BHN speaks to BedLinker founder and CEO Thuan Dao about taking on the hotel market competition in Vietnam and the challenges startups are facing across the country.
- What do BedLinker do and what was the motivation for setting up your company?
I am the CEO and founder of the BedLinker company and I have been in the hotel business for about 15 years now. My background is in revenue management, sales, reservations and e-commerce, so I know about hotel distribution very well. After 15 years, I have been working for a few hotel brands and some other local brands so I decided to open my own business.
BedLinker provides a B2B solution and B2B occupies a big portion of the market and hotel business in Asia. If you work in the hotel industry, you will find up to 60 per cent of the business comes from B2B. That is why I find the hotel industry is such a big space but there is no real solution that is helping the hotel resorts working in the segment at the moment. I came up with the idea of founding BedLinker in July 2017 and after that, I built the business plan and everything so we were ready with our idea at the end of November 2017.
We officially launched into the market in March 2018 so we can now say that we are a one year-old company. We are also working on an accelerator programme with a company that has come to Vietnam from Canada to help us grow our business and scale it.
- How does BedLinker differentiate from the other companies in the market and how will you be able to take on the bigger players in the market like Hotel Beds?
BedLinker is actually working with Hotel Beds now and we get their global inventory. We do not have any direct contract with other countries yet so we are working with Hotel Beds so that we can pull in that data to put it in our platform. This is called API connection and this is a model of Hotel Beds.
For BedLinker, we are in the hotel side so I help the hotels to connect directly to the travel agents. They can set the rate and sell direct to the travel agents and we do not put any mark up on that. We allow the hotel to sell directly to the travel agency through our platform.
The hotels always control what they want to sell, they do not want to rely on the middle man as they cannot control other factors, like markups. Usually, on the hotel side, we want to control one factor to sell to the user. In this case, I really wanted to open up an opportunity for hotels to control what they want to sell so they can help you better. This is a concept that BedLinker uses to help the hotel side get more direct bookings from B2B clients.
- BedLinker has just developed two products – BedLinker and the Bed Allocator booking engine – how does Bed Allocator use the B2B management software to benefit hotels and resorts?
We call it a two-in-one integrated distribution solution so Bed Allocator and BedLinker.com are actually integrated with each other. If a hotel uses Bed Allocator as its software and they want to sell on BedLinker.com, they just activate a single button in the backend and they do not need to log in again.
For BedLinker, we hope to build it for the hotels specifically because I myself design the customer experience for that software and it is specific to the hoteliers. In every hotel, they have hundreds or a thousand travel agency operators and travel management companies. They are working with them so every hotel has its own B2B clients.
Currently though, they do not have any tool to manage all these B2B clients on one platform, so they can load the contract rates for the B2B clients with us and then they can decide on the allotment or the group inventory. There are a lot of difficulties for the travel agencies on their own to assess the availability directly so that is why a lot of agencies are working with BedLinker or even an OTA. That is because the inventory will all be on one easy-to-use platform.
One of the key functions of the Bed Allocator is the B2B booking engine and we provide e-vouchers through that to help our clients. In the end, we want to work with hotels through the Bed Allocator to increase direct bookings from our B2B clients.
- What are your aims moving forward with the company, particularly in terms of expansion and across Asia?
In 2018, we set up the background in Vietnam then for this year (2019), we are looking in some South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Cambodia to see if they want to start working with us. This would be in terms of being a channel partner or to sell for us in other markets. Hopefully, from this year onwards, now we can start our expansion across Asia.
- What are the challenges that startups are facing in the travel industry at the moment in Vietnam?
I think for every country when they start an e-solution in the market, when they are very new, they need time to grow for their customers. The first year is about how you can get the first customers to pay for you and that is the first challenge. I think every startup has to overcome that.
The second one is about funding to grow faster. In Vietnam, to get funding is very difficult and new companies here need to get used to that. That is why we have to fund ourselves and use our own pockets to run the business. That is why we cannot grow at such a fast rate as we see in Europe or the US.
- Are you envisaging any trends emerging this year in terms of direct bookings?
The trend for direct booking now is not only taking place in Vietnam or Asia but in Europe as well. People are talking about direct bookings to the hotel. Hotels are fighting the solutions to get the direct business rather than going through a third party.
Another trend that we believe is still sustainable is the B2B segment that customers will use. This is the hospitality industry so people need service. Travel agents are doing this very well, by taking care of their customers, providing service in a very professional way and being good consultants. That is why customers get more using the services of a travel agent, otherwise they have to go and pay for it themselves. This is another trend that we believe will take shape in the coming years.
For more information, visit the BedLinker website at www.bedlinker.com.