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The man behind thousands of online travel bookings

HotelConnect's new Country Manager, Ultan Bannon, connects thousands of hoteliers with many of the world's most successful online travel booking websites.

Ultan Bannon cycling over the Meuse River, France, Agoda and Orbitz – we know them as some of Australia’s most popular online travel booking websites, but have you ever stopped to consider where the content comes from and how it gets there?


For these particular websites and over 100 more, that platform is HotelConnect (a subsidary of Innstant Travel Group), an application that offers hotels wanting an affordable solution to increasing online sales a one-stop shop – it plugs hotel operators into these 100-plus channels, managing their content and contracts, and leaving hotel owners free to service their guests.


HotelConnect also gives its travel agent clients the ability to access 275,000 hotels worldwide, over 65,000 events and sports tickets, in excess of 50,000 transfers and 15,000 car hire destinations.


Recently, Dublin-based Ultan Bannon joined HotelConnect in the role of Country Manager so we decided to find out what drives the man who plays a major hand in driving significant global online travel bookings.

What attracted you to the Innstant Group and HotelConnect?

Most companies in the travel sector are either a travel company or a travel technology company. What excites me about the Innstant Group is that they are one of the few companies to successfully marry their travel inventory with their travel technology. As a former hotelier HotelConnect is a no-brainer to me. Just think about it…I can access hundreds of channels from one platform and with the Hotel Site solution I have a cost effective way of driving direct bookings for my hotel clients.


What makes HotelConnect unique and why should hoteliers be using the platform?

It's unique because we understand travel and technology. Whether we like it or not, OTAs (online travel agencies) are here to stay. They can reach global markets that your brand site or hotel group site cannot. We’re unique because we don't just plug you into the 100 channels and walk away. We negotiate contracts and manage all the channels. There’s one master agreement and one invoice at the end of the month. It's like having your own global sales team without the salary overheads.

Our Hotel Site solution has a two-step booking engine, the site is mobile enabled, and has muti-lingual and multi-currency functionality. It’s easy to connect to meta search engines and comes with SEO/SEM campaign management. This is your online marketing team. Put simply we market your hotel online while you get on with the business of looking after your guests.

What are the challenges you'll face in this role?

The main challenge is where to prioritise the global opportunities for HotelConnect. We believe there are real opportunities for us in the Australian market as we are already growing our business here through the Innstant Travel wholesale platform.


Our channel management technology is revolutionising the provider side of the business. It’s connecting our client hotels to 100s of channels in markets they would never have dreamed off. The beauty of our channel management is that we do all the work and we are particularly focused on driving bookings for those difficult nights and seasonable dips. Essentially we flat line your occupancy 12 months of the year.


What exciting developments are in the pipeline at HotelConnect?

China is fast becoming the largest travel market in the world. We have built up our presence there over the last number of years and are now reaping the rewards. HotelConnect gives our Australian clients access to this very lucrative market. Our HotelSite solution comes with multi-lingual functionality including Chinese. This is one of our best performing markets and where we see key growth opportunities for our Australian hotel clients

We have a pipeline of innovative products and opportunities. We are working on some really interesting developments in the whole area of delivering direct bookings via meta search engines. We will be going live in January – watch this space.


Up close and personal with a gorilla in the Virunga National Park, Rwanda
Ultan Bannon (second from right at the front) with armed guards and colleagues in the Virunga National Park, Rwanda

And what about your own travels. What are among your most memorable experiences?

Two really stand out.

Trekking with armed guards in the Virunga National Park on the Rwandan border with Uganda and the Congo to see the rare mountain gorillas. These were the gorillas that featured in the movie Gorillas in the Mist about the life of Diane Fossey. We were lucky enough to get within touching distance of these rare and amazing animals. Unfortunately the gorillas have to share the park with tens of thousands of heavily armed soldiers engaged in a three-way guerrilla war between two rival militias and the Congolese army.


Closer to home I once cycled solo through the Belgian Ardennes following the footsteps of the Band of Brothers through the sites of the Battle of the Bulge. It was a truly humbling experience. Every village has a monument to the Allied dead and some houses still have American World War II flags hanging from their windows. The War Memorial and Museum at Bastogne are a fitting tribute to the 110,000 killed or wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.


Have you had any online booking nightmares?

No, I’ve been very fortunate in my online travels and always do my research before booking. I judge travel websites on the search, site functionality and booking experience. Before I part with my credit card details I source credible travel reviews. Live chat backed up by prompt customer service is a must and it has to be available 24/7. I always get a warm, secure, cosy feeling if they have a bricks and mortar presence and there is a human being that I can phone if there’s a problem.


What's the craziest thing that's happened to you while travelling?

In 2004 I arrived in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, managing a media trip to highlight the work of a charity. Just as we were having our passports checked by a 14-year-old with a Kalashnikov, all hell broke loose with gunfire and explosions outside the airport. I phoned our contact in the city, who was hiding under his desk, and this normally quiet, reserved Englishman roared down the phone to get back on the plane and get out as fast as we could. We got ourselves back on the plane and unbelievably managed to extract all of our luggage from the terminal. We were the only people on the plane back to Nairobi.


What makes Innstant different to other suppliers?

?The Innstant Travel Group’s key differentiator is our ability to harness the natural synergy of our wholesale, retail and technology divisions. These natural synergies include HotelConnect clients having distribution through our 20,000 global travel partners. We do all the negotiating, setting the client hotel up with one master commercial agreement covering all channel partners with one commission invoice at the end of the month. Think of the admin and contracting cost savings?


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Written by: Jessica Zoiti
Published: 13 November 2015

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