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Postcard from Thailand

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I just wrapped TripAdvisor’s Master Classes in Bangkok (at Banyan Tree) and Phuket (at the Moevenpick Spa and Resort Karon Beach).  It was really great to see our customers in both places – I still remember the first client visit I made in 2009 to Thailand – it was at the Moevenpick and I met with the General Manager, Hans Frutiger, and the Director of Sales and Marketing, Craig Fong.  At that time, social media was a seldom talked about topic in hospitality but Hans and Craig were kind enough to give Brand Karma a chance.  They are tied for being the first customer for our analytic tool (the contract for Novotel Clarke Quay in Singapore came in on the same day around Christmas 2008 – the best present we’ve ever gotten!).

Since then we’ve gotten more customers in Thailand – mostly through word-of-mouth in this small and tight-knit community.  Therefore, coming back to Thailand, especially to Bangkok and Phuket, always warms my heart, because of the support we’ve had here, and the great customers we’ve gathered over the last few years.

The Bangkok sessions were packed – I think there were in total over 400 people who attended both the morning and afternoon sessions.  It was interactive, fast-paced, and fun.  Even though I had heard Alvin give the TripAdvisor presentation 4 times in Indonesia, every time I had a new thought bubble and I’d Blackberry my team on the newfound insight.  Siew Hoon – being the energetic and gracious moderator, kept the pace moving and the audience engaged.  Particularly insightful in the Bangkok session was the panel discussion involving Arnaud Girodon (formerly GM of Indigo Pearl, now, GM of the soon-to-be-opened InterContinental in Koh Samui) and Eric Hallin (GM of Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok).  Both are very forward thinking in their approach on digital and direct booking – and with results to prove it.

The Phuket sessions were also packed.  Both Scot Tune (GM of Paresa) and Michael Nurtbalian (E-Commerce Manager at Indigo Pearl) shared war stories about their forays into social media.  Scot had an incredible ROI case from his investment in TripAdvisor Business Listings, and Michael had an incredible ROI case from his investment in Facebook advertising from last Christmas.  All in all – great learnings.

If the presentations and the panel discussion fed my brain, something that happened in the last session in Phuket moved my heart.

After Alvin finished his 8th (and final) presentation for this series, the questions that came in about some of TripAdvisor’s policies were passionate – much more so than in any other Master Class.  There were a lot of concerns about the policy for fraudulent reviews.

When TripAdvisor explained that the process for detecting fraudulent reviews begins with an algorithm and is then sometimes supplemented with human editors, an attendee responded with, “I didn’t start my business on an algorithm.”

He went on to passionately explain that mistakes are costly because they impact a proprietor’s business in a direct and significant way.  From the back of the room, I saw a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement.

There I was, sitting in the ballroom of my first client, next to the GM who signed our first contract, and in a roomful of my customers.

We began what we had to offer with a set of algorithms; at the time, that’s all we had… but it’s people who have carried us to where we are today.

Thank you Hans, Craig, Simon (from Novotel Clarke Quay in Singapore) for signing a contract with an unknown entity when we first started.

And thank you, Thailand, for reminding me for whom we started Brand Karma for: people, not machines.