ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s hotels now get 60 percent of their bookings online, the Chairman of Sri Lanka’s tourist development office Paddy Vithane said amid burgeoning listings on global booking engines.
Most of Sri Lanka’s large hotels have their own websites where rooms can be bought but the real growth have come from booking engines, where international travellers can compare prices across cities and countries.
“If you look at the total booking that they do, it is not just through travel agents,” Vithane told reporter in Colombo.
“It is changing. In Sri Lanka 60 percent of the bookings are online. So they have a choice of selecting where they want to stay.”
Sri Lanka welcomed 1.17 million tourists up to August 2015, up 17 percent from a year earlier. In 2014, 1.57 million tourists visited Sri Lanka up three fold the half a million tourists a year that the country clocked up until 2009.
Sri Lanka is now going through a phase that East Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam did over the last two decades. Sri Lanka has been quick on the draw because the country had privatized telecoms in the 1990s and internet penetration is high.
Thailand based Asiarooms.com was one of the regional pioneers from the 1990s that still exist. Agoda.com, which employed a mode of selling discount rooms prepaid became a big hit.
The Singapore based firm was acquired by US based Priceline in 2007.
In 2009 when a civil war ended in Sri Lanka, Agoda.com had around 30 Sri Lankan hotels listed. Most of them were listed by travel agents who had bought bulk rooms from Sri Lanka’s hotels and were trying to get rid of unsold inventory.
But by September 2015 Agoda has thousands of Sri Lankan properties on its database and offers 371 choices in Colombo and 558 in Kandy.
Booking.com, an Amsterdam based firm which is also owned by Priceline has 4020 properties listed for Sri Lanka.
Booking engines like Agoda also has a solicited rating system where travellers are encouraged to comment and rate after their stay is completed in return for loyalty points.
When Agoda started signing up Sri Lankan hotels just two or three years ago, many properties did not have enough user reviews to generate a rating.
Unlike annual state mandated star ratings, user reviews are ongoing and it keeps suppliers on their toes.
Though there has been scandals about manipulated online reviews, travellers find the reviews useful. When they are unhappy, they travellers also call the booking engine direct to complain and get compensation in points or dollars to their account. (Colombo/Sept15/2015)