How the hospitality industry can get the most from the data insights revolution is one of the most pressing issues currently facing the profession.
As Kevin Edwards, Co-founder and Managing Director of hospitality IT solutions specialists Avenue9 (pictured), recently said: “As a technology provider, we are asked: how can we drive revenues to hotels’ direct websites? The simple answer: if hotels had invested their money 15 years ago in technology such as their websites, they would find that they wouldn’t need to consider how to build their online booking community. The reality is that the industry has spent the past 15 years providing a service to its guests, whilst the Online Travel Agents (OTAs) have invested in technology to entice guests to book through them, making the booking process and experience seamless, hassle free and cost effective.”
What hoteliers need to do is invest in the systems and data collection to track the buying behaviour of their client base, learning about guest preferences – ranging from where they come from, type of room they want, food and beverage choices, and favoured leisure activities, to what they like about booking through an agent, and why they aren’t booking direct with the hotel.
Encouragingly at last year’s HOSPACE 2014 Conference and Exhibition, 77 per cent of hospitality delegates polled said they understood what ‘Big Data’ really is; and 87 per cent thought they would invest in insights from their business’ data. The ‘data insights revolution’ is an area where OTAs, airlines and supermarkets have traditionally led the way in customer relationship management and loyalty schemes, so it perhaps came as no surprise that 74 per cent of the HOSPACE audience polled believed that the hospitality industry was not good at obtaining insights from their own data.
At HOSPACE 2014, Michael Prager – non-executive Chairman of Optimal Monitoring Limited & Hospitality Pro, and formerly Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Hilton Worldwide – compared the collection of data to be “like taking a shower in a fire hydrant. You have to synthesise the huge volume coming at you. Think big, do small”.
Employing specialist analysts has been mooted as an effective means for extracting relevant guest information, but obviously this is often not an affordable option for a small independent hotel. So it was with great interest that I read at the weekend in The Sunday Times (21 June: ‘Big data – set up for little people’ by Kiki Loizou) that the good news for start-ups and growing businesses is that that they don’t necessarily need in-house data analysts, but instead specialist analytics firms and the right software (such as IBM’s Watson Analytics).
One such analytics business is Cambridge-based Futurespace, which is now – according to The Sunday Times article – ready to offer a solution to smaller ventures, where “the firm’s data scientists will work with young companies to pull apart data to detect fraud, track trends and understand what customers want”.
Futurespace’s Chief Executive Martina King, states in the article: “Small businesses have to work hard to make sure they behave like really large ones”. She believes “People are becoming more interested in the power of analytics to improve their business. You can really better your company through the clever use of technology…It takes so much more effort to win a new customer than to look after an existing one.”
There can be little doubt that UK hotels – regardless of size – need to embrace the data insights revolution to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of their customers. The industry can no longer afford to lag behind the likes of Amazon, Expedia and Tesco’s in understanding customer buying behaviour, and anticipating client needs.
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