Exclusive Interview With the President of HOTREC

It was a privilege for me to speak with the voice of the European hospitality industry, Ms. Susanne Kraus-Winkler, president of HOTREC, the trade association of Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés in Europe. And I’m glad to share with you the global insights and trends about our sector that she revealed to me in our exclusive interview.

HOTREC represents an industry that includes around 1.8 million businesses and provides 10.2 million jobs, and brings together 44 national associations representing the sector in 29 different European countries.

trivago Business Blog: Thank you for your time. It’s a pleasure to interview a person of your calibre, with over three decades of experience in the hospitality industry. It would be interesting to know why you chose to work in this sector.

Susanne Kraus-Winklker: I grew up in my family’s restaurant business. Contrary to the mainstream education in hospitality, I did not attend a hotel school, but received a master’s degree in Business Administration and Economics. At that time, my family opened our first hotel in addition to the restaurants, and I became part of the team. The art of creating and delivering good service immediately fascinated me, although it was quite demanding during peak seasons. I fell in love with restaurants and hotels anyhow, and have never been able to even imagine working in any other industry ever since. And needless to say, I did have the advantage of starting with an entrepreneurial background thanks to our family businesses.

You have various hotels to manage and you represent the voice of all European hoteliers. What are the main struggles for these hoteliers when it comes to competing online and driving direct bookings?

In the last 5 to 10 years the platform economy started, exploded, and developed all those online travel platforms and digital distribution systems. Our industry was greatly challenged to keep pace and create strategies to adapt to that rapid change, especially when we consider that 90 percent of hospitality businesses are micro enterprises and most of our entities are SMEs. As power is shifting towards digital distribution, hoteliers and hotel managers will need to embrace new technology tools to better leverage these channels, while working to preserve direct bookings and repeat visits. This is still a learning process and a challenge for many hoteliers.

How do you think European hoteliers can overcome these challenges and reinvent the way they connect to their guests? 

Nowadays it is crucial to understand the present situation of hotel search and bookings, and how our guests make their decision. We might come closer to a time when it’s not just OTAs that tourists turn to when looking for hotels and destinations. Anyhow, we have to understand that we need to be closer to our guests again when it comes to direct bookings. We have to understand that we need to offer them the best possible deals on our websites along with the best and most interesting content, as well as easy access and professional, easy-to-use booking engines. Be as flexible as the OTAs technology-wise when it comes to the cancellation policies and reservation through 3-click technology. We have to try to be more creative when building offers or packages, and use OTAs and search engines as marketing tools rather than the one and only distribution channel for our hotels and restaurants.

Do you think that the technology available is tailored to the needs of hoteliers to compete online? What would you improve?

Many of the new technologies and applications for hotels are developed by IT-specialists and e-commerce professionals, who are dealing with the complex interactions in the online marketing world every day. The hotelier and the hotel staff have a lot of other things to deal with, so what they need is trustworthy guidance and easy-to-use and cost-effective tools to start the online journey. We need more applications and systems to make complex things simple and controllable.

47 percent of travelers use metasearch sites to compare hotel prices to find their ideal hotel (Research Now data from 2013-2015), that’s almost every second user. How do you think metasearch marketing is different from other marketing channels for hoteliers?

Almost all hotel-comparison portals offer a direct connection to their price comparison system for hotels. Such direct connections provide the opportunity for hotels to achieve a higher visibility for their own online channels and guide guests directly to the hotel website.

For this, a technical interface that enables the real-time transmission of rates and availability, as well as a management of the cost-per-click bid, are needed. The bid management, in particular, will be an important factor in order to achieve maximum visibility and a cost-effective distribution of the hotel’s website price in the metasearch engines. So metasearch marketing has created entirely new requirements for hotels that differ from those of the previous online sales channels.

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Let’s look at things from the traveler’s perspective. I image you travel a lot for business and leisure. How do you plan your accommodations?

For leisure travel, I define my destination and ask my travel agent to make proposals according to my personal preferences, which he’s known perfectly for years. After I have received his proposals, I check the Internet to see which suits me best and then let my travel agent know which hotel or travel package he should book for me.

For business travel, I book directly with the hotels, which I know personally and with which I have personal connections. For all new destinations, I use metasearch engines or some of my favorite OTAs to check which hotel might fit best for me.

At trivago we believe that hoteliers know their hotel best and are well positioned to provide the most transparent and unbiased content about their property.  How do you think a hotelier, who is busy with his daily workload, can keep up on complex direct marketing campaigns and provide attractive content for his hotel profiles?

Everyday life in the hotel is highly stressful and there is often little time to think about strategic things and complex marketing issues. But nevertheless, the online presence of a hotel and the creation of a balanced distribution strategy are the most important tasks for the hotel management to be successful in the future.  So we have to build up awareness and know-how for the importance of online marketing, and we have to train and educate our employees to understand and to use the new opportunities effectively.

Knowing that you represent the voice of the European hospitality industry, which counts 1.8 million enterprises and provides 10 million jobs, what keeps you awake at night?

After the Brexit referendum decision, uncertainty and disruption are worrying me a lot. I really hope that the European Union will find a strong way into a sustainable future. This is the only chance for all of us in Europe. Operation-wise, one of our biggest problems is having enough skilled and motivated staff members and less bureaucracy, as this is really killing our entrepreneurial motivation. The thousands of SMEs form the backbone of the European economy.

How should hotels be responding to the sharing economy disrupters?

There is one clear answer: create a level playing field. Policymakers have to make sure that they do not accept a parallel economy. The latest agenda of the European Commission on the collaborative economy gives some guidelines to governments to create rules and regulations when it comes to taxation, consumer safety, and employment issues. The “old” economy is full of burden and bureaucracy and won’t be able to support it much longer if things don’t change.

What is a big trend that you foresee for the hospitality industry for 2017?

In terms of distribution, I think we will see more and more mergers to regain the distribution power. Small and individual hotels have to be more and more creative to get the market awareness needed.  In terms of product development, digitalization will create many new tools and products to give better and more individualized service to our guests.

About Susanne Kraus-Winkler, President of HOTREC

President of HOTREC since 1 January 2015, Susanne Kraus-Winkler has been a Member of the HOTREC Executive Committee since 2004 and Vice President since 2010. She is a longstanding industry representative as well as an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry with 35 years of practical experience in the hotel and restaurant business and 25 years of managing a family-owned hotel and restaurant business. She also has many years of practical experience in tourism consulting and lecturing at several universities.  Ms. Kraus-Winkler is a founding partner of the LOISIUM Wine & Spa Resort Hotel Group and a shareholder of several hotel management and tourism consulting companies, such as Harry´s Home hotel group, RIMC Austria – Hotel Management & Consulting GmbH in Vienna, as well as an advisory board member of MRP-Hotels.

Ms. Kraus-Winkler holds several positions on different management boards of tourism representations in Austria and at the EU level. She is the Vice President of the Austrian Professional Hotel Association, a member of the board of the Austrian national and regional hotel classification group, a chairperson of the examination board of the Austrian Hotel Association’s hotel academy, a member of the Austrian chapter of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and a member of several official working groups and committees in the Austrian tourism industry.