ORLANDO—Amid dynamic pricing and the proliferation of new channels, managing distribution is more challenging than ever before—especially in the absence of real-time connectivity and industry standards, according to panelists at a HITEC breakout session last month.
“There seems to be not a standard yet as how to effectively manage pricing,” said Sebastian Leitner, director lodging connectivity, Americas, for Expedia. “… We’d like to see a standard in content exchange. We’d like to see something that is more dynamic in that environment.”
Dynamism is key, the panelists agreed. As revenue management has evolved, so too has the tinkering of rates. But the connection between suppliers and distributers hasn’t always been able to keep up.
“The proliferation of more and more dynamic rate (is a challenge), and as the yield-management systems get more and more sophisticated, there’s hardly a rate anymore that’s static for very long. There’s just constant changes,” said Keith Cotton, VP of supplier solutions for Hotel Booking Solutions, a distribution firm that’s developed real-time connectivity between suppliers and distributors.
Real-time connectivity is a challenge for Apple Vacations, according to Gagan Saxena, the company’s VP of information technology.
“We want to have a real-time connect with suppliers,” he said. “We want to be able to take all the promotions and everything else that’s being pushed out into our system and be able to report back as soon as we make bookings.”
If Company A built a two-day firesale, for example, it wouldn’t take long before it went live on the company’s direct channels. But by the time that same promotion is formatted to fit the specifications of certain channels and is distributed to Apple, those two days might already be up.
The lack of real-time connectivity is a frustrating conundrum, Saxena said, especially given that technology already exists to foster it. Expedia, for instance, recently launched QuickConnect, which promotes a more seamless distribution of rates and packages between the third-party reservation system and its supplier hotels.
What’s lacking is industry standards, however. Expedia’s content requirements are different than social medias’, which are different than the countless other distribution channels that sprout up on a weekly basis.
“Content used to be, ‘OK, I can have a template. This is my property description,’” said Vicki Schell, VP of distribution for Vantage Hospitality Group. “That doesn’t work anymore. We have all these different outlets and ways for content to be viewed.”
To promote at least an internal level of consistency, Vantage is updating individual hotel Web pages for its entire portfolio with standards for property shots, descriptions and other key information. The project, when paired with the company’s website relaunch, ultimately will help Vantage merchandise its products more effectively in the same, standard way, Schell said.
It hopefully will prevent any outright errors as well. Because no standards exist, distribution partners often “curate” content—reshaping key information to get the hotel’s square peg into the distributer’s round hole, said Tom Buoy, senior VP of distribution and revenue management for Morgans Hotel Group.
Loren Gray, director of e-commerce, Ocean Properties Limited, and Tom Buoy, senior VP of distribution and revenue management, Morgans Hotel Group.
“As you bring new assets to market, you have to go to a distribution partner to audit their content to make sure that it’s updated to the fact that you’ve renovated, launched a new restaurant,” he said. “… You’re going to find it difficult.”
As more and more distribution channels come to market, consumers are being inundated with more and more price points, promotions and packages, the panelists said.
“We have a very confused guest,” said Loren Gray, director of e-commerce, Ocean Properties Limited.
“They’re given plenty of opportunities to find out about us, but too many options create too many challenges,” he said. “They don’t always refer to us as the source of best choice, and that creates an unrealized expectation of us because of the channel they’ve used.”
Hoteliers should carefully manage which distribution channels they participate in as well as how they participate, Schell said.
“We have to look at the reach and the audience,” she said. “… You can’t be sold if you’re not seen, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be seen everywhere.”
An emerging place to be seen is via social media—but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily be there, Gray said.
“All these channels … are not necessarily (return on investment) based. A lot of it is just determining whether or not that’s a channel of opportunity,” he said.
Buoy took a more proactive stance on social media: “You need to be engaged in new distribution channels. Social media is one of those new distribution channels.”