Hotel Digital Lab – London
How to increase profit in a digital and data-driven world
The day after Dublin, the Hotel Digital Lab 2018 edition’s European swing continued in London. Delegates converged on the plush Sofitel St James hotel seeking advice on the best ways to leverage technology and digital marketing to increase hotel sales, and how to find a healthy balance between direct and indirect bookings. Quickfire 20-minute presentations by eight expert speakers, combined with probing questions from the audience, delivered plenty of actionable insights.
Personalisation was one of the watchwords of the morning. Nicola Graham, Cendyn’s Director of Marketing, International, talked about ‘using actual intelligence to put the guest at the heart of what you do’ with enhanced guest profiling and a CRM system to bring all your data together, communication automation and impact analysis. For Tamer Baker of guest feedback platform TrustYou, ‘controlling your appearance’ by doing your own guest surveys (people are more likely to review positively) and offering guests a real-time messaging service so you can respond promptly to complaints while guests are onsite leads to better post-trip reviews.
Another common thread of the discussions was how the customer’s ‘journey’ to booking travel is becoming increasingly complex. Celine Chaussegros of Sojern, quoted an extraordinary Expedia statistic that in 2016 travellers visit on average 140 sites on a 45-day path to purchasing a vacation (up from an average of 38 sites in 2013). To grab those floating potential customers, you have to understand their individual desires. As Chaussegros put it: ‘Shoot for the average and miss everyone … [instead] use real-time intent data, industry-leading data science and multi-channel strategies to target the right traveler at the right time on the right device with the right message.’
Google’s Edward Lines noted ‘that over half of travelers have absolutely no idea where they will go when they start planning their leisure trips’, so providing inspiring content at this ‘dream and discovery’ phase can pay dividends. Video is particularly effective in this phase when done correctly – according to Amine El Alami of Facebook it is key for videos to ‘capture attention quickly and deliver your message within 15 seconds or less.’
Asked about indirect bookings, one delegate said that 70% of his hotel’s bookings came via OTAs. Despite the acquisition cost, the added value to a business of such indirect bookings cannot be underestimated… but only if you get paid. Julien Touraine tackled the thorny problem for hotels taking bookings without up-front payment, outlining Availpro’s PSP Connect solution which automatically connects the OTA, payment provider and hotel’s PMS to verify credit cards, and thus avoid fake bookings and create a much smoother booking flow.
The consensus among the speakers was that guaranteeing that the best price is available from your direct website is the best way to increase direct bookings, so technology that helps you manage your parity is vital. ‘Nothing is more important on your website than not being undercut by OTAs,’ said Charlie Osmond, founder/‘Chief Tease’ of Triptease. ‘OTAs are watching you. Like wolves, they will hunt you down. They know the impact of parity – you need to think and act like wolves too’.
Fastbooking’s Francis Louis Passerini highlighted Triptease research showing that having a price comparison widget on a hotel website increases conversions by 30% and emphasised the importance of giving similarly clear best-price messages on social media. ‘If you are serious about increasing your direct bookings, you need to monitor your conversion rate,’ he added. In local, independent brands and chains, the average conversion rate is just 2.2%, and if you can increase that slightly, acquisition costs fall by an exponentially higher percentage.
Success in the modern travel landscape is not all about technology, though. ‘Sales, marketing and revenue departments need to talk,’ Passerini said. “Have them in the same room if possible.’ Done! Now the rest is up to you.