OTA Insight recently passed two significant milestones. The first was in April when we hit the 100-employee mark - we’ve since risen to 111 and counting. The second, just last week, saw our 30,000th hotel sign up to our dynamic data intelligence platform - the Honolulu-based Outrigger Hotel and Resorts group joins a rapidly growing collection of properties spread across 140 countries worldwide.
The idea of a reliable tool to help hoteliers assess their competitors’ prices through the better use of Big Data was, in the summer of 2012, confined to the minds of OTA Insight’s three founders - as Chief Commercial Officer, Gino Engels, explained at ITB Berlin earlier this year. But the fledgling team set to work, its first sale arriving in late 2013, when employee numbers were still in single figures.
Startups can be risky ventures. But we’re thriving and expanding - something that was given a boost in December last year when we secured $20 million in growth funding.
Though we’re keen to avoid complacency, we’re clearly doing something right, and one of the key ingredients of our success is our enviable company culture - the subject of this blog post.
Meeting where the magic emerged
With hubs in London, Ghent, New York, Dallas and Singapore - and employees scattered around a further 18 locations in the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific - creating and maintaining a cohesive, collaborative and happy culture could be a challenge.
But we exploit a range of project management tools, we chat on Slack every day and, twice a year, we all get together for an intense, three-day gathering to catch up, share ideas and pose for photographs taken by a drone-mounted camera expertly piloted by our Director of Engineering.
Yes, that’s right, and here’s the proof that it happened when, in late May, the entire company descended on Ghent’s Holiday Inn Express, one of OTA Insight’s first customers. (That we appear to have assembled into the shape of Belgium is a happy accident.)
It was from Ghent that our Belgian founders took their eye-opening trip to the London Olympics, where they spotted a gap in the market for a dynamic, data-driven tool for revenue managers. The medieval Flanders town is also home to one of our biggest offices - not that we all fit in, hence our use of the hotel.
Getting down to work
Kicking off Day 1 of the conference, Gino presented a review of our recent achievements and reiterated: our mission, which is “to help the hospitality industry visualise and leverage data”; and our core message, which is “to empower smarter revenue and distribution decisions”.
He also emphasised that “if we care more than our competitors, we’ll achieve so much more”.
Of course, these words have currency only if our customers agree. But most do, as evidenced by our Net Promoter Score of around 65 - exceptionally high for a SaaS company - and the glowing words delivered by Laurens Roels, the hotel’s general manager, who briefly addressed us that morning.
Up next, before the specialist sessions started, our Global Director of Talent Acquisition, Peter De Moor, and his team conducted an interactive quiz to test everyone’s knowledge of the sheer diversity of the team. This was followed by an overview of his ambitious recruitment plans for the next two years - much of the focus being on talent management, onboarding and staff happiness - and a reminder of our core values, which include:
- Standing shoulder-to-shoulder;
- Open and transparent communication;
- Innovation and entrepreneurship; and, of course
- Always putting the customer first.
A numbers game...
Day 2 covered a great deal of ground, so that evening we rewarded ourselves by letting our hair down at the Cocteau “swing café”, a charming little venue, hidden away in a cobbled backstreet near the city centre, where we played roulette and blackjack into the night.
Though most of us didn’t realise it, these fast-thinking numbers games would prove to be excellent preparation for the next day - though thankfully less guesswork and pure luck would be needed.
Getting our hands dirty
A surprise to all but the directors, our last morning was devoted to a hotly-contested, two-hour revenue management simulation exercise, coordinated by expert representatives from Russell Partnership Technology.
Split into 16 teams of six and armed with synchronised laptops to deliver our numbers into the cloud for crunching, we each set about transforming the fortunes of an ailing hotel, all 16 competing for market share in the same fictional town.
For each quarter, we adjusted a number of variables within these three areas, which mimicked some of the systems and methods revenue managers use in practice:
- Rate setting: for types of room on weekdays and at the weekend; discounts for 3+ nights, no breakfast and reduced cancellation flexibility; and special rates for conferences, groups and events
- Automated strategy: rules for automated discounts or price increases based on occupancy levels, seasonality and other supply and demand indicators
- Advertising promotions: on- and offline media options, pushing various elements of each hotel’s offering directly or through OTAs, to run at specified times and with different budgets that eat into the measured profit - but increase revenue if effective
Leaving it to the experts
While we had details of each hotel’s accounts and information on the past year’s performance, including relative demand for different seasons, we had no access to our own rate shopper tool, Rate Insight.
This might go some way towards explaining how tough the exercise was for all but our members of staff with direct experience of revenue management. But the main factor must be that revenue management is a delicate art that takes years to master. So we’ll leave it to our customers and continue to focus our efforts on building and maintaining the best dynamic tools to aid their efforts.
And for that, it’s lucky we have the #BestTeamEver, a hashtag we use internally to remind ourselves of how well we work together. It started as a little joke but has stuck.
If you’re interested in joining the team, see our careers page; and if you’re already in the industry, see our growing collection of downloads, including our Ultimate guide to revenue management for single properties and our white paper, Shifting your budget to direct - not a fad.