Experts speaking the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference said technology is driving change for hotel distribution.
NEW YORK—The distribution landscape of hotels is constantly changing, which is spurred on by growth in technology, said experts speaking at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the “Distribution Dilemma” panel at the conference.
1. Mobile is where the action is
The common refrain in any discussion about distribution today is that mobile bookings are taking off in a huge way, and panelists said that should be a huge driver in putting together plans as a hotel company or online travel agency.
“I know many companies say this, but digital—and in particular mobile—is a priority for us,” said Drew Pinto, SVP of distribution for Marriott International. “We know what guests are looking for in a mobile experience, and that goes from those early considerations to post-stay. It’s definitely important to us.”
Lou Zameryka, director of global accounts for Booking.com, said companies need to put more work into the mobile experience after the actual booking.
“You can find a great hotel in the location you want and book it, so now it’s about what happens next,” he said. “A trip isn’t just ‘I want to go to a hotel.’ Guests need things pre-stay. They need to communicate with the property or Booking.com during the stay. If the hotel is your home base (during a trip), they should be in communication with (the guest).”
2. Tech needs to provide insights
The omnipresence of technology means hotels have an unprecedented amount of data and information on guests. Panelists said hoteliers must use that information to improve service.
“Personalization is everything,” said Melissa Maher, SVP of the global partnership group for Expedia.
Pinto said guest “recognition is key.”
“The key for us is as much customer insight as we can get,” he said.
Zameryka said this is a point in the process where OTAs might be helpful for improving the experience depending on how much guests share with them.
“Based on what you let us learn about you, it becomes how do we use that to remove friction in the future,” he said.
3. Push and pull between OTAs and direct
The dynamic between hotels and OTAs seems to be part partnership and part adversarial.
Danny Hughes, SVP and commercial director for the Americas at Hilton, said it comes down to balancing where the partnership works and where hotels need to drive direct business.
“There are different customers booking for different reasons,” Hughes said. “And many are seeking a multi-brand, multi-solution site. … We’re committed to building direct relationships, but we can find the sweet spot where we take what works.”
Pinto agreed and said the conversation around OTA’s roles in the industry has grown unproductive in some ways.
“We have to think about how we approach distribution, and that means moving beyond the traditional conversation about the traditional conversations about commission rates. … With the customer in mind, it’s about how do we work together and finding that important place in the portfolio for third parties,” he said.
4. Voice still matters, but it’s changing as well
Panelists said guest interactions with booking agents via voice channels is still critical, but the role of voice is evolving along with technology.
Maher said voice encompasses the booming segment of voice searches via smartphones and devices like Amazon’s Echo. Expedia officials expect voice searches to account for half of all searches by 2020.
Hughes said beyond voice recognition, it’s important that companies provide voice channels, via by calling or in app, where people can talk to living human beings to address problems or answer questions.
“It’s really important to make sure you’re giving a consumer the human element when they want it,” he said. “It’s like how I text my kids every day, but when they really want something, I get a call.”
5. The power of loyalty
The power dynamics of hotel loyalty programs has drastically changed in recent history, Hughes said.
“We’ve turned loyalty on its head,” he said. “It used to be that (the consumers) had to demonstrate loyalty to us, and after however many stays we’ll give you something. Now that’s turned around and you must demonstrate loyalty to them.”
He said this equates to turning loyalty into “a club.”
Maher said her company recognizes the importance of loyalty to hotel brands, and that’s why they’ve opened up their platform to allow loyalty integration as hotel companies see fit.
“Our partners want to drive direct business, and they wanted our help building their loyalty programs,” she said.