Amy Bostock: How are hotels using data to better serve guests?

Jessica Conant: The thousands of satisfaction surveys our customers respond to each year provide an important source of data for us to better serve our guests. These surveys gather critical feedback on the guest experience, including staff friendliness, room cleanliness, the physical condition of our properties and quality of food-and-beverage and other services. This survey data helps us refine our understanding of guest-satisfaction levels and allows us to make necessary improvements on a continuous basis.

Brian Leon: Guests are using mobile devices more than ever and we know they’re looking for better functionality and sophistication from their apps. So, we enhanced our mobile apps to provide that increased functionality, personalization and integration of our loyalty program. The mobile app uses proximity/GPS-location resources to determine the closest hotels, returning a scrollable list of nearby options on the home screen, as well as integration into the search functionality. In regard to our external consumer communications, we know customers are disengaged with brand-focused content, so we changed our approach and used data to build a content roadmap. We identified key markets and periods of the year when consumers are looking for inspiration and are actively looking at — and booking — travel. We created content and points-of-interest lists sharing some of the best things those markets have to offer — from restaurants to attractions, nightlife, shopping and cafes. We really look to offer a local touch.

Through our research, we determined location data has significant impact on the visibility of our hotels and their position within organic-search results. To improve awareness and visibility, we partnered with Yext, a digital knowledge-management platform, to manage key information (address, phone, website and geo-location coordinate) and ensure the details are accurate across 100 different websites, apps and platforms. Data has been pervasive in our industry for decades, but our ability to leverage it into themes that can be identified has been relatively poor. Implementing data-visualization tools allows us to consolidate data from multiple sources so it’s easier to identify those themes.

Ali Moloo: In the front-of-house arena, most hoteliers are trying to use data and predictive techniques for more personalized offers, add-ons, amenities and cross-selling opportunities. Meanwhile, the back office is leveraging financial performance, cost, budget and resource data to optimize revenue and profitability for a single hotel, as well as the entire portfolio of property holdings.

Kelly Robb: Data powers personalization increases repeat and direct bookings. Hotels cannot stay competitive or shift share back from OTAs unless they’re willing and able to tap into their guest data and leverage it to personalize marketing communications and on-property experiences.

AB: How are hotels using data to increase operational efficiencies and revenue?

JC: At Marriott, we’ve made investments to refine and improve our analytical capabilities to incorporate more data-visualization tools. These tools are more intuitive and provide efficiencies by focusing on issues and opportunities with the highest potential impact on our revenues. These tools help streamline the strategic-review process and increase productivity for our next generation of leaders, who are able to use them seamlessly while travelling, or in flexible or virtual work environments.

BL: We’re using data to target prospective guests based on their interactions on-and offline. This includes targeting potential customers through re-targeting efforts to ensure our hotel brands are visible at the most appropriate times as the guest moves through their booking journey. We also break our reservation data down by segment and channel, which allows us to analyze the type of customer and source of booking. The insight received from the data helps us create and improve strategies, leading to increased effectiveness and efficiency. We also have partners that provide us with market-share information that compares our most important KPIs with similar competing hotels or brands. We recently rolled out SmartRates — offering forecasting and rate recommendations — to assist hotels with their rate-channel management.

Finally, there is ChoiceRM, which is a revenue-management service giving hotels access to a dedicated revenue manager, with expertise in managing pricing and inventory. It also provides valuable reports and recommendations to help properties zero-in on what needs to be done to be profitable.

From an operational-efficiencies perspective, we launched choiceEDGE earlier this year — the first new global reservation system from a hotel company in more than 30 years. The system allows us to handle more than US$7 billion in transactions annually and has allowed us to make advancements in data analytics and mobile. The platform provides Choice Hotels with scalability and faster-to-market features that will benefit our branded efforts through value-added packaging, upselling, plus direct connections and APIs available to our strategic partners.

Data comes from a number of sources: guest-satisfaction results, revenue results, index results, future business on the books and more. The volume can be overwhelming and identifying specific high-value opportunities can be a challenge. Data-visualization tools allow us to consolidate and present a crisp summary on the status of the business. These tools empower operators to make better decisions and be more nimble.

KR: Hotels are accessing their PMS data to send more tailored and relevant campaigns. For example, Revinate makes it easy to understand booking lead times, channel/rate-code production and demographics with Database Insights — our real-time reporting tool. When all these various data points come together, hoteliers can send offers that are truly relevant to past guests — which result in higher engagement and conversion. In fact, a Revinate study found that personalized communications result in 20-per-cent higher open rates, 70-per-cent higher click-through rates and 73-per-cent higher revenue per recipient. To increase operational efficiencies, hotels should use their review and survey data to find out how to improve on-property experiences and increase guest satisfaction. With the right guest-feedback platform, hotels can streamline the workflow process and set up automatic alerts and notifications so a negative review always gets responded to. Guest communications can also help increase operational efficiencies as emails sent to on-property guests can keep them in the loop on any special announcements, events, offers, closures, et cetera — any ‘need-to-know’ information that will enhance their stay.

AM: Forward-looking hoteliers are replacing manual processes with data feeds and business dashboards to connect the data across the disparate hospitality ecosystem. Data is being used to optimize staffing and expenses, plan special offers and to track and instantly respond to social-media sentiment. Other hoteliers are coming around to the idea of digitizing and archiving data in the cloud compared to on paper in a storage closet so they can simply begin to do these things.

AB: What are some commonly missed opportunities when it comes to mining and using data?

JC: It’s important to take a holistic view in considering the effective and responsible collection and use of data in the hospitality industry. The people who are most skilled at using data to inform strategic business decisions have an exceptional grasp of the issues facing our business by being tightly linked to our business leaders. Disparate data sources also provide a good example of another commonly missed opportunity. In the hospitality industry, many of the functional disciplines are interdependent, but may be engaging in separate data-collection and analytical activities. So, it’s important to consider potential data insights from other disciplines and how issues in one area may impact another before making significant strategic decisions.

BL: The first challenge is comparing two sets of data that are not based on the same values. Comparing “apples and oranges” happens often if we don’t look carefully at the source of data.

“Analysis paralysis” can be a challenge — knowing when we have enough data to make a well-educated decision can present some risks. Choice Hotels has always used a “fail-fast” method, ensuring we’ve analyzed the risks and determined the best strategy. We take a brief pause after launching new efforts to assess the performance to date. Then, we re-tool and revise where necessary, including abandoning options that don’t meet the threshold. Success is built on analysis and risk — we’re taking educated risks. Nowadays companies are usually equipped to record an amazing amount of data but have difficulty turning this data into insights and, consequently, actions. Therefore, there’s an increasing need for building data visualization through dashboards that are relevant in order to be able to easily identify opportunities or weaknesses and make decisions. Then the main challenge is to be able to activate that data through platforms that are able to communicate together, so actions are being taken in a cohesive way and taking the big picture into consideration. The duopoly of Google and Facebook — known as the “big-walled gardens” — although incredibly abundant in terms of data, don’t share with advertisers or with each other. Privacy laws will also limit that in the future.

AM: Leveraging guest data is the most commonly missed opportunity. There’s a lack of knowledge about low-cost solutions that exist to help you and your team do this. Cloud-based solutions and apps beyond Google Docs are still catching on for businesses — and in hospitality in particular. There’s quite a bit of legacy software out there that was built pre-social media and pre-smartphone, that doesn’t play nice with other systems and platforms. There’s also a huge opportunity for hoteliers to tap into and strategize around geo-based data. What cities are my guests frequenting and who is near the hotel now? Can I invite them to our happy hour or provide a VIP-lounge pass to introduce them to the hotel for future stays, or for this one?

KR: Too many hoteliers are still blasting offers that are generic and/or irrelevant to the majority of their database. In reality, one size fits none. Travellers today are savvy and sophisticated. They expect their favourite hotels to understand who they are and what their preferences are. Every communication should feel customized — like it was created just for them. This sounds difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. When you work with a CRM and email-marketing partner, you can easily segment your data into different groups, such as locals, spa-lovers, most loyal, families, et cetera. Now you can make sure your locals get the stay-cation or last-minute offers, while your most loyal guests get exclusive access to special deals and offers.

AB: What are the two biggest data challenges facing hotels right now?

JC: First, Marriott is subject to numerous, complex and frequently changing laws and regulations related to data privacy and security. For example, new data-protection rules just took effect in Canada on Nov. 1, 2018 to bring Canada’s data-privacy laws into closer alignment with strict new European requirements. Marriott has a strong commitment to respecting our customers’ privacy and to complying with these legal obligations to protect and secure guest and employee data. Our goal is to collect and use data in a transparent and responsible way to both improve our business and the overall guest experience. Second, the types and amount of data available for analysis can be substantial. We have to be increasingly discerning in how we prioritize our time and resources in this area to maximize our impact. (see story on p. 3 for details of the recent Marriott International data breach)

BL: [Data] privacy is the biggest challenge we’re presented with in Canada at the present time. With CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), the data we collect and the methods we use to collect consumer information is under a higher level of scrutiny and requires greater compliance from IT and marketing departments. While this is a monumental step for the consumer, it presents significant challenges to hotels. The information that you collect, how you store the data and how you leverage it going forward has very strict guidelines and requirements. This has implications from reservation, to enrolment in loyalty programs, to communicating with our new members and existing customer base. The second-biggest challenge is what to do with the data we have today. It’s not a question of whether we need more data, but rather how to optimize the available data in a comprehensive way to improve forecasting and market insight. Actionable insights require data and human engagement. Artificial-intelligence (AI) platforms are becoming more commonplace, including in revenue management and rate strategy.

AM: Breaking down the data silos is the biggest challenge. Making the vast amount of data available to hotel operators actionable is the second.

KR: Disconnected systems make it difficult for hotels to build complete guest profiles, posing a real challenge when trying to deliver personalized communications and experiences to guests. Traditional, hospitality CRMs claim to connect disparate data sources; however, they are expensive, slow to implement and hard-to-use.

AB: What data-management solutions are available?

BL: We use Excel, Tableau, iDashboard and Vertica to mine and analyze our performance data. We use two digital analytics platforms for web and mobile — Adobe Analytics (Omniture) and Kochava, respectively. For guest feedback and insights, we’ve integrated Medallia into our guest reviews/feedback and allow properties to monitor guest satisfaction and “likelihood to recommend.” Data is available at the property level and can be quickly aggregated to regional, provincial, national and brand levels. Finally, our social-media management and listening is integrated into Sprinklr — allowing our guest-relations, brand and marketing teams to manage and oversee social interactions. Sprinklr offers dashboards and workflows to effectively manage social interactions — not solely limited to likes, shares and comments.

KR: Reviate’s suite of data-driven solutions, guest feedback and marketing, empowers hoteliers to unlock the infinite power of their data to drive direct bookings and guest engagement. It also makes hoteliers better-equipped to understand their guests and deliver more personalized communications and experiences with technology.

AM: There are a few different types [of data-management solutions] out there, from end-to-end data-management-solution suites to purpose-built solutions. myDigitalOffice solutions bring dashboard reporting, AR/AP, purchasing, HR, labour, payroll and document management together in the cloud. Our dashboard-reporting solution further integrates financial systems, social listening and review sites, as well as franchise-specific apps. We also offer streamlined data feeds for people who prefer to use other data-management/visualization tools such as Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and others.

AB: How can operators determine the right data-management solution?

BL: Networking is essential — not just within our vertical, but across other industries and segments. We look at how other brands have overcome their challenges, as well as the best practices we can glean from their achievements (and failures). We ask questions and seek answers from thought leaders and well-established companies that have helped other brands achieve success. Our team attends conferences throughout the year to ensure they’re connected and in-tune with the opportunities in the marketplace. It’s also important to be engaged with the topic — use your brand, go to conferences, follow a thought leader on Twitter. There are lots of opportunities in this space.

AM: First, consider the problem you’re trying to solve, how quickly [the solution] will get you there and the lift to EBITDA once fully operationalized. Next, consider the end user(s): why, how and from where will he/she be accessing the data and what will the output need to be to make it actionable? Consider the tech-savviness required or not required for the users, the time and cost of training (if any), the payback period for those investments and the future value of the data.

KR: When evaluating the right data-management solution, every operator needs to ask the following questions: Do they have a mission and vision you believe in? Are they here to change the industry? Do they understand your unique challenges and are they willing to work with you on unique solutions? How quickly are they moving and evolving? How do they support their customers? And finally, what are other hoteliers saying about them?

AB: How is your business safeguarding against cyberattacks?

JC: Marriott takes the protection of our systems and data of our guests and employees very seriously. We’ve implemented a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity — from technical security controls to ongoing cybersecurity awareness and training for employees, contractors, temporary workers, vendors and other third parties who have access to sensitive data.

BL: We have, and always will, take guest information very seriously to ensure we have the strongest and most effective encryption and privacy programs to protect their information. As we develop new programs, we’re looking to collect as little personal information as possible to complete the transaction. We’re also simplifying online processes to limit the number of times a guest needs to provide personal information, including credit-card number, address, et cetera.

Recently, we announced we’ve rebuilt our global reservations system from the ground up. This allowed us to re-architect the online process to ensure everything we do is in the best interest of our guests. As privacy laws continue to evolve in Canada and in the EU, we’re cognizant of the benefit and the risk that technology plays in our modern world.

AM: [Data security] is our most-important priority, so our security investments are significant. Other than that, it’s top secret — but we do share our technologies, processes and controls with our customers so they are assured of our vigilance.

KR: Data security is top priority at Revinate. For example, we recently migrated to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud to utilize its extensive security resources to further protect our data. We also use encryption and hashings where necessary and utilize a third-party company to run penetration tests on a frequent basis.


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