Euromonitor International Interview Series: Hichame Assi Chief Operating Officer of HotelsCombined.com – Part Two

Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Hichame Assi, Chief Operating Officer of HotelsCombined.com.  HotelsCombined.com is a hotel metasearch engine founded in 2005 in Sydney, Australia.  The first part of the interview focused on the company’s overall business while part two focuses on its international expansion.

What is your international expansion strategy?

Our goal is to become top-of-mind worldwide when it comes to hotel metasearch. Some of our recent developments to date have been to open overseas offices, to expand our repertoire of available languages to 41 (the most of any other accommodation metasearch site) and to launch international marketing campaigns.

With content in 41 languages, what is important to consider for localization?

Localization isn’t just about offering our service in a local language, it’s more about connecting with a divergent global consumer base in a way that resonates for the individual user.  If we can provide the consumer with a comparison of local travel sites, availability in local currency and local payment options to top destinations for their market, not only are we offering a service that provides a strong value, but we are also fostering trust and brand loyalty.

What response are you getting from the Asian markets?

We don’t like to refer to Asia as one entity as the continent is comprised of a VERY diverse group of markets. E-ready markets like South Korea and Japan are completely different than the up-and-coming ones like Indonesia and Thailand – and China has a completely distinct set of needs and expectations.  Responses vary and are very much related to the maturity of ecommerce and online travel within each individual market. In some markets, we achieve better conversion levels and ROI than in others which require longer-term investments and market education. Online travel agencies such as Booking.com and Hotels.com have been quite successful in many of these markets due to their levels of localisation.

Do you think Asian metasearch engines such as Qunar may expand internationally?

Yes, it is definitely possible. It’s hard to say when this would happen though.

When did you launch detectahotel.com for Latin America?  Why did you decide to use a different name?

The site was soft-launched last October. Due to the growing ecommerce and mobile trends in markets like Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, we felt it was important to be present in these markets with a local name that would resonate with users. The service and site is not much different than what we offer under the HotelsCombined brand, but provides us with the flexibility to localise further if needed.

What is the landscape like for metasearch in Latin America?

Aside from a couple of local players, the majority of meta-search activity throughout the region is by international entrants such as ourselves. While the market is quite vibrant and exciting, it still requires patience, dedication and long-term commitment – it will take some time to reach the level of e-readiness and maturity seen in other, more developed countries.

What differences do you see in the mobile channel amongst countries?  In which countries, is it more powerful in terms of generating bookings?

User behaviour on mobile differs greatly by market… particularly with regards to search-to-book conversion ratios. Tendency to book is higher in the more mature markets, but we’ve also found that markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where smartphone penetration is amongst the highest in the world, have a higher tendency to commit to booking over mobile.