Is Bigger Data Really Better Data?

By Michael Schubach Strategic Deployments / Program Management Director, Infor Hospitality | August 27, 2017

The Digital Age is truly the era of knowing many things, but given our access to incessant tribal chatter across social platforms, the equal coexistence of facts and alternate facts along side news and fake news, one could rightly feel as though we humans may have access to more information than is necessary or even helpful. Despite such misgivings, I think we are better people because of our access to plentiful data. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to revive an analogy that was first offered to me when I was a Cub Scout: Data, particularly ‘big data,’ is like fire – used wisely it can light our way, allay our fears and give us warmth. Used foolishly, it can be destructive and devastating. The most useful objective, therefore, is not fire prevention but meaningful fire management – learning to discern the difference between quantity and quality, and react accordingly.

In the world of hospitality, the collection and use of data are the industry’s game changers. Location, location, location is now everywhere on planet Earth, and the room product ranges from pup-tents through the royal suites set aside for the exclusive use of the Sultan of Brunei. Despite the dizzying panorama of possibility out there, the truth is that within any given price and service class there isn’t a great deal of differentiation in products and amenities. We depend on data to deliver the differences that turn personal travel into opportunities to collect life experiences and unique memories, and to tailor personalized service; it’s access to data that gives Millennials and business travelers efficient access to availability, price shopping and loyalty / reward points.

But all data is not created equally. As I look across the kinds of information that we use to find and serve our guests, I see four distinct data types, distinguished by their method of manufacture:

Active

When we specifically elicit information from a guest or customer, this is active data collection. We can either ask in person (What is your last name? Could you spell that for me, please?) or on a form, but either way we are telling the provider what we wish to record so that we may use that information in a manner that somehow benefits him or her – at least, that’s the theory.

Active data is typically the best information you can retain; unless your respondent has something to hide or simply does not want you to have access to the requested information, what you get is accurate according to the best source possible. It’s important to note, however, that even active data has a shelf life: last name, address, age (as distinct from birthdate), marital status, smoking preference, need for ADA accommodation or assistance can all come and go. “Eternally true” is not a property that we associate with guest data; there is a need to ask and reconfirm all kinds of data on a regular basis.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.