Covering and writing about the hotel industry, I have the pleasure of attending some top-notch educational events. Monday’s annual Thayer Ventures event at the Westin Bonaventure in advance of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit stood out as one of the best I’ve been to in a while. Other associations and event planners should take note.
Thayer Ventures is a hospitality technology venture capital group that is associated with Thayer Lodging Group. The firm has invested capital in nine different start-up travel technology companies and brought those companies together Monday in Los Angeles for their annual summit.
The event is a win-win for both the technology companies involved and the hoteliers in attendance. It’s a who’s who of hoteliers as well as CEOs of some of the largest brands, management companies, consultants and suppliers.
The technology companies get to drum up support for additional funding and hear feedback from movers and shakers in the industry. And the hoteliers get to present challenges they hope technology can fix and help shape the future direction of hotel technology.
“This is a very unique investment for all of us,” said Thayer Lodging Group CEO Lee Pillsbury, who orchestrated the event. “It’s engaging; it’s involving; it’s different than most investments we make.
“I like to think it provides us with a direction in shaping the industry. Through these investments, we can have a more direct hand in shaping the future a bit.”
Tech trends emerge
Representatives from the tech companies spent the early part of the day providing some background on their companies—who they are, what stage of start-up they’re in, what their accomplishments were the previous year and what their challenges and opportunities are moving forward. This provides the hoteliers who have invested in the Thayer fund an update on how their money is being put to use.
These companies are on the cutting edge of travel technology and identified some key trends they will tackle in the near future. Mobile was an obvious theme and many technology executives said mobile will be the platform to take social media to the next level and really connect hotels with their guests.
As the social media space evolves, companies like NewBrandAnalytics (social intelligence solutions), Adara (online advertising for loyalty programs) and HotelMe (verified hotel reviews) will further the conversation with hoteliers on how and where to spend marketing dollars in the space.
“Everyone wants some level of social, but they don’t want to pay for it. The ability to pay—the desire to pay—is all over the map right now,” said Daniel Farrar, CEO of Switchfly (software as a service loyalty program functionality).
Other companies said they are working with Facebook to get hoteliers “reconnected” with their own customers.
Big data—how to collect it, present it and how hoteliers can use it—also stood out as a trend.
Hipmunk’s CEO Adam Goldstein (metasearch site), for example, said in 2013 the company will focus on exposing the range of data it has on its customers to its partner hoteliers.
“We know what source of factors go into the customers’ decisions,” he said.
Property-level decision-makers need more data to make decisions on pricing and distribution, specifically how better reviews affect pricing power, said Duetto Research CEO Patrick Bosworth (data-driven revenue management system). “It’s easy to do at a macro level but no one is really doing it at the property level,” he said.
Toward the end of the event, representatives from the technology companies facilitated roundtable discussions with hotel decision-makers, presented business development challenges and asked advice on how to tackle those challenges. The feedback generated healthy discussion and undoubtedly paved the way for partnerships in the future.
While much of the day centered on how tech start-ups can further entrench themselves in the industry, conversation continued to circle back to providing guests with the best possible experience.
“We need to return to an emphasis on the emotional environment surrounding booking,” said TourWrist CEO Charles Armstrong (user-generated virtual tours).
“We should be relentlessly focused on the customer experience,” added ID90T CEO Mike Stacy (airline employee e-ticketing). “People want to find what they want easily and then get off.”