Is Personalization Travel's New Super Power?

By Pamela Whitby Editor, EyeforTravel Ltd | July 16, 2017

For successful tech companies building a solid and loyal customer base is far less about trusting your gut than having the right data and testing and learning from it. Flattened company hierarchies are also seen as important in getting the best from teams and, as a result, building more successful customer relationships based on personal preferences. So in a turbulent and highly competitive market, should hotels should start thinking more like tech companies to take back control?

Is "Challenging Assumptions" the key to cracking customer experience? Booking.com thinks so and others do too. Love them or hate them - and yes hotels over the years have had a pretty tetchy relationship with booking.com – but few could dispute how successful a company the Amsterdam upstart has been.

After being acquired in 2005 by Priceline for $135m in cash, booking.com helped catapult its US parent from a $10m company to one worth over a billion dollars. This booking.com acquisition, along with others like Agoda, Kayak and more, was, as Priceline CEO Glenn Fogel outlined at a recent EyeforTravel conference, part of a strategic push to go global. "We found companies that knew how to sell the way people in Europe [and other parts of the world] wanted to

A decade on and in 2016, booking.com was responsible for 80% of Priceline's annual revenues. Great news for Priceline! Not such great news for hotels, which over the years have lost control of inventory and forked out commissions of anything between 15 and 30% for privilege of a presence on OTA websites.

But with eroding margins and regulatory pressure brought to bear on OTA bully boy tactics in the US and Europe, the fight back has begun. Recently, we've seen some hotels taking back control by innovating with loyalty programs, technology and more, and even entering what are perceived to be fairer deals with Google (that is another story).

Although there is still some way to go, there is a growing recognition that OTAs, if managed correctly, can play a valuable role. But as Brian Harniman, a former Priceline executive and founder of strategy advisory firm Brand New Matter, puts it hotels need to "partner wisely". Other advice includes using data to shift from cost per booking to cost-per-customer, providing real value (such as upgrades, free drinks and so on) and never ever allowing anybody to dictate RM practices.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.