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Why The Brain Likes Data Visualizations

Ted Global speaker and best-selling author David McCandless will be headlining ourRevenue Strategy Forum (RSF) in London on November 1. It’s his first in-person event in two years. We are honored he has chosen RSF London at the Ham Yard Hotel as his first post-pandemic outing.

We caught up with him to find out a little more about what he will be presenting on, why the brain works better with visualizations, and how data mining is like gardening.

Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your presentation at RSF London?

I’m going to give the audience a data-driven tour of the universe. We’re going to ping pong around various topics and subject areas, some business-related, some world-related, some not related to anything, and give a tour of the data storytelling space. How you can use data not just in a dry way to review numbers but how can you live in it, how can you humanize it, how can you make it more intelligible, interesting, useful, and insightful.

We are particularly sensitive to patterns. When you convert data and numbers into color, shape, and patterns the brain engages and suddenly you start to see things, spot trends, and movements that you may not have seen in a wall of numbers on a spreadsheet.

How can visualizing data through dashboards help hotel revenue teams glean more insights and a greater understanding of what the data is telling them?

One of the key aspects of data visualization is speed. When you look at a wall of numbers, the numbers go through a few layers of your brain, you have to transcode them.

We’ve evolved to be aware of our environment and spot what is important. It’s our brain’s language. When you convert numbers into a visual your understanding is faster, like hundreds, maybe even thousands of times faster.

Using a dashboard, you can quickly spot patterns, or spot the outliers, decide and act. The joy of a dashboard is the speed, and for the travel industry right now speed is of the essence.

Another layer is predictive forecasting: how might this trend play out? This is especially important for hoteliers where seasons and even the time of day can come into play. You can have demographic data pouring in that is impossible to track for a human, but a computer can crunch the numbers, deliver it to your dashboard, and you have insights, can make decisions, and optimize quickly.

Our theme is ‘Strategy Before Forecast.’ How do you think hotels can and should put strategy first as they plan for 2022 and beyond?

These last few years have been a complete disrupter of our predictive models and forecasting. One part of your strategy must be access to a more robust and responsive data-driven dashboard set up so that when these big waves of disruption crash in you can adapt and bend and come back with a better response. It’s like being Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.

Tell us a bit about your philosophy of data as ‘new soil’. And how do you think this can relate to hotels?

We think of data as something we measure, something we collate, something we sift through, and it has its own atmosphere of being sort of dry. Spreadsheets, tables, and databases are quite flat.

But when you start engaging with data it's a new kind of matter. That's why I call it soil; it is something you can kind of dig through with your hands and by nurturing it with visualization then data science is really like gardening. It starts to bear fruits: inside stories, trends, dashboards, visualizations, graphics, these little flowers bloom.

How can and should hotels marry ‘gut feel’ with data analytics, the use of algorithms, and AI to get more strategic?

Don’t drop the gut! The gut is excellent and for a lot of practitioners in the industry that gut has been refined through a lot of experience and study. I think analytics, data-driven dashboards, and data-driven decision-making can augment the gut, can sharpen the gut. You can test the gut. You’ve got the gut feeling – now see if the data says they’re married. If so, you’re moving towards certainty and firm decision-making.

But if you’re not sure. The gut says this… Then you can look at the data and be investigative. The data doesn't lie, so you can always double-check, sharpen and look for blind spots in your more intuitive decision-making. I see technology as a bolster and an augmentation of gut-based decision-making.

How can hotels focus on what is important in the sea of data that is out there?

You have got to first identify your goal. What are you trying to do? What data and how you might manage that data must be orientated towards an end result. It depends on what your business goals are. In hotels, the bottom line is obviously revenue but there might be more subtle goals, such as customer satisfaction, staff optimization, or being more responsive to market trends.

And the goal can act as a filter: we don't need this data, we don't need to include this perspective, and it sort of acts as the banks of the river so you can corral and shape and direct that data stream so that moves towards your goal and you get a more customized, effective, useful result.

Can you have too much data?

Yes! One of the flip sides of the data revolution is the glut, the overwhelm, the analysis paralysis.

Have a solutions-orientated mantra. Be goal-focused on what you want to achieve and understand what output and dashboards and visualizations will augment that. So, you get

something that doesn't have too much of ‘this’ and it's not distracted by ‘that’. You're looking for something that's minimal and functional. Formulating and sharpening the goal and then being fully engaged with the data will help with that.

Discover revenue strategy top tips from industry leaders from CBRE, ProfitSword, EY, Accenture, and more, in our latest Special Report, Strategy Before Forecast: Open Up Your Revenue. Download today:

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Sarah McCay Tams, Director of Marketing Communications.

Sarah joined Duetto in 2015 as a contributing editor covering Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). In 2017, she was promoted to Director of Content, EMEA, and in 2022 promoted to Director of Marketing Communications. An experienced B2B travel industry journalist, Sarah spent 14 years working in the Middle East, most notably as senior editor – hospitality for ITP Publishing Group in Dubai, where she headed up the editorial teams on Hotelier Middle East, Caterer Middle East and Arabian Travel News. Sarah is now based back in the UK.

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