In three years since we launched SmartOtels in June 2013, we have, like any business, had many ups and downs. One of the biggest wake-up calls, perhaps, was realising that the whole purpose of ourselves as sales and marketing representatives of resorts and hotels in South East Asia and South Asia is to make ourselves redundant. It is so easy, in this line of work, to get an over-inflated sense of your own importance but the reality is that we sell in basically one market and each of our clients has many markets to draw on. Success is in building the business from the UK and European markets to the point where the hotel or resort is quite capable of maintaining it themselves and, in a world of limited budgets, no longer needs us as much as they may need some other route to market.
Limited budgets can also prompt a change of direction – a focus on other markets because, for example, the UK market may take too long to build to an adequate volume, as happened with Luang Prabang View Hotel as the short haul Asian market, in particular, can be expected to respond much more rapidly to what is still a ‘new’ destination. Change of direction can happen for other reasons – as happened with Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa, Palawan, when they decided to build on what we had done by making online training courses available to UK and global travel agents through OTT (a great platform, by the way).
SmartOtels has many competitors as representatives, each of whom we have developed great respect for, and we all face the same issues. Key to overcoming this is finding the right balance between the time dedicated to selling your clients and the time needed to add new clients – if you are going to keep making yourself redundant, you constantly need the pipeline of new clients to bring on board to replace those who will, for one reason or another, leave. This is not just a question of time but of how it is approached and the financial investment needed for it.
We are both proud of SmartOtels – proud of our clients, proud of what we have achieved over 3 years, proud of the ways in which we have innovated, proud of the recognition which SmartOtels has and immensely grateful for all of the support we have received, from our clients and from the travel trade at large. If pride and passion alone could keep a business going, then there is no question that we would be in it for the long-haul.
We are realistic enough to recognise that we have made mistakes and that, key amongst these, is a failure – not only of our own making – to maintain a pipeline of new clients to bring on board. In our early days, we were once questioned as to whether we were focussed enough on our existing clients. The reality is that we have been focussed too much on our clients to take the steps needed to maintain pipeline. “Steps needed” include coping with the enormous cultural differences in how business is done between Europe and Asia. Anyone based in Europe doing business in Asia knows what we mean.
We are going to hold our heads up high and be proud of one further thing: knowing when it is time to call it a day – and, crucially, to do that whilst SmartOtels remains financially sound. SmartOtels will close formally on 31st May 2016. Whilst that sounds a little brutal and terribly final, we hope and expect to see our many good friends – clients and travel trade – on the other side. It is simply that we will not be doing so as SmartOtels but in whatever new, relevant capacities we find.
In the meantime, we are certainly not dropping our clients like a stone. We are still here, ready to put you in direct contact with the very able teams at the resorts and hotels we represent and, as we have done many times, even to help out in putting you in contact with other industry partners – to grease the wheels that help keep this industry running. The many online resources we have created, including this blog and Slideshare presentations, will remain available to you for the foreseeable future.
Our thanks to you all: to the resorts and hotels across South East Asia who have put their faith in us, none of them (we are proud to say) for less than a year and many for much more than that; to the travel trade, travel bloggers and travel journalists who have believed in us and in our clients and who have helped us achieve a significant win-win for our clients. We look forward to continuing to work with you all again wherever the next few weeks and months take us.