Every hotel recognises the power of data in improving their services and marketing, so why do so few hoteliers use it correctly?
Of all the travel innovations of the past decade, data in hospitality could prove to be the most significant. Compiling quantified information on every aspect of the guest experience, data is redefining how the industry measures success.
Despite this, industry research suggests businesses are losing $62 billion per year through poor customer service. Meanwhile, recent surveys have also discovered that more than 40% of hotels have only a basic data analysis plan in place. It’s not simply a case of hotels failing to gather valuable data. Often, they simply just don’t know how to turn those numbers into actionable insights.
So how can hotels implement an effective data strategy? The path to data nirvana varies according from brand to brand, but there are some common elements every hotel should consider.
Making sense of the channels
In hospitality, data comes from a range of sources. It’s held within primary operational systems, secondary platforms, and online distribution channels. Simultaneously, data can be classified into three distinct groups.
First party data is gathered directly from hotel guests either through the hotel website, social media or in-hotel interactions. Second-party data, meanwhile, is collected from strategic partnerships with relevant companies such as airlines or credit card companies. Third-party data, on the other hand, is purchased directly from other companies.
To help make sense of the myriad channels through which hotels gather their data, we’ve broken them down according to the different daily processes of a hotel, both internal and external.
Tracking the efficacy of your hotel amenities is made easier when your multiple technologies are centralised in one platform. Just like any hospitality business, hotels have numerous points of engagement that must be tracked, measured and optimised.
For hotels, tracking guest engagement can span from initial check-in to guest use of amenities to room service.
Each of these engagement points yields invaluable data. If they’re not analysed as one, they will only show a fractured image of your hotel’s true performance. Only a well-organised, accessible PMS and CRM model can prevent these disconnected sections of data – ‘data-silos’ – forming. As Andrew Sanders, VP, Travel & Hospitality of DataArt says, “Interoperability and integration will be our industry’s biggest challenge as innovation takes hold.”
Coordinating staff in a large hotel is a major logistical challenge. With so many different elements operating to their own time-frames, ensuring optimum efficacy requires a cohesive approach informed by measurable objectives. Thankfully, internal avenues rich in data abound in hospitality.
From data on electricity and water consumption to cleaning supplies, the analytics gained from internal operations can enhance efficiency and reduce expenditure. When this information is compiled into a centralised platform, hoteliers have a complete picture with which to develop actionable insights for planning, strategy, costing and decision-making.
Data is an essential element of yield management, ensuring each room is optimally priced according to the fluctuations in demand typical in any hotel. When combined with unstructured and semi-structured datasets such as weather and local events, hotels can accurately forecast demand. From this, they can begin to determine a value that offers both value for money and a good margin for the hotel. This is essential in 2018, where customers are willing to trawl the OTAs in search of the best deals.
The hotel chain Red Roof Inn is a great example of the value of anticipating demand through data. During the particularly snowy winter of 2013/2014, the company found that flight cancellations had increased by a pretty substantial 3%. This meant around 90,000 passengers were left stranded every day. The chain’s marketing and analytics team worked together to identify public datasets on weather conditions and flight cancellations. Following the launch of a targeted marketing campaign, Red Roof Inn hotels located nearby to airports saw a 10% increase in guest business.
Approximately 80% of IT respondents indicated their budgets have grown over the past five years. Under increasing pressure to improve the customer experience, many have invested that budget in a range of customer relationship management tools. Despite this investment, many hotels still fail to track basic customer feedback. While customer service tools like voice recognition, live chat functions and AI have become more commonplace, the data gathered from these tools often languishes in outdated CRM’s.
That’s a crying shame – for hotel and guest – because so much of this information can be used to improve the experience. For instance:
- Contact information – Guests begin providing valuable information even before they check-in. By compiling a guest’s contact info, hotels can begin to build up a detailed picture of guest statistics and tailor personalised marketing messages to develop mutually beneficial long-term relationships.
- Reason for visit – Identifying the reason for a customer’s visit empowers a hotel to begin tailoring their service to their specific requirements. Is the guest travelling on business? Offering access to a meeting room or a wake-up call shows a hotel is willing to go that extra mile and builds brand loyalty.
- Social profiles – Hotels that include social buttons in their digital interactions with guests open up a world of opportunity for data-gathering. Not only do social profiles give hotels an opportunity to reach new potential customers, they provide invaluable demographics on their guests. This information can go on to influence future marketing campaigns and provide more background on particular guests.
When it comes to tracking site metrics, the sheer volume of information can be daunting. It’s not enough to simply track on-site behaviour. Digging into how a guest engaged with content gives hoteliers a better understanding of the strengths and, more importantly, weaknesses of their current website marketing.
Likewise, knowing exactly how a guest found the site – i.e. organically, via an OTA, etc. – enables hotels to understand where to target future marketing campaigns.
With over 83% of bookings now made online there’s no shortage of data. This data can go on to inform almost every aspect of a hotel’s digital marketing procedure and enrich the guest experience.
It’s 2018, so every hotel should have optimised their website for mobile. But a mobile optimised site isn’t enough. Even just looking at the different devices visitors use to access your website can shine a light on where to direct future marketing campaigns.
Likewise, the time at which your visitors book a room can tell the hotel a lot about the kind of services they may want upon arrival. If a guest books their room the day before check-in from another country, it’s unlikely they’ll respond to follow-up emails until they arrive. The same guest, however, may be more receptive to information about nearby venues and attractions, as they’re less likely to have researched the local area.
While most hotels are waking up the value of using social media as customer relationship builder, they still regularly underestimate the power of social media in its data gathering capabilities. In fact, less than 50% of the companies surveyed use tools to analyse and implement social media data.
That’s not to say there aren’t tools out there to fill this gap. Hotels have access to a range of social media analytics platforms. These media management tools can reveal which social posts received the most interest, how many times they were viewed and how many resulted in click-throughs.
Social media provides an invaluable opportunity for hotel brands not just to learn more about their guests, but to learn more about their own services and the guest experience.
Hotels can use social media data as a means of personalising offers directly to customers. Not only does this reduce waiting times, it builds brand trust through greater transparency and informs future services.
Mobile optimisation isn’t just for your website. With some form of automated check-in, hotels can increase guest satisfaction and gather valuable data. This data can inform any number of actions, including upgrades, dietary requirements and the preferred check-in times of specific guests.
Of course, the amount of insight gained by studying the data from check-in can vary. Collecting standard guest information like name, country origin, room and check-in time keeps things simple. However, building a more nuanced picture of guest preferences requires a greater degree of grey-shading.
Knowing what kind of device a guest uses, preferences from previous stays at your hotel and the reason for their stay enables hotels to promote relevant services through the right channels.
With real insights gained from data, a hotel can identify not just the right guests, they can target that guest with personalised information at the optimum time and drive revenues through timely deals.
During their stay
Maximising room value – Every guest engagement with staff and request for in-room services provides an opportunity to learn more about guests.
RevPAR might give hotels optimum return on room rates, but that’s only half the picture. Hotels must also study what guests spend when in their room.
Look at what guests are spending on the mini-bar, in-room entertainment or room service. Hotels willing to integrate this data in real-time can develop personalised offers the very same day. The guest enjoys access to deals that enhance their stay while the hotel enjoys a boost in room-revenues.
Hotel amenities – Likewise, promoting in-hotel services and amenities like the restaurant or spa is a fool’s errand unless hotels track their success rate. With a Genie device in every room, hotels promote in-hotel amenities and gain invaluable metrics on guest behaviour. For instance, if guests tend to click-through on a certain dish around the festive season, the hotel can begin to tailor future offers around this dish and drive restaurant revenues.
Outside the hotel – It’s a question that has perplexed hoteliers for generations. Just what do guests enjoy when they’re not in your hotel? In this hyper-connected world, the answer no longer has to remain a mystery.
Today, there are numerous channels through which to engage a guest when they’re exploring a city, providing the hotel can provide an incentive to engage. With a Genie device, guests can explore the local area with unlimited data. In return, hotels have the opportunity to study anonymised metrics to gain a better understanding of guest preferences.
It’s a major challenge to hotels, but gaining insights on guest behaviour outside the hotel isn’t impossible. By supplying guests with a Genie device, hotels can help curate the guest experience while turning the observations into personalised suggestions.
When a guest leaves the hotel, hoteliers might be forgiven for merely keeping their details on file, adding them to a mailing list and, at most, emailing a ‘thanks-for-staying’. But checkout doesn’t signal the end of the guest journey. Data in hospitality settings comes from every step of the guest experience, and that includes after they check out.
By registering data from other elements, including flight times, hotels can offer additional services like late checkout and post checkout-storage to the right guests. This, in turn, builds brand loyalty and lays the foundation to return visits. Likewise, if the data shows a guest has used a hotel amenity during their stay, a voucher provided on check-out can go a long way to enticing them back next time around.
Everyone’s a critic these days. Online OTA’s and travel review sites have shifted the power dynamic to guests. Anyone can leave a review, and these reviews can have a major impact on a hotel. 88% of travellers filter out hotels with an average star rating below three. Every hotel now dedicates some of their marketing effort to increase ratings on online review sites, but very few dedicate any time to looking at the data behind these reviews.
But how do you quantify qualitative feedback? First, you have to develop a coherent method of collecting feedback. This requires deciding which elements of the guest experience mean the most to you.
After that, you’re going to need some form of automated natural language processing (NLP) to comb the feedback and pick out recurring themes. These NLP’s don’t always provide an accurate picture. After all, language is so diverse, it can be difficult to tell when a guest has mentioned a feature or service in a negative or positive light. That’s not to say it can’t provide valuable insights into commonly mentioned elements of your hotel. AI and machine learning are constantly improving the review quantification process. Hotels that are willing to invest a little now could reap invaluable insights from the wealth of data available.
More than anything, it’s vital that hoteliers ensure their data focus aligns with their strategic objectives and goals. Charting a map through the jungle of metrics becomes significantly easier when you clearly establish your objectives beforehand.
With disruptive technologies like social media, Airbnb and mobile-first technologies shaking up the industry, it’s never been more vital that hotels take advantage of every available innovation. Data can provide that competitive advantage, but only if hotels know how to turn cold hard numbers into real-world actions.