We've all had this experience before, right? You’ve waited in line to check in to your hotel after a long flight, you finally get to the front desk, and the clerk is typing away, searching for your name, and after a few minutes she says, “Hmm, are you sure you reserved this hotel?”
Yes, you’re sure. But she doesn’t have your reservation because either you booked through an OTA, or your name didn’t transfer correctly, or the CRS was down, or for whatever reason one system didn’t communicate with the other.
It happens all the time in the hotel industry because of integrated systems that are not working together correctly. For all the talk we hear (and all the work we do) about personalization and cross-channel marketing, we’re a long way away from getting where we need to be.
Personalization is not just a buzzword you’re seeing on Twitter and in industry news. When I’m on the road visiting customers and talking with hotel owners, operators and revenue directors, they’re all yearning to know more about their customers. They want to take that extra step: to build a special relationship with each and every guest before they arrive, throughout their time on property and post-stay.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of this. For years we’ve talked about collecting more information so we can get to know our guests better and make a personal connection, through marketing or on property, so that they come back the next time. For years we’ve been looking at so-called “Big Data” as the solution, but I’m sorry to say that to this point we’ve made little progress.
Personalization is loyalty
By now I think we all realize that points programs are a thing of the past. Millennials don’t care about points; they want instant gratification. They’re brand-promiscuous. Because loyalty programs are rather cookie-cutter — pretty much everyone gives you free WiFi, for example — it has become a point of frustration for both the brand and the consumer.
Loyalty programs need to evolve. And this evolution becomes more important as more travelers book on mobile devices and through apps. As a traveler who’s loyal to one or two hotel brands, I shouldn’t have to check rates and promotions outside of those respective apps. I should be confident that I don’t need to shop anywhere else to know I’m getting what I deserve.
What’s taking so long?
To make progress on personalization, the hotel industry needs to get over a few of its own hurdles.
Integrating technology systems can be extremely complicated and costly in today’s world. Because so many different systems have been patched together over time, many through workarounds both on and off premise, systems don't often work together. The industry is so fragmented, and it takes so many different systems to run a hotel, that connecting and sharing data between the PMS, CRS, CRM, RMS and booking engine can be extremely challenging.
Because of these issues, data such as guest profiles are replicated across multiple systems, often times inaccurately. Hoteliers spend too much time manually entering data and are often unable to discern which system is giving them the best and most accurate data.
Cloud computing can fix much of that. When hotels move their operating systems into the cloud instead of hosting them on property, technologies become more plug-and-play and data can be accessed smoother and quicker.
But moving to the cloud appears, for most hoteliers, easier said than done. While we’ve seen some pretty rapid advances in the technology space of late, moving a hotel’s data and operations into the cloud seems to be a slow and arduous task.
There are some very smart people working in this industry, on both the brand and the tech supplier side. If we don’t get moving quickly toward overcoming these challenges, not only are we in danger of losing control of our distribution to OTAs, but we’re in danger of losing our guests to the likes of Airbnb.