Hotel brands have found themselves in a uniquely challenging position: As online travel agencies continue to drive a significant share of business, many hotel owners are questioning whether the costs of associating with a brand are worth it.
Until recently, hotel brands differentiated themselves with proprietary technology. But today, there are plenty of innovative tools available to hoteliers that rival, if not exceed, what brands offer.
Travelers choose branded hotels because of their reassurance of value – they know what to expect and they can earn points doing so. This loyal base of customers should not be underestimated: Leading global brands have recently attributed between 30% and 60% of their business to loyalty members. In the U.S. alone, loyalty‐related bookings accounted for more than 50% of the total hotel bookings in 2019, according to Kalibri Labs.
But customer loyalty is evolving. It’s no longer about collecting enough points to earn a free night’s stay. Today, loyalty means guest recognition and personalization – loyal guests want to feel special. Hotel companies are attempting to build tailored guest experiences using information such as guest preferences and past stay history.
But a major hurdle remains for brands: Most don’t have real‐time data about what the guest is doing once they arrive on property. There’s a massive disconnect, and it’s growing. I saw this firsthand spending more than 30 years with Accor, particularly during our €250 million digital transformation focused on connecting the customer journey and increasing mobile engagement.
Brands may know about their guests pre‐stay and post‐stay, but they’re often missing out on the most important part of the journey: personalizing the experience while on property. This data often remains locked within the hotel’s systems until the night auditor runs a report, or isn’t connected in real‐time across the different property management systems being used throughout the brand.
More operations are being centralized
As hotel owners and operators enact strategies to improve profitability, many job functions have been eliminated from the hotel and brought above property. Functions like reservations, revenue management and marketing are being centralized, with duties now handled at the regional or corporate level and strategies passed down to individual hotels.
Of course, centralizing functions requires more communication between corporate and each one of the properties. But it also means corporate needs real‐time access to the property‐level data to help them make the best decisions. Unfortunately, brands don’t always get property‐level data as customer interactions are actually happening. In fact, it’s usually not until the next day when the brands receive data from each of their properties.
In many cases, brands receive daily exports with data about the guests that are currently in house. Oftentimes they’re missing the data from a few properties and they don’t realize it until the following night. At that point, it’s too late to do anything meaningful for the guest. It’s not real time, and it’s just not very reliable.
Multiple systems complicate the issue
In the past, hotel brands were able to require their franchisees to deploy preferred technology systems, often proprietary to the brand. But increased mergers and acquisitions have made this nearly impossible. When one company acquires another, it’s often unrealistic to require all of the hotel owners to rip out all of their old systems and replace them with something different. The result is one brand overseeing a large number of properties operating on disparate systems.
Further complicating this problem is the fact that different siloed departments within a hotel brand need different sets of data. Perhaps the marketing department needs one set of data, the BI department needs another and the customer service department needs a completely different dataset.
Some data comes from the PMS, but often only from central systems that have only a part of the necessary information, Add in the fact that more and more departments at the brand level need CRM data to understand their guests better, and what brands often end up with is what I call a “spaghetti‐bowl” data landscape where efforts are often duplicated.
Data collection is at best very inconsistent. Most brands have the issue of not having the correct data.
Moving toward unified data
Fortunately, solutions are available to help brands not only collect data from disparate systems in real time, but to aggregate, clean and normalize these data sets so they can be accessed and actioned at the corporate level.
Brands should enable their hotels to use the best possible technology, which may not always be proprietary. But they also need to help them bring it all together by empowering them to use a platform that can consolidate and enable two‐way integrations from multiple PMSs. When multiple systems can feed into one interface, hoteliers can consolidate data feeds and personalize experiences while they’re happening, and brands can quickly identify issues and opportunities, continually adapting and innovating to stay ahead of both their customers and the competition.
As operations are centralized, customer experience takes center stage and brands look to increase their value propositions, sharing uniform sets of data with corporate about on‐property guests has become paramount. When brands can follow their customers all the way through the guest journey, they’re better positioned to provide exceptional experiences and increase loyalty.