Modern Hospitality spoke to Jerome Wise, Vice President, UK & Ireland and Enterprise Clients, Amadeus Hospitality for his view on how hotels can use data and technology to navigate out of the Covid-19 crisis…
At the time of writing, the last thing UK-based hoteliers need is another article from a technology company telling them that technology is the silver bullet, and that all they need to do to get their business back on track is to buy this or that piece of software and bingo! – occupancy will be close to 80%, RevPAR will be ahead of 2019, glowing reviews will be posted on social review sites and forward bookings will be through the roof…
If only that were the case. Fortunately for the UK hospitality industry, not all technology companies are created equally. We know it’s not that simple.
Our approach at Amadeus has always been to position our products and services as an enabler of business improvement, not an improvement in and of itself. We know that our systems need to be interoperable with other providers in the ecosystem and design them accordingly – agile, open, flexible.
Our ability to connect multiple touchpoints of the traveller journey through data and technology gives us a holistic view of the wider market and a laser-focused view of an individual hotel’s market conditions.
Demanding times for planning ahead
COVID-19 is likely to continue influencing bigger picture questions around supply and demand for the immediate future. If the government says hotels can’t open, there is no supply. But even when travel is closed down, there is still demand. During the lockdown, people were still searching for travel and visiting websites, even if a destination was off-limits at the time. Hotel websites saw lots of looking, not much booking.
So, the questions for hoteliers are how can I anticipate demand and how can I be ready to capture it when it comes through?
Price will remain a very strong driver of demand and devising a fit for purpose post-crisis pricing strategy aggregates many of the challenges facing hoteliers today. Historical pricing trends – as well as all historical trends – have been rendered obsolete by the pandemic. Pricing teams will need to devise a new strategy to appeal to loyal guests while welcoming different guests, from different source markets
A changed pricing strategy will need to factor in the revenue shortfalls suffered over the past eighteen months. Pricing towards the top end of expectations to restore revenues could deter some guests who remain price-sensitive, while pricing at the bottom end could see rooms sold at margins that do nothing for the bottom line. An awareness of how direct competitors are pricing, and the ability to respond accordingly, can help hoteliers get this right.
Pricing is not the only driver of demand, and there are other ways that hotels can stimulate demand through third parties or directly. Targeting specific customer segments via specific distribution channels was happening before the crisis. This approach will help the post-crisis recovery although hoteliers need to be alert, again, to changes in their own market and the wider picture including traveller segment and preferred booking channels. For example, will the corporate travellers still be staying in your hotel in an era of working from home, remote meetings and less office space? Similarly, have the OTAs or aggregators or bed-banks changed their terms and conditions?
Another way for hoteliers to leverage technology and data to drive demand is through personalisation – another of the pre-pandemic buzzwords that will persist. Travellers will respond positively to hotels that can tailor offers to themselves as individuals, couples, families or groups. Hotels that can combine digital footprint data from authorised third parties with insights from internal systems will be best placed to create tailored offers which can differentiate one hotel from a property down the road.
Guest expectations, when it comes to the on-property experience, will be even higher when travel returns, starting with a desire from them to see – literally – hotels taking health, safety and cleanliness seriously. Conveniently and obviously placed hand sanitiser stations and appropriate signage will contribute to serving this purpose.
But guests will still expect operational excellence, and this is another area where a combination of technology and data helps. Staffing strategies need to be reassessed across the entire property and having a strong technical and operational connection between the property management and guest reservation systems can underpin the decision-making process, particularly for hotels where the guest profile has changed.
For example, a double room with a sofa-bed for additional guests might be occupied by a single business traveller or by a family of four. The property management system will know and should be able to let housekeeping know whether the room needs a quick going over or a more rigorous and time-consuming clean.
Scaling staff up and down in response to external factors will be necessary. Technology can give hoteliers the insights needed to allocate staff in the most optimal way, relative to the occupancy rate, the type of guest on-site at the time, or volume of staff available.
Repeat after me
The most effective way for a hotel to gain loyal customers is to treat them well, even if treating them well means offering a contactless check-in, on-property and check-out experience. For some, this experience is ideal. For other guests, for whom the personal touch and human interaction is an important part of their experience, less so. A good understanding of guest preferences will be important to help hoteliers to strike the right balance.
Providing both contactless and face-to-face options for guests also influences on-property operations, another consideration for hotels. Personalisation needs to cross the contactless technology gap and can do so by using data held on the customer.
Loyalty schemes have been resting of late – very few points were accumulated or redeemed during the first outbreak. But as travel slowly returns, hotels can potentially use this channel to reinvigorate their business by pro-actively targeting loyalty scheme members. Synching the loyalty scheme data with other feeds provides the insights needed to present personalised trips for loyalty members.
Finally, hotels need to double-down on post-stay communications with guests. There are marketing tools available that give hotels the chance to continue to develop the relationship further, such as by regular monthly update-type newsletters to specifically targeted custom-built packages.
Stay or go?
One of the many dilemmas facing hotels is which of the existing trends will grow, which new trends will be here to stay, and which will fade in importance over time (glossing over the inevitability that there are more new trends to come).
Whatever the scenario, data and technology are business-critical for hotels to get back on track because they help inform decision-making across every aspect of business. And while getting back on track is daunting enough, data insights and innovative technology can also be framed as drivers of future growth.
Travel will recover and guests will return. Hotels need to do what they can to get their data and technology strategies in place now so that they are ready for the future.