Q&A: How one Latin American startup is using tech to help hotels keep profits during the COVID-19 pandemic

latin america hotel startups

It’s no secret that the tourism industry in Latin America has been flattened by COVID-19, as the industry is expected to suffer $230 billion in revenue drain and more than 12 million job losses throughout the region, according to Reuters.

In Colombia, around 80 percent of hotels were closed before the country reopened and the national hotel association reported a 14 percent occupancy at hotels in July, which is about 50 percent lower than pre-pandemic rates. The hotel industry in Colombia and other countries in the region could take at least two years to fully recover.

In the meantime, some businesses are bringing tech solutions to the table to help the hotel and travel industry in Latin America during the coronavirus pandemic.

Inbal Tubi has been a hotelier in the region for two decades, owning and running hotels in Brazil and Colombia. The Bogotá-based Who’s Your Guest site that Tubi started was born after he became frustrated with the high commissions taken by commercial booking platforms. So he started his own platform that would take less of the profits away from hotels and promise them more insight regarding their guests’ preferences.

Now available in most countries in the region, Tubi said Who’s Your Guest looks to empower hotels financially and strategically in this crucial moment as the industry faces a historic crisis.

Latin America Reports spoke with Tubi about the site. Excerpts follow:

What was the need you were looking to fill with Who’s Your Guest?

The first (problem) is the high commission they have to pay to Expedia and Booking for a reservation they receive for a minimum of 15 percent and up to 30 percent, which is crazy. Booking makes more money than the hotel on the reservation. And second, you have absolutely no information about the guest you are about to receive. The guests go on TripAdvisor and know everything about you, but you have no idea.

In the last six months, when COVID pressed the rest button on the travel industry, we have built the Go Travel club, which is a direct booking club. The guest reserve directly with the hotel and they receive discounts depending on the ratings. The better guest you are, the cheaper you pay.

When it comes to commissions, how much are we talking about being taken away by commercial platforms?

If you don’t have to pay the minimum commission, you will increase your net profit by 12 percent. And since the average profit made from a hotel reservation is 8 percent, increasing it by that much is 50 percent more than what you can make usually.

One of the biggest advantages we have with the direct booking system are that the hotel receives the guest profile with the reservation and copy of documents so they can do contactless check-in. The guests come and they can send them directly to the room. And second, that you will receive the guests’ preferences so the hotels know in advance if you like an extra pillow on the bed, if you’re lactose intolerant, what tours you do. So they can give you personalized service.

How hard hit has the hotel industry been in Colombia and the region?

Eight out of 10 hotels in the industry have closed down temporarily. There’s about 27,000 establishments that were closed down until September 1 when Colombia reopened and one of every three people lost their jobs. So a very hard impact.

Tell us more about the direct booking platform and why is it such a particularly opportune tool for this moment to combat COVID?

I opened Who’s Your Guest two and a half years ago with the whole idea of doing direct reservations. But the time was not right. Hotels were too busy working in whatever they were doing because the industry was growing like crazy and nobody had time for new ideas. Also, the grip that the online travel agencies like Booking and Expedia had on the industry was very strong.

Now with COVID, crises are the best time to introduce new ideas. So with COVID, this is the moment that I’ve been waiting for three years. It’s all about timing. Just like Airbnb was born out of the 2008 crisis. Everybody is already expecting a new normal, so that’s the time to bring in new ideas.

What does the future for hotels look like in the region?

Hotels will move more towards technology. They will have to address a few concerns the guest will have like safety, which is the main one. Hotels will start using more applications for check-in online. For contacting the guest. Room service in bed. Keyless door locks from your cell phone. It will become much more technological.

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