Last month, the great and the good of the hotel tech industry gathered in Amsterdam to discuss the future of hospitality and the trends in hotel tech. If you missed out, here are the key takeaways from the conference that featured hundreds of attendees and dozens of hotel tech solutions at the bleeding edge of the hospitality industry.
Mews founders Richard and Matt opened the conference by discussing why and how each hotel should be thinking like a startup and that operating with an efficient neural system (your PMS) allows you to future proof your hotel.
Then a myriad of hotel tech experts took to the stage over the course of the day…
The vast majority of hotels are still missing out on large amounts of extra revenue and substantial cost savings due to antiquated operations.
Get the basics right! Hotels are still falling short in areas including pricing, usable websites and proper revenue management.
Data data data…gather it and harness it using smart integrations!
Little is possible without an intelligent and flexible PMS.
Hoteliers saw how companies that they had previously considered as competitors were actually complementary to each other.
What you need to know…
Increase direct online sales using metasearch platforms – MyHotelShop
The future of mobile keys – OpenKey
How to improve your website – BeCurious
The key to increase direct bookings? – HotelChamp
Making online bookings easy to manage – Stardekk
Modern upsell for the modern hotelier – Oaky
How you should be messaging your guests – QuickText
Solve guest issues before they can think about them – RoomChecking
Redefine your boutique hotel experience – Lightspeed
Driving revenue with email automation – Revinate
Automate your accounting department – Omniboost
Find the right price to charge – Pace (formerly Prix)
How Global Distribution Systems (GDS) maximise hotel revenues – HotelRez
How to use data at your hotel – Snapshot
Arthur Ghekiere of MyHotelShop delved into the trends around metasearch platforms (eg. Kayak , Trivago, TripAdvisor), which have seen a whopping 33 per cent growth since 2014 and are now a permanent part of the hotel industry tapestry. He urged us to remember that price comparators are NOT sales channels but platforms that generate and redirect business towards your hotel website (or an OTA website…). Every hotel is present on metasearch platforms and the question is no longer whether you should be on them but, rather, whether you want to be getting more direct sales through them instead of letting the OTAs eat your lunch.
“OTAs are running search engine and metasearch campaigns using your exact hotel name so fight back with smart CPC investment”
This is what you are up against: the OTAs run search engine campaigns using your very hotel name as a key word as well as direct campaigns on the metasearch engines! Interestingly, Arthur revealed booking.com now gets the majority of their traffic from Google Adwords investments while, in June of this year, Expedia.co.uk generated more than 25 per cent of their business through engines such as Trivago and TripAdvisor. So get fighting fire with fire…
First, your hotel profile on each metasearch engine can be taken control of so make it start working hard for you by adding fresh pictures and enticing copy.
Second, focus on running campaigns based on your city or area key word as 90 per cent of consumer hotel searches are done this way. Get your hotel bumped up that results list using cost-per-click (CPC) investment. Arthur strongly recommended using CPC and not CPA as it is more flexible and can be adjusted based on your occupancy rate and your inevitable seasonality. Lower it when occupancy is high and increase it when you need more visibility to fill rooms. So with CPC you can choose your visibility while CPA is effectively another OTA and you rely on the amount the total amount they are willing to spend on your campaign.
His other top tips? Double check your parity rates – your prices should never be higher than what the OTAs are offering – and make sure your rates are reasonable vis-a-vis competing hotels. When investing in online campaigns, remember that there are various versions of Tripadvisor and Trivago – “.com” and “.co.uk” are different investment options. He also recommended you keep a maximum cost of distribution of 20 per cent – if you have an occupancy rate of 60-70 per cent then paying 20 per cent to sell your room makes sense. Nothing is more damaging than a fifth of your rooms remaining empty!
Finally, Arthur stressed getting your website basics sorted out as the reception desk is no longer the first impression your hotel gives.
TJ Person of OpenKey showed us what the new guest experience powered by OpenKey looks like. The reality is that 67 per cent of guests would prefer a smart-phone key for their room over a traditional card key. But getting there has been complex with many lock companies requiring complicated integrations, legacy PMSs making it difficult to deploy cloud based mobile key solutions and, of course, cost effectiveness for hotels. OpenKey has now solved these issues so that guests can download one free app (or integrate into your own hotel app) for worldwide access while giving bank level security to your room.
“Some hotels still spend over $2000 a month on physical keys”
Costs start to tumble for hotels including a 40-60 per cent reduction in expensive physical keys issued (some hotels spend over $2000 a month for keys!) Furthermore, OpenKey have even been helping subsidise door upgrades for hotels.
How to improve your website
Thomas Dieben of BeCurious hotel internet marketing revealed their 8 success factors for a winning hotel website but gave us some more granular insider tips:
Technical aspects – make sure your website is trustworthy using an SSL encrypted connection, has a responsive design, has a ‘click-to-call’ button and is multilingual.
Conversion – why should guests make a reservation directly? Make it clear and attractive on your website. Show a clear reservation button on top of the page. Offer lower rates than the OTAs!
Content – keep fresh multilingual content for SEO, a vibrant event calendar (post event photo galleries on your blog) and add an interactive Google map with local highlights.
Images – these need to be fresh, inviting, good quality and honest. You will eventually pay the price for being dishonest on sites like TripAdvisor.
Reporting – make sure your Google analytics ecommerce tracking is activated to see conversions and sales. Also, custom website performance and Search Engine Ranking reports are free and useful.
The key to increase direct bookings?
Bas Lemmens of HotelChamp revealed to us that Booking.com employees spend their entire time doing A/B testing. OTAs invest millions in tech, user experience, data management and analysis to have a conversion advantage. Meanwhile, hotels must endeavour to ‘own’ the client and direct bookings are the El Dorado to cut your distribution costs. But before you can invest in a direct booking channel you must fix the basics including pricing and rate parity, sensible revenue management and a slick mobile friendly website.
HotelChamp delivers smart technology to boost direct revenue and, most importantly, helps analyse data (most people don’t understand Google Analytics…).Bas advises using persuasion with smartly placed calls to action (CTAs) on your site. Then analyse the user journey and where they are coming from. Every user is different and only your hotel can offer personalisation while booking.com cannot. For example, offering family room deals for those actively looking for them. Control your ROI and conversion rates so that you can allocate more investment to direct advertising.
Michael Wiesebron of Stardekk discussed how to make managing online bookings easy. Perfect customer care for hotels is essential and Stardekk make sure to guide hotels through the online solutions available. Their Cubilis general manager allows you to seamlessly feed all your distribution channels into your PMS – they have 375 partners and counting….
Clement Denarie of Oaky discussed the concept of ‘up-selling as a service’. Don’t try squeeze every cent out of a guest like everyone used to on the high commission model. Instead, give them the freedom to be in control and enhance their own experience. Removing the commission is key. Create long-term profit by up-selling in-house products, third party services or room upgrades. For example, Oaky knows who booked a standard room with no breakfast (SRNB) and, hence, knows who, and when, to send an up-sell email about coffee and breakfast options. Clement reminded us that a lot of hotels want to communicate with their guests but they simply can’t because of their lacklustre PMS. Emails remain the best option for pre-stay and post stay communications.
“Don’t try squeeze every cent out of a guest like everyone used to with the out-of-date high commission up-sell model”
Benjamin Devisme of QuickText showed us how QuickText facilitated a guest’s birthday with a beer ordered by a friend in Australia using the hotel’s Facebook messenger.
In general, he showed how QuickText solves 3 problems hotels often have: 1) few bookings despite high website traffic 2) customers that are using mobiles while the hotel is not 3) customers not buying additional services.
The solutions? Guests often don’t know what they want so help them book by communicating with them and answering their queries via live chat. Responsive mobile websites are not a panacea – it’s better to plug in to the instant communication apps guests are already using, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, via a single dashboard to easily send out those messages. Furthermore, instant communication is best for time sensitive and personalised potential purchases by guests such as a bike tour on a surprisingly sunny day. QuickText is a tool that allows you to have meaningful interactions with guests using instant communication channels – simple, quick and compatible on all smart devices.
He finished by reflecting on artificial intelligence and how it will be increasingly useful for hotels as most queries, which guests tend to want answered immediately, are basic and easily answerable.
“Guests are already using instant messengers, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, so communicate using them”
Jonathan Weizman of RoomChecking explains that guests are looking for experiences and this is why there has been a rise in boutiques and concept hotels. Exceptional service has become the norm and housekeeping is at the front line.
“We have seen a drop of 70% of internal staff telephone calls because of our housekeeping technology”
Understanding the bottlenecks is important and this has only become possible with the rise of the smart PMS that allows integrations. Planning, real time cleaning and immediate communication can lead to unprecedented cost management for a hotel. For example, when a guest checks out housekeeping can be automatically alerted via a smartphone or device so they don’t need to wait around or manually check at reception if it is ok to prepare the room for the next guest. Jonathan has seen a drop of 70% of internal phone calls because of their technology. Not to mention the fact that rooms are always ready on time!
In short, you can now run your hotel with less resources and deliver a higher quality experience for guests.
Zhong Yuan Xu of Lightspeed thinks restaurants are more important to your hotel than you think. According to data from CBRE, just 5% of hotel revenue comes from restaurants (F&B makes up 25% of total revenue) but he believes this is a prime opportunity for revenue growth, particularly during challenging moments. For example, during the Brussels terrorist attack hotel bookings plummeted and it was restaurants serving local residents that allowed bottom lines to survive.
“Restaurants currently make up just 5 per cent of hotel revenues and are a huge opportunity for revenue growth”
Zhong Yuan explains that their (and your) key goal is to be able to leverage data and pull all the information possible out of a customer’s consumption patterns and experiences.
Hotel chains in particular can benefit as, today, all of a hotel chain’s restaurants should be sharing information about customer preferences and acting on that information. It’s about being data-driven, yet personal. Turning customer data into a seamless, VIP customer experience over your multiple properties so you can become more profitable.
Thomas Landen of Revinate described how email is the most effective and cheapest channel for customer retention and that research shows customers, including coveted millennials, prefer to interact with brands via email.
Why email marketing? Email is used throughout almost the entire customer journey to booking your hotel and has a higher conversion than social media channels. For hotels, email is the most profitable and easiest way to generate additional revenue.
Automated emails can even act as an ‘OTA win back’ for those customers who originally book using an OTA – emails can reach out to those specific customers to drive them to booking directly with you the next time. On-property welcome emails are also particularly powerful for up-selling services and products.
Personalising email campaigns also increases conversions – a family or a couple are looking for different experiences during their stay so target them with different offers. Hotels still send mass blasts of emails but guest segmentation matters. The smaller the audience size and the more relevant an offer is the higher the conversion rates. Revinate does this by pulling every piece of data they can from the Mews PMS, which can then be used to segment an audience and build an appropriate target campaign. Remember, opens and clicks don’t always tell you how many people actually booked and from what channel.
“Email remains the most effective and cheapest channel for customer retention”
Kees Zorge of Omniboost talked about how accounting can be terrifying for many hoteliers but it doesn’t need to be this way. Most hotels are still working with physical receipts and stapling bills but integrating online accounting solutions into your hotel (via the PMS) is the future. Frankly, traditional book keepers at hotels are likely to be out of a job. Accountant’s today should focus on advice and not number crunching. Humans analysing the numbers is value added while smart automated technology can take care of the data input. Automated accounting can even go further and be used for additional accounting solutions. For example, the integrations can pull data out from the PMS and give this to factoring companies that can then aid hoteliers’ working capital management.
Why is the cloud better for accounting? Manual work leads to delays and human error and traditional accounting does not allow you to visualise your data real time. You shouldn’t have to wait until a set date to be able to check your financial statements. Importantly, accounting should be automated. Kees found that 85% of integration work is repetitive business, which all should be automated.
“Most hotels are still working with physical receipts and stapling bills”
Jens Munch of Prix (now Pace) is trying to make revenue management joyful. Revenue management is, essentially, the difference between price and value and it should be used more widely amongst hotels. Shockingly, 90 per cent of the world’s properties don’t have a proper revenue management solution despite the obvious revenue uplift it would give (over 20%).
Why? Because it is hard to do. To do it right, hundreds of thousands of pricing decisions would need to be taken every year. Curiously, those 90 per cent who don’t have a proper solution mostly use a manual entry spreadsheet that can’t forecast anything. Ideally, hotels should be trying to guess what customers are actually willing to pay but it takes some complex statistics and heavy science to get close.
In short, to do revenue management in a smart way is too costly and time consuming for individual hotels to achieve. Instead, you can integrate with Prix who can do it for you.
“90 per cent of the world’s properties don’t have a proper revenue management solution despite the obvious revenue uplift it can give of over 20%”
Deborah McGee of HotelREZ explained how the GDSs were the original airline booking systems over 50 years ago and have since evolved. Many believe the GDSs (eg. Sabre for US and Amadeus for Europe) are antiquated but they still represent a large percentage of hotel bookings, particularly for corporate travel bookers (65 per cent) and travel agencies. Over the last six months in Amsterdam alone, over 750,000 Room Nights came from the 4 GDSs.
“Many believe the GDSs are antiquated but they still represent a large percentage of hotel bookings, particularly from corporates. Over the last six months in Amsterdam alone, over 750,000 Room Nights came from the 4 GDSs.”
HotelREZ work with hoteliers to connect them via the (modern) GDSs to half a million travel agents worldwide. HotelREZ allows bookings that come through the GDS are automatically dropped in the PMS. Biggest USP of HotelREZ is their preferred partnerships with travel agents (65) which boosts visibility more than most due to that personal touch.
Claudia Ebber of Snapshot admitted that there is just too much data sloshing around the world. Without a good PMS, integrations and data visuals become a veritable spaghetti junction. But good data dashboards and analytics can improve operations and cut hotel costs. Snapshot is a one-stop-dashboard for data coming from all hotel applications and integrations and allows a slew of useful analysis.