It seems like a common point of discussion nowadays: big data's growing importance in the hospitality industry. And the opportunities it affords hoteliers willing to try something new are huge. But where to start? And what does a tech and data-enabled hotelier even look like? Easier said than done, right?
Fortunately, our friend and advisor Lennert De Jong happens to be one of these forward-thinking hoteliers. As Commercial Director for citizenM, one of the most data-informed hotels currently operating, Lennert has some thoughts and advice on the subject.
Read below to get a better idea of how you can start to embrace the data, and more importantly, use it to see tangible, long term results.
How does a hotel, or any modern organization for that matter, find a balance between sometimes competing interests when it comes to tech?
Lennert De Jong: There are a lot of articles about the clash between the CMO and the CIO in terms of technology spend. Is it technology spend or marketing spend? But let’s not forget about the CEO. He needs to take a look at unified and holistic data. Data becomes the glue of the organization and I see it as the job of the current leaders to fix this. We should not have data discrepancies between our finance systems, PMS, forecasting systems, and CRM. Why would finance only report on occupancy, ADR, and distribution costs, and the marketing department on repeat figures, demographics, et cetera? The roles in organizations have changed and so have the responsibilities. But it does not happen without discussion.
Regarding customer experience and channel management strategies, what should revenue managers be focusing on?
The most important aspect for revenue managers to focus on right now is what data they aggregate, and how they aggregate it. People stuck with the same data they possessed last year are losing out on being able to make smarter decisions. In the past year there has been a mushroom impact on our business with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft entering the cloud space. This is accentuated by data aggregation moving from Excel into the cloud. All this thrust is not about simply making price changes either, but also about reporting properly to owners and key decision makers, too.
How will hotel operations adapt to these modern strategies or tools?
Believe it or not, the one thing hotels need to do is to be open to adaptation. So many times I hear from frustrated interns or staff in traditional hotels, how they’ve heard, “This is how we’ve always done it.” I’d advise every hotelier out there to take a look at their guest behavior, to look at their youngest employee, and then to challenge themselves as to whether or not they are truly open to change operationally.
Do hoteliers understand the full value of every channel?
I do not think hotels understand the value of any channel. They understand the cost of each, but not the real value. Real-time conversion attribution does not even raise an eyebrow in the hotel industry today, the term renders only blank stares when uttered. The only thing many hotels are good at is complaining about the huge cost of OTA’s but they don’t understand a thing about what it takes to really drive traffic through brand.com. If they did, then they would not complain about the cost of OTA’s.
At citizenM you have been a big advocate of hotels being transparent with potential guests. With this in mind, how important is security for the whole data analytics equation?
Let’s not confuse guest experience with security in data analytics. We are always trying to be open in what we offer to potential guests and we try to be relevant in marketing towards our guest. But all of this needs to happen in a secure and legal framework. Having your data in the cloud makes it more secure than any local database, as long as you are serious about it as an organization.
What barriers to adaptation exist between larger hotel operations and small independents today?
I think the independents are doing a much better job than the chains. Independent hotels are not driven by an audience that cares more about points than experience; they live instead by the grace of guest feedback, each and every day. Independents have the power to make decisions, and to buy the latest tools at a low cost, rather than being stuck with an oil tanker-sized operation that cannot move in a turbulent space.
How do you approach solving tech challenges at citizenM?
citizenM being an owner operator, and me being responsible for all revenue and related costs every day for citizenM, I don’t have a job, I have a passion. If we cannot find what we need, we start creating it. No is not an answer for us. With our contemporary view on distribution and marketing, we only have one segment: online transient. Every hotel on this planet should adapt, as this segment will be growing and growing and take over all segments in the future.