The travel and hospitality industry faced major headwinds in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Travel was limited, more planes were grounded than flying, and hotel room occupation levels remained suboptimal. Leaders at travel booking platforms had to discover solutions that were agile and flexible to ensure growth and business continuity with people wary of traveling long distances.
At travel booking platform Agoda, which has 5,500 employees across 35 countries – 70% of them based in the Asia Pacific region, the industry crisis was an opportunity to transform its technology stack, especially customer relationship management (CRM), and build flexibility and sustainability in its operations to face potential future disruptions, evolving business requirements, and fast changing consumer behaviour.
Even before the global borders closed in March 2020, Agoda’s B2B partner development team had been struggling with a lightweight in-house-developed CRM platform that wasn’t built to support the next level of growth, noted Pierre Honne, Agoda’s Director for Partner Development.
“We faced a number of challenges in dealing with large administration workloads and duplicate tasks in the Partner Development team, all of which resulted in inefficiencies that needed to be rectified. With consumer travel behaviour rapidly changing in 2020, we needed a platform to better manage data and information to support and align our teams on common goals,” he said.
Tasked with growing Agoda’s network of hotels and homeowners, the B2B Partner Development team needed an agile CRM solution quickly. Agoda surveyed a number of CRM platforms to figure out the best fit for its needs, eventually deciding to partner with HubSpot.
HubSpot began working with Agoda just as the lockdowns were starting in March 2020. The software firm understood that Agoda was looking to better manage their data, align teams, and ultimately grow their partner programme. “The first step was to bring the whole partner development team on to the same platform. This provided all employees with a single source of truth and a complete view of all touchpoints with their partners,” said Kat Warboys, HubSpot’s Marketing Director for APAC.
Growing the business
As soon as Agoda deployed HubSpot’s CRM platform, the company saw significant improvements across its systems and processes. For example, the time to onboard new employees came down to only two weeks from two to three months.
“All the relevant information that a team member needs is accessible in the HubSpot software as opposed to multiple stored locations,” Agoda’s Pierre Honne said. Furthermore, HubSpot’s dedicated customer success team collaborated with Agoda to customise the platform to suit its requirements and workflows.
“For example, customising the CRM through integrations such as the HubSpot-Twilio integration allowed Agoda to filter deeper insights into conversion paths and forecasting,” HubSpot’s Kat Warboys added. Apart from deeper insights, the partnership allowed Agoda to eliminate overlapping tasks, and facilitate better collaboration through the adoption of an omnichannel strategy.
“We have been able to deliver superior customer experiences (CX), which in turn, grew our partner programme. For example: we have seen a 50% decrease in the amount of time required for preparation in between calls, a 31% reduction in the Average Handling Time (AHT) of partner calls, and a significant reduction in inbound requests as a result of partner delight,” Honne said.
Although the travel industry as a whole is not expected to recover until 2025, the online travel segment is recovering faster than the rest of the industry, according to Agoda’s Pierre Honne.
“Online leisure travel is forecast to recover by 2023 and surpass 2019 levels by 2024 – and this can be mainly attributed to the accelerated shift towards digital discovery and consumption. In Asia for instance, countries that have recovered well have done so in the most frictionless way possible. Despite not having all markets opened fully, countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan are seeing record bookings,” he added.
Honne has been working with Agoda for more than a decade and before that he had worked for some of the biggest global hotel chains. According to Honne, there has perceptibly been a marked evolution in customer behaviour over the past few years, which has further accelerated during the pandemic.
“The new age of travel looks different. Ease of use, convenience, and reliability play an important role in the minds of travelers today. Therefore, the future lies in booking multiple components of a trip in one, easy-to-use platform,” he said. Honne added that travelers are moreover increasingly putting a premium on flexibility, given the volatile circumstances that evolved over the last two years.
“During times of volatility, making quick pivots is key. Aligning our teams on one unified CRM platform has made this process significantly easier. It has enabled us to better collaborate with our partners and offer the desired conveniences and flexibility that travelers are seeking,” the Agoda executive explained.
Meanwhile, HubSpot’s Kat Warboys noticed that while the travel and hospitality industry has been at the forefront of the COVID-19-induced digital transformation, the paradigm shift has led to a bloated tech stack, because each team within a business adopted a point solution to solve for their specific use case. The aftermath of such hasty decisions were:
- Disconnected data
- Higher total cost
- Misaligned teams
- Worse CX
In her opinion, as the travel and tourism industry reinvents itself, businesses should look to improve the way they communicate with customers by tapping into the channels consumers already use for day-to-day communication.
In Southeast Asia, WhatsApp is the preferred mode of communication for a vast majority of consumers. Real-time updates about order confirmation, payment requests, boarding passes and much more can be delivered via WhatsApp. “ Integrating WhatsApp with your CRM can further help businesses automate and personalise messages, ultimately delivering seamless CX at scale,” she explained.
The long road ahead
As the travel business continues to grow and transform for the post-pandemic world, Agoda is bracing for a continuous surge of revenge travel. “We remain focused on providing the most seamless experiences for our customers today by growing our technological capabilities to ensure they have the best customer journeys,” Agoda’s Honne said.
As far as HubSpot is concerned, the company is bringing the high-end features of its CRM platform that were previously available only to its large enterprise customers to SMEs too. Conversely, some of the CRM features for SMEs will also be offered to large enterprises. “This helps our smaller customers do more on their own, and helps our larger customers customise their usage of HubSpot as they continue to grow,” Warboys noted.
In the end, Honne and Warboys agree that platforms that provide targeted and customised offerings for different travelers will be instrumental in re-energising the travel and hospitality Industry. Additionally, businesses that have the foresight to anticipate future customer needs and invest in the right systems and processes will be better positioned to profit from the rapidly-evolving business environment and the constant churn in CX expectations.