By Viktar Korbut
These pioneers in the field of modern technologies know what they’re doing. According to Marina Kondrashova, who co-ordinates the hotel.by project, a third of all tourists and businessmen book rooms from their home or office. Importantly, discounts can also be offered for Internet bookings (compared with paying directly at a hotel’s reception).
It takes just 10-15 minutes to book any hotel in the city, with all prices listed. Such e-systems actually inspire hotels to offer discounts, explains Ms. Kondrashova, “If a client sees four hotels online and only two can immediately confirm the booking, the traveller is likely to choose those over the others: in 98 percent of cases, people will chose a hotel which offers immediate confirmation.”
The new website’s designers admit that it took several years to launch the project. Meticulous calculations were made before the site went online. The Deputy Sports and Tourism Minister, Cheslav Shulga, notes that three or four firms have previously planned similar online booking systems, without seeing success.
The hotel.by site is the first to offer booking of Belarusian regional hotels, while also giving visa support, transport and excursion services. The site plans to expand the range of services offered in future, integrating with global TransHotel, to allow information to be automatically displayed across the company’s partners. The significant advantage of this step would be the portal’s integration with the sites of other companies.
Belavia National Airline is the first to support the new service, offering e-tickets and the chance to book a hotel. Belavia’s Deputy Director, Igor Cherginets, notes that Europeans now prefer e-services, with the London-Minsk route being booked online 95-97 percent of the time. “Firms which fail to master e-trade will fail. Our company has been the first in the country to introduce e-tickets and you’ll soon be able to book taxi services via the Internet too,” Mr. Cherginets tells us.
Mr. Shulga hopes that, in three years’ time, Belarus’ export of tourist services could generate as much as $500,000 annually (triple today’s figures). However, he stresses that much depends on which new hotels open in the capital and in our small towns. At present, Belarus has over 300 hotels, with 33 having been certified and classified (using the 1-5 star award system). The Europa and Crowne Plaza have five stars, while the capital’s Victoria and Minsk and Vitebsk’s Luchesa have four stars. In all, 24 hotels have three stars and 3 hotels have two stars. Just one hotel has a single star. About half of these ‘star’ hotels are situated in Minsk, including the privately owned five star Сrowne Plaza — part of Princess Group International, which also owns the Princess Casino and Rock House Cafe. Other private Belarusian ‘star’ hotels are situated in the provinces.
Investors are already showing interest in Belarus’ hotel business, with Russian chain Amaks Hotels & Resorts recently arriving in the country. Its representative, Victoria Yermolayeva, tells us that the hotel chain is known throughout Russia, having 17 hotels in the provinces, in addition to five sanatoriums. Amaks Hotels & Resorts already owns hotels in Bobruisk and Mogilev. In early 2010, co-owner of Amaks Hotels & Resorts, the General Director of Bobruisk’s hotel, Dmitry Zlatkin, commented on their first acquisition. He notes that negotiations on the privatisation of hotels are already being concluded in the Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk and Minsk regions. He views the Belarusian market as ‘underestimated and very promising’.