How to turn data analysis into action
17 FEBRUARY 2014 9:56 AM
The information is there, but how to use it was the main topic of discussion at last week’s Smart Travel Analytics conference hosted by EyeforTravel.
NEW YORK—Extraordinary amounts of data about customers and their behavior is out there; the question is figuring out how to use it to maximum benefit.
Analytics and revenue management experts at the Smart Travel Analytics North America 2014 conference hosted by EyeforTravel in New York varied in their opinions over big data but came to a consensus on the following suggestions:
- Don’t do anything about collecting or using data before you know what you want to achieve.
- Try to centralize data because duplication and “silo-ization” is prevalent and counterproductive.
- Using data appropriately can increase profitability and improve guest experiences.
Kurien Jacob, chief revenue officer for Highgate Hotels, which focuses on real estate assets in major markets, stressed the importance of looking at market-level data to forecast demand rather than looking internally only. Many hoteliers look at data internally, Jacob said, while Highgate aims to get data points about the market as a whole.
“We prefer to use the market data, which is much riskier but can also have a big payoff,” he said.
Highgate also places emphasis on future flight demand, which it sees as an indicator of occupancy. “We have bet on huge demand in a market based on future flight demand,” he said.
Geographical data—where guests might come from—is yet another important source.
“If we see demand coming from South America, what can we do proactively to use that information? We go to our sales people or use Internet strategies around South America,” he said. “International travelers spend three times as much as domestic, so we want as much of that as possible.”
Like many of the other speakers, Jacob is a big fan of Google Analytics, which he said has seen “a lot of improvements.”
With all that, he warned against “overanalyzing” data. “We take the data and immediately create strategies around it,” he said.
Metasearch is the fastest growing category on desktop for online travel, growing by 4% annually and accelerating, according to Brian Nowak, an analyst with Susquehanna International Group, a financial trading company. On the other hand, he said online-travel-agency traffic on the desktop is not growing and has not since 2007. Only Priceline has accelerated growth on the desktop over the past five years, riding the success of Booking.com.
Nowak recommended that brands invest in meta strategies but that they make sure to measure return on investment appropriately.
OTAs have been far ahead of hotels in mobile application success, according to Nowak. As of the end of 2013, he said, seven of the nine largest hotel company apps didn’t have audiences big enough to be measured, meaning the users are less than 100,000 each. Meanwhile, Expedia has an app base of 4 million. Apps are natural for OTAs because users want to compare options, Nowak said.
Hotels and brands need to build their app-user bases or the problem will get worse because travelers only want to have two or three “go-to” travel research apps, he said.
Ameya Karvir, director of analytics for Expedia, said data in general has tended to be fragmented with extensive duplication. He said Expedia has been working on centralizing data and as a result has already seen a higher percentage of conversion from browsers.
Deciding on goals is the first step to maximizing marketing ROI, according to Barbara Pezzi, director of analytics and search optimization for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International. The goal can be ROI, exposure or retention and that goal should determine what approaches to use: email, social media, pay per click, display, etc.
Once goals have been decided, Google Analytics can help set up a plan and analysts also can monitor conversion funnels for free on Google Analytics.
Tracking is crucial, according to Pezzi, who said she has seen landing pages created for campaigns without analysts being notified. Then, after two months of the campaign, the analysts are asked how it went and they don’t know. Several free and simple tools, including Google-offered options, are available for tracking.
“Segment everything” rather than simply aggregating data, Pezzi said. For example, she said looking at overall conversion rates on a site is not useful. It has to be segmented based on goals. A segment might be travelers coming to the site on an Apple device in response to a particular campaign. It’s possible to see via tracking what other device has been used, which other companies have been browsed and where the person is located.
Another factor to take into account is when not to spend money, such as sending browsers to a landing page with a 90% bounce rate. “You might as well give all that money to charity," she said.
David Schmitt, director of performance strategy and planning for InterContinental Hotels Group, said the company is in the midst of a pilot program to improve the performance of search, affiliates and social media. Once completed, that program will be expanded to other platforms, including voice.
“Culture trumps data,” Schmitt said. “It doesn't matter how good our reporting and analysis are if we don't have buy-in from our stakeholders. They're the ones making the decisions. If the information we give them doesn't connect with what they're trying to accomplish, we're wasting our time.”
Gathering the right data
With so many channels involved, managing them has become a complex task. Patrick Bosworth, co-founder and CEO of Duetto, said the current trajectory of hoteliers paying more and more for distribution is to the point where those increases will surpass revenue increases.
He said owners and asset managers are getting serious about distribution, rather than leaving it to brand and management companies.
While consumers are using new kinds of information all the time, Bosworth said hoteliers continue to use traditional sources of information. It’s necessary for hoteliers to track activity in real time on booking engines, including lost business, he said. New tools allow hoteliers to get insights into when to bring in OTAs. Hoteliers are spending on marketing too late in the cycle to make a difference, he said.
Sine Scott, director of Internet marketing for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, said, “Real power comes through one-to-one connection with customers online.”
Those connections are enabled by 24/7 social media monitoring, harnessing the power of guest sentiment and finding the link between online reviews and revenue.
As an example of the first, Scott said one social media manager noticed a tweet from a guest that it was her anniversary and that she loved Fairmont’s canine ambassadors, so she was connected with a dog as an anniversary present.
As for harnessing the power of guest sentiment, Scott said that involves turning analysis into action by using increasingly sophisticated tools that analyze language and additional factors in social media and other content. Responding to these sentiments leads to better reviews and in turn more revenue.
Putting shareable content online, Scott said, also makes customers more likely to share their own experiences.
“There is nothing more valuable than a customer photo on Instagram with a positive review,” she said.