This week The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Wolfgang Pagl, the regional director for Expedia. This leading online travel company was formed in 1996 by Microsoft and since those early beginnings has become one of the market leaders in online travel. Expedia is particularly important for the Dubrovnik region and as Pagl commented the city is “one of our biggest destinations in Eastern Europe.”
Expedia is important for Dubrovnik, in terms of filling accommodation capacities, but how important in Dubrovnik for Expedia?
Obviously for the Eastern European region Dubrovnik is an extremely important destination. It is one of our biggest destinations in Eastern Europe and the demand that we are seeing in Dubrovnik over the past few years is phenomenal. Dubrovnik has a well frequented airport, at least during the summer season, and that enables us not only to sell rooms in Dubrovnik but also our package deals. Around a quarter of all our bookings in Dubrovnik come through package deals. The good point for Dubrovnik is that our package deals tend to mean that guests stay for a longer period of time and we receive hardly any cancellations. All in all Dubrovnik is a very important to Expedia.
How long has Expedia been present in the Dubrovnik region, and over that time how have you seen the market develop?
Market management in Eastern Europe for Expedia started in 2004 and Dubrovnik has been involved since the very start. The growth rates, even eleven years down the line, are outstanding. It is nice to see how the collaboration between our marketing team and the hotels in Dubrovnik has flourished over the years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the hotels in Dubrovnik for their trust and cooperation, together we are stronger.
We see Dubrovnik as a top world destination, but how do you believe that the rest of the world sees us?
If you just walk down the Stradun in the middle of the season and listen to the different languages and see the number of people who are here you can see that Dubrovnik is a very well known destination throughout the world. The guests that Expedia brings to Dubrovnik are from all over the world. Dubrovnik is a brand for itself. During the summer months, when Dubrovnik is almost overbooked, I think that the city needs to be aware of the value for money. The relation between the high accommodation prices and the actual tourist offer need to be equal. Due to the relatively small size of the Old City of Dubrovnik there could easily be a problem of overcrowding. Getting the right balance is important. However I would add that demand for Dubrovnik is very high.
What do you believe that private renters in the Dubrovnik region can do to improve their occupancy rates?
The first thing for renters to think about is “where are my customers trying to find my product.” The sales channels for renters have really changed in these modern times. You need to make sure that your apartment is visible to the potential guest; if you have a poor online presence then you are starting for a bad position. Sales channels that were important fifteen years ago might be irrelevant today.
So with online accommodation so vital, how important are the reviews that guests leave?
I would say - very. If you get a few bad reviews from a particular country that will influence the amount of bookings you get from that country. Private renters and hotels need to work with reviews, write answers to question as well as replying to bad reviews. If you take the time to answer reviews, especially bad ones, then not only will that guest be grateful but also all of the potential future guests will see that you care and that you think about your guests. To show how important reviews are to guests we have even introduced a “live review” system in Expedia. This means that guests can comment and leave reviews all the way though their holiday.
How open is the review system to manipulation?
Of course there will be some manipulation but hoteliers and guests are experienced enough to differentiate between genuine reviews and “fake” ones. We also see that the vast majority of reviews are genuine.
When you travel personally what kind of research do you make before you decide on a destination?
Of course it depends if I am travelling on business or pleasure. If I am travelling on business then the most important factor is location, that the accommodation is close to the office. However if I am travelling on pleasure then I have a different set of demands. I would use information from a few websites. I am a father of two so the most important factor is the room layout. To be honest the industry is not doing enough on this point, we give information on many points but a room layout plan is something we don’t do. But one of the most important things is get info from more than one source.
With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris how do you believe that this will affect people’s travel plans?
Firstly I want to say that our thoughts are with the people of Paris in these difficult times. Unfortunately these types of events have always been a reality in the world, it isn’t nice, but it is something that has affected travellers since tourism existed. You always should take care whilst travelling and follow the advice from government bodies and your travel agent. Of course these recent events in Paris have unsettled travellers throughout the world; however I don’t believe that it will have a negative effect on the amount of tourists travelling next year.
Dubrovnik has experienced an explosion of private renters in recent years. How do you see the competition between hotels and private accommodation influencing the way guests decide?
Croatia has always had a strong private accommodation market. We often get asked his questions from hotel owners. The answer is that some customers will prefer the treatment and services that they receive in a hotel, whilst others want the freedom of private accommodation. The market contains different clients with different needs and demands, so the two aren’t directly in competition. The only thing that has changed is that the sales channels for private accommodation have improved greatly in recent years. For Dubrovnik I firmly believe that there is enough demand and enough interest for both hotels and private renters. Dubrovnik could certainly do with more accommodation units; however these need to be built away from the historical city core. Dubrovnik needs to preserve its beauty.