Obvious success for initiative
Recently, the idea of booking hotels online seemed mere fantasy; now it’s commonplace — but how well are Belarusian hotels mastering this new avenue?
By Victor Andreev
Minsk’s Victoria Hotel (recalling ‘victory’) launched its online booking system two years ago. Director Nadezhda Shirey won’t reveal exact figures but assures us that the innovation has raised the number of guests staying with the hotel. She notes that they find the hotel in three ways: via the hotel website; via a tour operator; and (for foreigners unfamiliar with Minsk especially) through booking.com. Repeat bookings tend to come directly through the hotel’s own site.
Minsk’s Victoria Olymp Hotel
Ms. Shirey believes the international booking system is the best way to attract guests, but not all hoteliers agree. Yelena Kovshienko, the administrator at Lida Hotel, sees no necessity for using booking.com. She explains, “We advertise via Lida’s site for housing and public utilities, offering our e-mail address to potential guests. Our information is also placed on belhotel.by; clients find us easily and we don’t have problems with room occupancy. On the contrary, sometimes, we don’t have enough rooms.”
Agro-eco-tourist accommodation is yet to take full advantage of an online presence, with just 1 percent of estates using the service. Valeria Klitsounova, the Chair of the Country Escape Association of Rural and Ecotourism, tells us, “Estates are almost never represented on sites for online booking, since this requires IT knowledge and the necessity of keeping availability schedules up to date. Once someone has booked online, you cannot tell the guest that the bed is unavailable! Therefore, very few take this path.”
However, there are exceptions — such as Three Bears Estate, which opened this year in the Braslav District, and uses booking.com. Inna Kovaleva, the administrator, tells us that the results have been obvious. She explains, “Lithuanians and Russians book with us this way, while Belarusians still search elsewhere for agro-eco-estates.” The route to online presence is becoming every easier, allowing visitors to Belarus to easily find and book a hotel countrywide. All that’s needed is a payment card.
I decided to check out online booking and began with a search for a hotel in Zhlobin, for September 19-20th, for two people. Booking.com offers only apartments while other options are outside the city: a hotel in Rogachev, and on the Gorval agro-estate, as well as three hotels and an apartment in Bobruisk. The choice could be better. Belhotel.by gave me three hotels in Zhlobin, while hotel.by offered just one Zhlobin hotel. Better than nothing.
It’s too early to say that online booking has reached perfection. Gennady Levshin, the Director of BelarusTourService (which administers belarushotels.by) tells us, “We work with 180 hotels, including those in smaller towns, and accommodation on agro-eco-estates. Why aren’t all our hotels, especially in small cities, present on large foreign sites? Not because they don’t want to or cannot but because they often lack interest in doing so. Booking.com has a decade of working in Europe but is new to Belarus. I believe it’s better for us to promote the country ourselves, including online, rather than relying on foreign sources, which serve their own interests.”
Outside point of view
I asked acquaintances from abroad to try finding accommodation in Belarus. Here, they share their impressions...
There’s no problem booking a room in Minsk, Gomel, Vitebsk or the other big cities. Booking.com has quite a good selection, although Lida isn’t represented.
I booked a room at the Minsk Hotel within a few minutes. Breakfasts are included in the cost but the price surprised me: Br1,600,000 a night. The Europe Hotel wanted Br2,800,000 for a room. Ensuring a hotel in Ostrovets was more difficult, as there’s no direct booking. You have to message them and wait.
I looked at booking.com, trivago.ru and tripadvisor.ru. It was all easy, just like booking hotels in other European cities. There was a lot of choice in Minsk: from the President Hotel to budget accommodation.
I had no difficulty. I booked a hotel in Minsk this spring and received a phone call within half an hour from the manager of the portal, confirming my request.
Just three clicks and I’d booked a room at the Yubileinaya Hotel. The price was 99,000 Tenge for 7 nights: $543.
Through booking.com you can book the Minsk, Victoria or President Hotel in Minsk, or cheaper apartments. However, the quality of these re-equipped apartments is doubtful. I booked rooms online in Grodno, on the Panski Mayentak estate, in Sula; I’m satisfied with the result.
Andrey Novikov, the Head of Consumer and Hotel Services for Minsk City Executive Committee, sees prospects in promoting Minsk through international online booking systems:
Looking at the globe’s biggest booking sites, Minsk has about 200 places of accommodation represented: not only hotels, but hostels and apartments. All can be booked from anywhere worldwide. Since the Ice Hockey World Championship, the hotel business in Minsk has changed beyond recognition, offering 9,500 beds (up from 4,800). It only benefits guests, who have more choice. Meanwhile, competition is compelling hotels to reduce prices.