There were two reasons why I decided to write a blog. First of all, one of my greatest teachers, Bo Oelkers Heilberg, said that each of us has to have a personal website where we would promote ourselves as professionals of a field (hospitality industry in this case). And that the easiest way to make a website is to write a blog. Simple. But I didn’t hurry to do that at once when he said this. I waited for a strong cause… And I got it.
I spent my Easter holiday together with my boyfriend in my home country, Lithuania. I was very keen on showing him the Western part of Lithuania – Klaipėda and Curonian Spit. We were planning to spend two days there, so we needed to find a ho(s)tel for one night’s stay. However, it seemed that you can only book hotels of four stars via booking sites. Spending a night in there would cost probably half of our holiday budget. There were, however, some smaller hotels with lower prices as well, but just for my own interest I decided to search for places for accommodation in Lithuanian websites. And in Klaipeda Tourism and Culture Information Centre I found a list of all ho(s)tels in Klaipėda region. There were probably twice as much of them as you could find in any booking site.
After evaluating all the candidates to hold my and my guest’s peaceful sleep for a night, I chose hotel Rūta, which seemed to be a good value for money. I didn’t care much that it’s located not in the centre of a town, since public transport is not a problem. Also it was one of the few which you can book via major booking sites – it showed that they were taking their business seriously (or at least more seriously than some others). Sadly, I don’t own a VISA, so I booked a room for two by writing an e-mail. Memorised the address and looked the location up in google maps. So far everything seemed to be just perfect.
Adventures began early morning in Vilnius train station. Our train was late 20 minutes because of locomotive engine crash. When we finally started moving, the stations in which train would be stopping were announced – and there were much more of them than normally taking that route. Oh well. My bad, that I didn’t pay attention to the duration of a journey when looking for times of departures.
We arrived to Klaipėda about 2 pm (or 14.00 in 24 hour time format). In my reservation e-mail I wrote that we are going to arrive at 15.00, so we still had an hour to find a hotel. We found a bus stop, went to place at about 14.45, found the street… and no hotel at the given address. We started searching the area for a building that would look like a guest house, or a sign of a hotel – nothing. It was just a creepy district, built in soviet times. 15.00 came, but I didn’t receive any call from the hotel (I gave them my phone number when making a reservation). I didn’t have theirs, because I really didn’t think it was necessary – I was in my home country, I knew the address and an approximate location of the hotel, and they had my number.
After a while we decided to come back to the old town of Klaipėda and find another hotel. I called a friend, who helped me and recommended Litinterp – a guest house in the centre of the town. It was a bit more expensive than the “lost” one, but it looked really cozy and comfortable. It was one of those old houses – all wooden and having that special spirit inside. In the morning we found a basket with simple breakfast outside the door of our room. I must say that accommodation at Lititnterp is really worth the money one pays.
To sum up the adventurous start of our holiday, I can define these problems in the tourism sector of Lithuania:
1. Lack of publicity. Most of small accommodation sites are listed only in the Klaipėda Tourism Center’s website – but quite a lot of people choose to book via booking sites, because there they can see feedback from guests. It is natural for people to go to a place which has good reviews and avoid those with the bad ones; they would also most likely choose a place which has some feedback instead of the one which hasn’t got any at all.
Feedback is useful not only to the customer, but to the service provider as well. People might feel bad when criticizing face-to-face; however, at most cases they feel free to share their negative experience anonymously on the internet. If the service provider would screen all the comments on the Internet, that would help to define good and bad sides of their service and of course to improve it.
I can’t see big reasons for accommodation owners not to go public on the Internet. A) Maybe they prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. B) Maybe they think that word of mouth will do all the work. C) Maybe they’re not targeting international market – but it’s just plain stupid thing to do at the moment, since in the situation of economic downfall everyone wants to save some money and are looking for cheaper alternatives. This means, that richer people from Western world will exchange their vacations at fashionable and expensive sites to vacation in cheaper countries, for example, Eastern Europe. The other reasons for not going into Internet might be D) the fee that an accommodation site has to pay to the booking service. But if other ho(s)tels do that – why can’t they? Also, E) most of the small premises are probably owned by people who grew up in soviet times and cannot speak foreign languages well, therefore they stay local and avoid facing the unknown. This is probably the worst attitude in business. Times are changing, all kinds of technology are surrounding us and those who don’t take advantage of that will definitely fade away during time. F) Taxes in Lithuania for hospitality business are much higher than in most other countries, but this is a different topic.
2. Lack of customer relationship management. I didn’t get any reply to my reservation email – so I assumed that reservation was made, otherwise they would have informed me. They haven’t called me even though they had my phone number. They never contacted me after all of this to find out why we hadn’t arrived. They didn’t put up a map with their location or clear description how to find them. We were standing in front of the building of the given address – not only it didn’t look like a hostel (people from Eastern Europe will always recognize a block of flats of Soviet times), there were absolutely no signs of a hotel as well. In other words: absolute FAIL. Calling me and sending a taxi would at max have cost 20 LTL (~ 6 €), while for an accommodation I would have paid ten times as much. Sending an e-mail with a clear description and a map or having that in their website / booking website would cost almost zero.
3. No company websites. Well, almost none. Litinterp has one, as well as some bigger hotels outside the town – but what about others? Websites these days are like business cards, they show company’s face. If all those accommodation providers would have their websites, they could tell about their business much more than address, telephone number and (not all of them!) e-mail. Advantages of having a website are pretty much the same as being listed in a booking site – most importantly, customers find such business to be much more trustworthy. Let’s imagine such situation: you have to choose from three pretty much the same hotels. One is listed in a major booking site, but does not have its own website. The second one has a website, but is impossible to book via a booking site. And the third one has both attributes – a website and a possibility to book via booking site. I can bet my 13 DKK, which I have in my wallet at the moment, that you would choose the third one.
Conclusion? Yes, hospitality business is in a bad situation at the moment in Lithuania, but it is unfair to blame everything on big taxes. There is a lot of room to improvement, so it’s enough to cry in the corner like emo.
I guess it’s enough for the first blog post.
P.S. If you’re interested, you can check out photos from these holidays here.