Let’s face it: Hotel ecommerce has a long way to go, and booking a room is not the most pleasant experience.
There are a hundred websites listing the same hotel, all at different prices based on different room types and cancellation policies and packaged offers. There are sites to comparison shop, sites to read reviews, sites to log in for discounts, sites with bait-and-switch offers, and in the end, the feeling is similar to buying a car: You’re never quite sure you got the best deal.
We could debate whether brands, independent hotels or online travel agencies offer the better booking experience, but the fact of the matter is none is innovating in the space as fast as consumers’ wants and needs are evolving.
Think of the Uber experience and how it has massively simplified and therefore revolutionized transportation, or of the Amazon experience and how it has transformed shopping habits. By comparison, hotel call centers still drive significant demand because calling is often a simpler experience than booking a hotel room online.
It’s not for lack of information. Consider all the digital touchpoints hotels have with their consumers, from the “dreaming” phase through the shopping phase, and then how much data guests are leaving behind them. This data is at the crux of understanding and anticipating guests’ wants and needs and providing them a more seamless experience.
Hotels can use this trove of guest data to form a more modern and tailored ecommerce strategy, starting with a more user-friendly and personalized booking experience. As a bonus, this data helps you make more profitable pricing decisions, and a better booking experience will help capture demand on your least expensive channels.
What Data Should Hotels Use?
The amount of data out there that can shape and improve your hotel Revenue Strategy continues to grow, but a few main buckets to focus on: historical data, demand signals (forecasting), transactional data and guest preferences.
It can be argued the OTA duopoly has access to more transactional data because Priceline and Expedia have a global look at multiple hotel brands, and they can therefore make more accurate decisions around what offers convert best.
However, once the transaction is over, the guest becomes the hotel’s, all the way from pre-stay through post-stay follow-up. This allows hotels to learn more than anyone about their guests — preference data — and then serve up relevant content and offers and generally make a more pleasant booking experience.
Hotels own their PMS and CRM data. Third parties do not have the real-time access to data hoteliers store in their own systems, and without these critical connections OTAs can’t analyze inventory and guest preferences to make the best pricing, promotion and operational decisions.
Integrating with travel data companies gives hotels access to demographic information, travel interests, family make-up, etc. — for known and unknown guests — helping hotels better understand what guests are doing even when they’re not booking with you.
One major hurdle is that fragmented and closed systems have, until recently, been a major roadblock in making much of this data actionable. Even today, much of this information is being captured in fragmented silos. Integrating systems that are written to the same specs and send the same types of files is costly and labor-intensive. There is data stored in a warehouse or a CRM somewhere, but really making the data actionable in real time is tough.
Related Video: Marco Benvenuti on why a personalized booking experience will bring direct bookings
How Can Hotel Data Become Actionable?
Cutting it down to basics: Use guest data to build a more personalized booking experience, measure those results across all channels for more accurate transactional data, and combine that analysis with your demand signals to make the right offer to the right guest at the right time, all via a seamless and gratifying booking experience.
The more complicated answer involves buzzwords like cloud technology, open APIs, automation, machine learning and predictive analytics.
Cloud platforms allow this data to be stored off-premise in an easily accessible place. When data is collected and stored in a single, centralized place, it can then be analyzed and served up to the right application in milliseconds. But not without the proper integrations. If you’re opting for a best-of-breed approach, you need all your systems to be able to read the files containing the data in the same language.
Once your predictive analytics are centralized and accessible, you can start to do things like experimenting with pricing and merchandising, testing different offers and adjusting rates in real time to maximize profitable bookings. The data can be segmented to determine who your most valuable guests are, what their preferences are and why they travel.
It allows hotels to power a much stronger recommendation engine, similar to an Amazon shopping experience.
Consumers Want a Personalized Booking Experience
Once all the pieces are in the right place, properties can conceivably modernize the hotel loyalty experience.
Already, innovative hotels are shaking it up by providing things like tailored offers to past guests in the dreaming phase, rather than the traditional stay-ten-nights-get-one-free strategy.
Consumers are saying they want more value up front, so personalized rates don’t necessarily need to be discounted but instead provide the right value to the guest at the time of transaction. This opens up a hotel’s ability to offer dynamic fenced offers that drive business direct and meet that guest value proposition, all while remaining in parity.
Simply put: Better data and improved hotel analytics will allow you to offer a personalized and more engaging booking experience for your most valuable guests.
Expedia or Priceline aren’t offering a much better experience today. Google and Airbnb are coming with their offerings. For hotels, the data’s there, it’s time to start innovating around ecommerce.