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Why Digital Transformation Should Start with The Customer

Shona Whitehead founded Cogent Blue in 2009 after years of working in hotel revenue, distribution, and reservations. Her career has moved from working in hotel meetings and events teams to leading a company helping international brands navigate their digital transformation.

“We typically get called in to help with commercial and technology projects, where hotels want to optimize their people and their processes,” said Whitehead.

Often Cogent Blue comes in at the very start of that digital transformation process, charged with looking at the entire digital strategy of a business, with clients ranging from global brands to individual properties.

This blog is an extract from our latest eBook: Revenue Strategy For Independent Hotels: How Technology Helps You Compete. Download your free copy today:

Whether working for large-scale businesses or single properties, Whitehead urges all her clients to have a clear idea of where they want to get to and when, as they map out their digital transformation.

“There needs to be a very clear strategy and road map that will give context to allow good decisions to be made. Otherwise, we see a lot of disparate systems getting put in that are ‘flavor of the month’ because it’s not tied back to a strategic approach,” Whitehead remarked.

“Front and center of all technology decisions should be customer engagement. This can flow into revenue, and it can flow into profit. But if you're only making a technology decision on your top or bottom line, without considering where the customer is within that decision, it's going to be a bad decision.”

Cogent Blue believes that hotel companies big or small should focus on the same priorities when purchasing tech. They need:

  • To be easy to do business with from a customer perspective
  • Have a single source of truth for data
  • Have a stable and integrated tech stack

“You need stability between all your different systems to enable you to take advantage of new technologies as they come in. You want to be able to switch out tech easily when a better solution comes along. It's much easier for independents and small hotel groups to do that,” Whitehead explained.

Understanding The Asset Value of Technology

Owners, investors, and asset managers often play a role in the purchasing decision of new technology. Here, Cogent Blue believes more emphasis should be placed on the improved asset value technology can bring.

“If you're building something that you're going to be managing it's a considerably different decision from if you're flipping a property. We see all the time where technology sticking plasters are applied because owners don’t want to invest. Owners and asset managers don’t know how to communicate how technology forms part of the value of the asset,” Whitehead explained.

The other value Whitehead sees in technology investment is in retaining talent. Hotels need to better understand how technology can help them augment the value of their team members.

“Technology should be used to automate repetitive tasks and free up team members to do the more interesting jobs, and properly spend time doing what they should be doing. I don't think hospitality has harnessed that yet. Staff worry new technology will remove their jobs, but it doesn’t. Having the latest systems can help you attract and retain talent,” Whitehead said.

Market Resilience and Growth

Cogent Blue works across all asset classes in the industry, from budget properties to ultra-luxury. For 2022, clients in the luxury and ultra-luxury sectors have shown the most resilience, according to Whitehead. 

“It has just been phenomenal,” she said. “Everyone we are working with in that sector has had a record year, and not just a post-pandemic record year, but an overall record year.”

For Whitehead, maintaining ADR throughout the last couple of challenging years has been a tactic that has played out well.

“It has been down to a lot of them making very firm decisions during COVID not to drop rate and sticking to their brand message and understanding their value,” she remarked.

And, of course, having an integrated tech stack that makes it easy for the customer to book, and enables revenue teams to optimize rates in line with demand, is clearly helping here.

Discover more about how Duetto works with independent hotels in our latest Special Report: Revenue Strategy For Independent Hotels: How Technology Helps You Compete. Download your free copy 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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