Conversations from International Hotel Technology Forum 2022
Updated: Jun 29
After a long (pandemic-induced) break, IHTF returned in May 2022. International hotel groups - including Accor, Penta Hotels, Nordic Choice Hotels, Melia Hotels International and NH Hotel Group - came together in Madrid to discuss developments in technology and digitalisation.
Over 300 attendees engaged in a two-streamed programme and one-to-one meetings, exploring the evolution of the hospitality industry and how hotel groups have responded to seismic changes in customer expectations and operational demands. The dynamics of digitalisation, omnichannel engagement, changes in marketing and distribution, and the growth and demand of Cloud services were amongst the hot topics.
Janneke Messiaen, VP Commercial Systems & B2B Digital, NH Hotel Group, explained how the group switched to a more concentrated distribution model. “At one point we had 38 channels connected and it’s very easy to lose control. On the one hand you have the commercial force to manage accounts and on the other, the technical team to maintain, configure and manage all the technical aspects and incidents that may arise. As the integrity problems became larger, we had to make sense of our distribution roadmap.”
Messiaen explained the importance of working with marketing, revenue and sales teams to design a new distribution roadmap, reviewing the full booking acquisition cost including assessing the man-hours involved.
Reducing the number of channels not only reduced manual workload and distribution costs, but limited the credit risk while improving rate integrity. In addition, NH Hotel Group was able to drive more direct bookings through their brand website with better visibility on metasearch.
Saraova Hotels echoed the importance of a concentrated distribution model. “Any OTA you work with is generally an affiliate of booking.com or Expedia, so it’s easier to work with them than create another cog in the wheel,” said Jon Siberry, Group Revenue Manager.
For The Set Collection, it’s important not to try to compete with OTAs on the wider range of services offered to the guest but keep the focus on the hotel experience. “We invest heavily in digital marketing and CRM to drive as much direct business as possible. With our resources we cannot be in every corner of the world, so we use OTAs as a billboard effect, which helps bring traffic direct,” said Robin Stangroom, VP Revenue, Reservations & Distribution.
Unfortunately Siberry and Stangroom experience a few tactics from OTAs which can take business away from them - like loyalty programmes, subsidised offers or alternative accommodation recommendations.
“It’s something to always be on top of. Investing in software that monitors price from different points of sale, for example different source markets, to see the types of discounts OTAs are offering,” advised Strangroom.
Added Siberry: “We also use Optimand which lets us see the demand where people are looking at dates but not booking. This helps us address revenue needs. We’ve set up automated promo codes for returning lookers.”
While many hotels explained the importance of working with tech partners, Dado Ljumanovic, Group Director, Digital Media & CRM, Sircle Collection has spent time developing an in-house team of technical experts.
Ljumanovic said: “We want to be in control, to understand the type of data we are collecting in-house. We create patterns for customer journeys applied to each channel which is increasing the channel’s contribution. We use travel agents to learn more about potential new audiences.”
Sircle Collection works with partners to understand the data quality they are getting, before devising strategy to prioritise different channels, especially those which capture top-priority brand personas.
Taking a slightly different approach, Sabrina Regner, Director of Guest Engagement & Reservations Management at Falkensteiner Hotels & Resorts, has been working with a development company to implement AI and robotic process automation. “We get rid of the daily repeated tasks. We should not think about reducing manpower but using manpower in the right way to make jobs attractive, with the right challenges.”
Falkensteiner Hotels & Resorts has also been building its omnichannel guest experience, “We were always thinking the wrong way. Now, with the direct booking share growing, we need to open up the ways that guests can contact us. This includes using channels where our guests are, such as Whatsapp, social media, video call, SMS. This is what we need to see in the future. This is very important for direct bookers,” said Regner.
Continuing with the omnichannel theme, Carsten Wernet, Chief Executive of SIHOT explained that “guests are looking for a frictionless experience. Hotels need to be providing the Uber or Amazon experience, using technology that connects the payment components at all stages of the guest journey, removing staff tasks from the process so it makes sense for the property.”
According to Juan Jose of Adyen, making payments can be a more fulfilling experience for guests. “The best payment experiences are those that you don’t remember. There are a myriad of payment methods and hotels need to consider how to manage these. It impacts the conversion and types of guests that you can tap into. It can become very complex, so it’s important to find the right partner.”
The advancement in guest expectation and both the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation are clear to those within the hotel industry. Based on conversations around the conference site in Madrid, it’s now about connecting the dots throughout hotels’ tech stacks. By making a smoother technological journey, hotels will be able to advance the guest experience, whilst providing staff with a stimulating and productive work-environment.