mobile technologies development, how do you promote mobile applications? Can we expect any new applications or mobile services?

— We pay special attention to mobile services development. Our main mobile application, which has more than 10 million downloads by now, is compatible with 17 platforms and operating systems. As a matter of fact, it literally copies functional facilities of HRS.com and allows you to find and to book a hotel within just several touches of the screen.

It should be noted that the amount of reservations through mobile devices has doubled for the past half a year: if at the end of 2012 HRS.com had only 6% of mobile reservations, now this figure has reached 12% and keeps growing. Again, we predict that by 2014 every fifth reservation will be made through a smartphone or a tablet.

These trends are explained by the fact that the world is becoming more and more mobile and in the short run the number of internet connections of mobile devices will surpass that of computers.

I would like to stress that more business reservations are made through mobile devices nowadays, but we expect individual tourists to join business travellers in the near future. After you make your first reservation from your mobile phone and after you see how convenient and easy it is, you will definitely want to broaden your experience to other areas of this service.

— You have signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Russian Association of Business Travel (ABT). Why did you take this decision and what will be the benefits for you?

— This is an important step for us, because we consider partnership with ABT to be very promising. First of all, it includes cooperation in the field of hotel attestation and recovery of hotel services competitiveness in Russia and the CIS. We also plan to participate in educational programs for corporate clients together with ABT. Our company has all the facilities for that: on the one hand, a good understanding of corporate clients` needs and demands and on the other hand, expert assessment of hotels and huge experience in business travel.

— How do you assess ABT`s Hotel Attestation program? Do you plan to mark certified hotels in your system in order to achieve a better position in the business travel segment and to simplify the search for corporate buyers?

— The Hotel Attestation program is one of key aspects of cooperation with ABT for us. We plan to assign a special mark to certified hotels on our site. European experience shows that specially marked hotels attract much more corporate clients, because the latter keep a close eye on service quality. We can guarantee high service standards in certified hotels.

We initially planned to introduce a special mark when the number of hotels exceeds 50, but it is very probable that it will happen earlier, because our corporate buyers are interested in a solution like that even now.

Vlada Stekanova