As room demand weakens, new hotel revenue sources awaken

For almost two decades since 2002, Singapore-based Global Hospitality Solutions (GHS) has established a profitable business in helping hotel partners be present in the entire customer journey in travel and tourism, from engaging travellers to driving purchase and eventually rewarding for loyalty.

But with a large part of their business being in room bookings, GHS found its existence challenged when the pandemic hit in early 2020.

Quek: Online retailing, including F&B delivery, plays a crucial role in supporting hotel businesses

“There was zero tourism. And so, our work suddenly became focused on helping our hotel partners survive – which in turn ensures our own survival,” recalled CEO Bernard Quek.

To develop different and more stable ways for hotels to get business amid recurring lockdowns and continued international travel restrictions, GHS adjusted its technology platforms to facilitate F&B orders and delivery, voucher sales and e-gifting services.

GHS’s transformation birthed Social Media Hospitality Salesbot, which enables hotel room bookings and voucher sales via Facebook and Messenger, online F&B ordering for takeaway or delivery, and restaurant reservations via a chatbot as well as WhyQueue Hotel e-Store, which powers a private e-store for both hotel companies and individual properties.

However, Quek discovered that the business pivot required more than just a technology change. By stepping into F&B purchase and delivery services, GHS now has to put on a new operational hat and play the role of a coordinator that connects customers with transport vendors and hotel partners.

He detailed: “When it comes to selling a room, the customer puts in arrival and departure dates, selects rooms, books, pays, and the transaction is complete. With online F&B purchases, the customer selects what he wants, and puts in his delivery address which must be linked to Google Map for us to instruct our delivery partners. This process can get complex beyond Singapore, such as in the Philippines where there are many regions and zones.

“We have to work with our transport partner – in Singapore, it is Lalamove – to ensure the hotel meal, chocolates or wines are delivered to the customer in good condition and in accordance to our hotel partners’ brand and service standards. And should there be delays, we must sort things out.”

GHS’s WhyQueue Hotel e-Store now supports various hotel companies and properties, such as Grand Hyatt Singapore, Grand Hyatt Jakarta in Indonesia and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts across Asia-Pacific. It recently won over Marco Polo Hotels and will be establishing an online store for the chain’s properties in Manila.

According to Quek, hotels have a lot to gain by moving into online retailing. Citing an example, he said a hotel client in Singapore generated seven-digit revenue “over the last couple of months” from just F&B delivery alone.

Online retailing can also cushion hotels from recurring lockdowns. When Singapore went into Phase 2 partial lockdown on May 16, which restricted staycation guest movement and prohibited dining in at eateries, Hyatt’s online orders grew 300 per cent in a day.

For now, Quek observed that major hotel companies and high-end properties were more open to the idea of shifting to online retailing and F&B delivery, compared to smaller, local properties. But even with a more open mind, it was not easy for these companies and hotels to move out of their traditional business in room sales.

“Most have never done F&B delivery as a key segment of their business, so we must guide them in every step of the way. Today, F&B is a very important part of hotel business. To do F&B business now requires hotels to relearn concepts. For example, hotels cannot sell a delivered meal at the same price as a dine-in meal because the customer is not paying for the hotel ambience and service,” said Quek.

He said Hyatt properties have done well in transitioning a part of their F&B business to takeaway and home delivery. They had the foresight to set a much lower, more practical price range for food orders. An Impossible Burger served at a Hyatt hotel restaurant would cost about S$30 (US$22.70) or S$40; the same meal for takeaway costs S$12.

F&B products sold by Hyatt properties are marketed at lower prices online

Quek opined that e-gifting is another valuable lifeline for hotels. The service allows corporate clients to purchase hotel vouchers for their staff and/or business partners, which can be used to redeem a specific product – such as a two-night stay in a deluxe room at a specific hotel – or a range of products, such as premium toiletries or gourmet treats.

“E-gifting supports the future of work. Many people are working from home, so bonding is gone and organisations are looking to make up for that loss of engagement through thoughtful gifts that their staff or business partners can enjoy at home, be it a nice meal or a bottle of wine,” said Quek.

Even when movement restrictions ease and post-pandemic travel resumes, Quek is confident that online retail will remain useful for hotels. “Consumers have formed a habit to send gifts of food, wine and other goodies to people they love and miss during the pandemic, and e-gifting will continue to have a place even as movement restrictions ease. There is still room for improvement in overseas e-gifting, and what we do can help to enable this service,” he said.

GHS is growing its Social Media Hospitality Salesbot and WhyQueue Hotel e-Store solutions most prominently in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines now, with plans to expand into Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan soon.

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