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Hotels Confront Possible Downturn At Skift Global Forum

I joined Duetto as Director of Product Marketing in the summer. Coming from another SaaS environment but not particularly aware of the finer nuances of the hospitality tech sector, I thought attending the Skift Global Forum in New York would give me a great exposure to the industry. And I was right!

Touted as the ‘TED talks of travel’ this event provides a great forum for those in the industry to come together and address the hot topics of the moment.

From big hotel brands to travel tech companies at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence and machine learning – this is a place that provokes change.

There were plenty of big topics up for discussion, including environmental responsibility and personalization. And yes, recession was a theme that reverberated around the room – but in a positive way. How can we plan and prepare for the next downturn seemed to be the talk track.

Big Brands Talk Downturn & Expansion

Christopher Nassetta, President and CEO for Hilton, in an on-stage interview with Seema Mody from CNBC, talked us through the rapid expansion plans of the company, which is currently opening two hotels per day.

Hilton is big on pioneering innovation with tech, but Nassetta was keen to stress that Hilton was primarily in the business of people. “We’re about people serving people,” he told the audience.

Touching on the topic of an impending downturn, he was pragmatic: “We are in a prolonged cycle of growth, this can’t be infinite. We’re seeing more caution in the industry trends, profits are strong but not growing as much as before. We are seeing more cautious behavior from people, due to uncertainties and worries globally. We are seeing more choppy trends than last year,” was his message.

Yet Nassetta didn’t seem too worried. “Our model is ‘super crazy resilient’,” he claimed.

Unsurprisingly, Marriott International’s Chief Financial Officer Leeny Oberg had a similar message for the crowd, as she touched on the state of the US economy, confirming that Marriott is also seeing weaker demand in terms of transient business.

Marriott recently announced a new partnership with Expedia in which the hotel giant will be able to take advantage of the OTA’s tech stack, allowing Marriott hotel operators to log on and add their inventory and pricing direct. 

Tech Firms Push Personalization Argument

Stephen Taylor, Chief Revenue Officer of Sojern - a provider of a data-driven traveler marketing, took the audience on a tour of the ‘always on’ consumer. “They can access dozens of channels 24/7, 365 days a year. This is an opportunity and a challenge for marketers in the hospitality industry,” he stressed.

Taylor then went on to burst the personalization bubble with his candid statement that traditional persona segmentation is too rigid for travel marketing. Consumers exhibit more nuanced purchase behaviors influenced by many things, such as the type of travel they want to book, when they're doing it, where they're doing it from, and what their mood is at the time of booking. Someone might be more of a planner when booking vacations, but quick to pull the trigger for work trips. Someone else might be impulsive when it comes to fun.....

“Personalization is a buzz word. It’s not a new thing for marketing. If your competitor understands your customers better than you do - they win,” he told us.

Taylor’s message segued nicely with that of Travelsify's CEO, Bruno Chauvat. The AI analytics firm has amassed a database of more than 400 million traveler and expert reviews and according to its analysis, people talk about cozy spacious rooms as much as they do about breakfast.

Chauvat asked the audience to consider how such review data could impact how they priced a room? By having data and insights into personal preferences and ancillary spending habits, hotels can build more diversified pricing strategies, which may help build resilience into their business models when and if a downturn hits.

All in all, the Skift Global Forum provided a fascinating insight into the exciting world of hospitality. One that I am looking forward to delving deeper into in my new role. These are certainly exciting and challenging times to be involved in this sector. The team here at Duetto is intent on setting the pace of innovation when it comes to revenue strategy solutions, so that when a downturn hits hotels are better equipped to weather the storm. 

Photo Credit: Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, speaking at Skift Global Forum on September 18, 2019, in New York City. Matt Mateiescu/Skift

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