Each year, thousands of people descend on ExCeL in London to explore the world’s destinations for World Travel Market. Running in parallel to the global destination marketplace is Travel Forward, an event focused on travel technology. In between stints at the OTA Insight booth, we absorbed the expertise shared in sessions across topics as diverse as distribution, reputation, data and Brexit.
In an effort to catalyse our learnings for others - and following on from our last events round-up - we’ve compared notes with colleagues to highlight some of the most notable trends and topics from WTM this year.
Reviewpro’s Michael Kessler shared the following stats, which stem from the company’s Global Review Index. These stats aren’t entirely new; rather, they are a reminder at the power of reputation to drive revenue.
Hotels with consistent, positive, and recent reviews enjoy better reputations - and revenue.
We noticed a pattern across sessions: hotels that blend modern technology with classic hospitality perform best. By using technology, such as reputation management tools, and combining it with a focus on staff training and retention, hotels improve their reputations over time. This improvement creates a virtuous flywheel: a better reputation means higher OTA rankings, which means more bookings, which means more opportunities to deliver an exceptional guest experience that results in glowing reviews.
Direct booking was a common topic across sessions. It remains an important effort for most hoteliers, who are looking to reduce commissions and regain ownership of the customer from intermediaries.
In a presentation on personalisation for hotels, Avvio’s Frank Reeves called for an evolution from just direct bookings to direct relationships. Within this framework, hotels focus less on bookings and more on the relationship with the guest. Given that no two guest journeys are the same, “one size fits all” doesn’t work any longer.
That’s where the evolution of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Big Data have had the greatest impact: 1:1 relationship building. Francesca Benati, Amadeus EVP Online for Western Europe, Middle East & Africa, made this connection on a panel discussing the relationship between brands, distribution, and technology:
“It is becoming harder for OTAs to attract and retain customers, so they are looking at offering a seamless experience, not just in the booking flow but also in how they relate to the users.”
One way to build direct relationships is to shift thinking just about service and more about the end-to-end guest experience. In somewhat surprising agreement, both OTAs and hotels expressed the desire to rekindle the relationships with customers. This effort stems in part due to rising customer acquisition costs from advertising intermediaries like Google and Facebook.
The focus on overall experience ties into building direct relationships. It’s not just providing service to a guest for a single stay, it’s about crafting a cohesive experience that extends the relationship from search to booking to on-property. Amadeus’s Francesca Benati frames it like this:
“Experience is not only what we know, it’s also a brand heritage and interaction.”
Each customer interaction is an opportunity to move beyond a single isolated act of “service” and instead see it as an integrated piece of the ‘always-on’ guest experience.
Platforms and APIs enable this ‘always-on’ integrated approach in the hospitality industry. In a presentation entitled How Platforms are changing the nature of travel, Mews Systems CEO, Matt Welle, explored how the flexible architecture of platforms powers next-generation hospitality.
As data privacy settles in for the long haul in Europe (with GDPR) and eventually in the US (with California’s 2020 privacy law), there’s growing scrutiny from regulators and customers around data ownership and management. Siloed data creates security risks with its centralisation; it can also reduce efficiencies as far as acting on the data across other silos. Open platforms and APIs can facilitate more sharing with less centralisation; it can both boost security and make inroads with the “seamless” personalisation the industry idolises.
Throughout these sessions, as well as at other industry events, it’s clear that the tension between technology and experience continues. As an industry, we must use technology in a way that enhances the guest experience without replacing the personalised human touch that makes the industry so special. Without this fundamental difference - the hospitality of a warm smile and a welcoming space away from home - there’s an existential risk of dehumanising a human-centric industry.