In the 2018 Guest Review Awards one particular trend that stood out was the success of emerging markets - destinations experiencing a surge in visitor numbers and subsequent growth in the local travel industry.
Georgia took the title of the country with the most ‘perfect 10’ cities: both Tbilisi and Batumi were in the top three with 66 and 32 properties receiving top marks from guests respectively. The Eastern European destination saw a 15.9% YOY increase in visitors in 2018 (January to April), fuelled by an increased number of flights to Tbilisi and Kutaisi airports, and significant marketing activity by the Georgian National Tourism Administration. Opportunities in rural and eco-tourism have been tipped to attract further numbers in future.
Of the six new countries appearing for the first time in the awards, four were in Africa. With tourist arrivals across the continent expected to double by 2030 and hotel development booming, it was encouraging to see so many partners already exceeding the expectations of new visitors.
In the Americas, Brazil entered the top 10 for winning properties for the first time, with 24,477 partners showing South American hospitality at its best. Despite the country’s widely acknowledged challenges, tourism arrivals are growing at a remarkable rate with 3.15 million visitors in the first half of 2018.
“We’re incredibly proud of the work our partners do to show their guests exceptional hospitality. Seeing diverse locations around the world experiencing really significant visitor growth, partly driven by the innovative approaches taken by accommodation owners, shows the strength in authentic travel across the globe,” says James Waters, Vice President of Partner & Customer Services at Booking.com.
While hosts in more established markets have been able to hone their offering over many years, those in emerging regions have a unique set of challenges in the provision of a memorable guest experience. According to Virginie Faggin, Programme Director, Emerging Markets at Booking.com, this starts from an operational perspective with technical and economical hurdles.
“On the technical side, many of these properties don’t have a front desk with even a laptop so the whole process is managed by mobile - normally either a feature phone or cheap smartphone. They don’t use classical media like emails and communication is through other channels like Whatsapp - so traditional ways of working don’t apply,” she says.
“This can create friction with customers, often around payment as debit or credit card facilities may not be available and guests can feel uncomfortable paying in cash. Likewise, some international customers may prefer email contact but the property may not check these or trust them - we work to help the customer and partner connect.
“The other side is economical. Some hosts may need additional support to develop their business, refurbish the properties or train their front-desk team,” she says. With international visitors’ expectations varying to those of the domestic cohort, fledgling destinations have the added pressure of needing to invest as they grow. “The needs of international travellers are different - for instance, they want coffee and tea in the room, information on local attractions and travel tickets. Different cultures have different needs too, so as more international travellers arrive there has to be support provided to help partners understand those differences and adapt the offer,” Faggin adds.
Looking to the future
For partners looking to boost their guest reviews in the coming year, Faggin recommends focusing on the basic customer needs, which are consistent across both emerging and established markets: “They look at pricing, availability, choice and the facilities. Emerging markets are attracting a relatively small portion of the international traveller population today and there are many more customers to help, we just need to understand their needs. What are the blockers and what are the ways forward?”
There is also real potential for emerging markets to revel in their status: “There is a new generation who are more interested in a local experience over a chain hotel, and therefore there is a lot of opportunity for accommodation providers to appeal to customers looking for a really authentic experience’” says Faggin.
Indeed, this opportunity for the undiscovered is what James Waters believes can help partners boost reviews in future: “What can you offer that no one else can? Is it a home-cooked meal rich in traditional, regional produce or a guided tour of local secrets that immerse the guest in the true culture of a destination. Those unique touches that travellers will find nowhere else, those are what guests remember and make for an extraordinary experience.”
- 759,845 properties across 219 countries and territories were recognised in 2018 Guest Review Awards
- The main challenge areas for partners in emerging markets are technological and economical, alongside the differing needs of international vs domestic guests
- Partners in emerging markets can take advantage of the growing interest in authentic, local experiences and should consider what they can offer that is truly unique