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Hoteliers' Voice S3E4 - How Outrigger Hospitality implemented a data culture

James Wilson, Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics Services from Outrigger Hospitality Group gives insight for Hoteliers' Voice Season 3 on how to get data buy-in and create a data culture across the organisation

Outrigger property blends seamlessly with its unique locale, offering a compelling guest experience with a distinctive sense of place. With 38 properties and over 7,000 rooms in operation and/or development, Outrigger is a multi-branded portfolio while also managing properties as part of top international hotel brands.

In conversation with James, we discuss:

  • Importance of a data culture

  • Impact on the bottom line

  • Systems for data

  • Culture change and get buy-in

  • Identify the right partners

Outrigger uses a number of different solutions including Silverware, Opera PMS, RMS, Datavision, Amadeus Demand360, Duetto, Revinate, ForwardKeys, PowerBI


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Programme Notes


This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors


Ryan Haynes:

Hello and welcome to season three of Hotelier's Voice. Today, we learn How Outrigger Hospitality implemented a data culture. We're going to be joined by James Wilson, Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics Services and Outrigger Hospitality Group. Outrigger Property blends seamlessly with its unique locale, offering a compelling guest experience with a distinctive sense of place with 38 properties and over 7,000 rooms in operation and or development. Outrigger is a multi-branded portfolio while also managing properties as part of the top international hotel brands. In, our conversation today, we'll discuss the importance of data culture, the Impact on the bottom line, the systems used, cultural chains, and getting senior buy-in and identifying the right partners.


Ryan Haynes:

So, joining me now is James Wilson, Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics Services. Thanks ever so much for joining me today. So, having a data culture is a big thing, why is it so important?


James Wilson:

Well, thank you for having me today. Ryan, having a data culture is incredibly important in today's business ever evolve, ever-evolving business, excuse me, just due to the nature of data that you have just at your disposal. So, it helps create more informed business decisions. Instead of making anecdotal business decisions or going with your gut, you have facts to be able to back up what you're trying to propose to your organization. And hopefully, that would help impact your bottom line in a positive way and not in a detrimental way.


Ryan Haynes:

So how do you actually set up a culture? How do you define a culture within a Hospitality business?


James Wilson:

That's a really good question. So, my predecessor an incredibly smart guy before me. His name was Ian Miley. He actually started off with at Outrigger as I think he was a revenue analyst or so, and just helping with the day-to-day distribution things with setting up rates and just ensuring that we have parity across the organization. He introduced to Outrigger and to our senior executives that we needed a BI department to be able to understand the trends or be able to look at the portfolio as a total. And he got their buy-in by just showing them some of the things that he could do with compiling all the information from, you know, our source systems and looking at star travel essentially.


James Wilson:

And, and showing basically how were we trending in comparison to our comp set and if we, you know, made these different tweaks and whatnot, how that could further move us along the lines. So, from there we were able to invest in technology, and he was able to hire me essentially. And then the more use or, or the more, excuse me, individuals that we got in involved with the data and looking at the data and really fact checking people when people would say, well, something I believe that this is going to be the way things are going to turn out. And we can say, well, based on historical trends, this is not how it, it projected, this is how it went.


James Wilson:

Our executives found that information to be insightful and help to be able to steer the business in the right direction. And then from there we just kind of continued to elevate the BI department and so forth.


Ryan Haynes:

Wow. So really it was a lot of consultancies, a lot of internal PR to really help. But it sounds like you weren't forcing it, you were educating them along the way, you were asking the questions that would help them come to a better understanding of their own side of the business and why that data's integral to making them the right decisions.


James Wilson:

Absolutely.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, absolutely. Fascinating. So, we'll delve into that a little bit further about, you know, how you sort of work within the staff, but you touched on this idea of the bottom line there and, and the impact that it has. Could you tell us a bit more about what you've particularly seen impact the commercial side of the business through utilizing data?


James Wilson:

Yeah, absolutely. So, through the use of our data or where we are today with our data, we've been able to shift our customer demographic to a more profitable customer. So having that data at our disposal, we're able to see, well, this customer that buys, let's say via OTA or through a wholesale partner or direct, they may buy ahead of time a be a lower category unit, but spend more money in our f and b outlets, or they may buy a higher category unit and don't spend at all on the resort. So, it's being able to find the right customer demographic that we want at our properties and to essentially make us more profitable at the end of the day.


James Wilson:

So we can say, okay, we're going to put, we can price this room type at this price in advance. We can look at this specific demographic, and then we can also, you know, tailor specific packages for those, those particular demographics, which at the end of the day impacts the bottom line.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, and I mean it must be for each unit business unit must be sort of like looking at that and, and seeing the quality of revenue that is now coming through. If you are targeting the right demographic and you're bringing those into the hotel how are the rest of the team now contributing much more in order for it, for you to be able to find these trends and insights much faster and react quicker to that market insight?


James Wilson:

Absolutely. So, at the end of the day, everyone's looking at the same number. So, we all have in our head, you know, our EBITDA goal for the year, our overall budget goal for the year. Historically, or in a lot of businesses we kind of work in silos and you know, I'm an f and b, I'm only worried about my budget or I'm only worried about my forecast. I work on the sales side, I'm, you know, I'm going to chase business or whatnot. But as long as everyone knows that, you know, this is our overall end goal and this is where we're trying to get, how does, how can F&B help me? How can sales, you know, buy Google Ads or Expedia Ads, whatever it may be to that exact customer demographic that you're looking for?


James Wilson:

And then we can, if they're looking at their data every day, we can see, you know, the impact at the end of the day of how their objectives or what they're doing is impacting our, our overall pace for the year. And if we're falling behind, what do we need to do? We can talk all at once together and say, okay, we're struggling here, can we recover in this segment? Or can we recover in F&B and so forth?


Ryan Haynes:

So, to bring this all together, I mean, there must be different systems that you must be using in order to be able to gather this data and process it. Could you give me an idea of what that, I guess, system, BI ecosystem looks like?


James Wilson:

Yeah, so we are, I'm very fortunate, we are a very tech-heavy, tech-savvy, data-driven company. So, our sources of truth are going to be the point of sale. So, we use Silverware at Outrigger and then our property management system, we use Opera and we also, for our condo division, we use Annu system, that's called RMS. So those are our sources of truth, but I am able to connect to those data points or to those systems with our vendor Datavision, which is probably the best company that I've ever worked with. I'm a huge fan and this is not a for them, but I'm just a huge fan for them.


James Wilson:

But we're basically able to connect to those systems down to a transactional level where we can see, you know, if we're looking at a POSS side of things, we're able to see at what time would it check open, what time did it close, what menu items were purchased, how many covers. It's very detailed. And then on the PMS side, we, I can see what accounts our booking or what partners are essentially booking us, where our guests are coming from, how far in advance that they're booking, what's their average length of stay, what room type are they booking, what's the rate and, and so forth. So, I leverage all that data within a data warehouse. I maintain that data warehouse and I overlay that with Power BI.


James Wilson:

So that's what my users are using every day to just interact with the data. So historically, I would be the one that would just kind of send out these trend analysis reports just showing how we're pacing to our forecast and our budget or to last year by market segment. But we've been able to go a little bit deeper with having access to Datavision and overlaying Power BI. And so now quickly my users can say, I want to see for the month of December how are we pacing in comparison to forecasting in comparison to budget, what room types are booking, what geos are booking, where, where's the deficit essentially. And then we have a whole host of other systems that we use.


James Wilson:

So as an example, Forward Keys as most of our destinations are, you have to fly to our areas. It is important for us to understand the lift that's coming into our regions so we can see, you know, essentially how many flights are already booked and what's the forecast at sea capacity, which helps us understand the overall trends and if the market's up, if the market's down, we have demand 360 Duetto, we have a whole host of systems that makes me successful in my role.


Ryan Haynes:

Wow. And mean. That's, that's quite a list. There. Were, were you on a mission to buy up the, in entire supermarket of tech products?


James Wilson:

You know, I think so in a way, but I do think that they are, are helpful and there are other systems that I probably would like to get my hands on, but you don't want to overkill it as well. I think that we have a lot of data and there's a stat out there that says, you know, only 3% of data or some, some crazy number is consumed or used, whereas most of the data is not used. So, I don't want to be one of those people who have all these systems but underutilized the data.


Ryan Haynes:

So how did you identify which of these systems or which systems you needed? you know, how did you build up this, this stack here and then, you know, identify the right partners within those?


James Wilson:

Yeah, I think that that's a bit of a tricky question, but at the same time, it's, we needed to define our business goals of what we wanted to do. So historically, Outrigger Resorts was owned by the Kelly family, which was a local family, very well known in Hawaii. And we had our own ingrown PMS system internally, but we needed a system that was more with them, and we could, you know, attract people to work for us essentially. And a lot of people know Opera, it's a very user-friendly system and it's just used across our competitors essentially.


James Wilson:

So, we essentially just identified our business practices and ensure, wanted to ensure that that was the best system for us. So, we only went through the whole RFP process, same with all the other systems that we use, Duetto, Datavision, et cetera. I was just laughing with my counterpart, we're going through this RFP process right now of looking for a CRM, right? And one of the things that was a little bit scary to us is that we'll, we'll send out, you know, the things that we need for a system to do for us. And generally, there's never a system that's going to do everything, that you need, especially out of the box. So, we got a proposal back and everything was listed, yes, we can do all these things.


James Wilson:

And like, okay, that's a red flag because it's not likely that, you know, a vendor cannot discredit that vendor, but it's just ensuring that you have transparency with them because we don't necessarily want to buy a system that's not going to work for us, but we don't want to necessarily buy a system that we're looking to implement old business practices. We want to buy a system that's going to make us more effective and more efficient at the end of the day.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah. And so, you know, when you're starting to have those conversations with the vendors, you know, which what makes a beautiful, I guess, buying process or what aspects of it do you really detest and, and frustrate you?


James Wilson:

So essentially, I think it's going through the demo and God Bless sells people. They will, you know, they will sell you anything that they're passionate about at the end of the day. But for us, we like to get more into the technical questions, not necessarily the GUI or the user interface, because every system has its pros and its cons, but at the end of the day, we have a lot of systems that connect to the source system, whatever it may be. And we want to make sure that we're not creating complexities. And if we are creating complexities, we want to make sure that we have defined processes or that the vendor can work with us and develop that and or just say that's just something that we can't do.


James Wilson:

You have to look for a different system or an alternative for that aspect of your business. So, transparency and just building a relationship is really what's important to us.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, you've raved already about Datavision, so you know, as a partner, why are they so great? What is sort of the key values and provisions that they deliver to you that really add value to them as a partner?


James Wilson:

I think it is when I first met Datavision, it was more of, they don't necessarily see you as a customer. They see you as family and that's their, their pitch or whatnot. I can call support; I always get an answer. I know a number of them, you know, their team. We, we've connected, you know, at their various functions and whatnot. But I think that at the end of the day, they are working incredibly hard. They have our best interests at heart.


Ryan Haynes:

So that's, that's fantastic to learn, you know, what does make a great relationship and you know, what, what makes a, a customer rave about you or, or actually, you know, find those that, that connection that's going to help you fulfil your commercial goals. And so, you know, coming to some advice now, James, I mean, you know, you, you've said at the beginning how you were able to implement that data culture and, and what that was all about, and you had to get that buy-in. So, speaking to senior management and senior leadership, what advice do you give to them for recruiting a data specialist?


James Wilson:

Hmm, good question. So, in the role of BI or data Analytics, you definitely want someone who's hungry and has that curiosity to learn and look for complex challenges that the business may be facing. It may not even necessarily be a data-driven issue, but it could be this is broken in our company, how can we resolve this as something in distribution, as an example? So, someone that can kind of think outside of the box and maybe be able to look and point towards data and say, the data is telling me this, we can take this information and improve in these areas, and this should be able to increase productivity, increase revenues, or just decrease the amount of time spent on a particular process.


James Wilson:

Essentially someone who is adaptable the businesses forever changing. So not only the world of BI but Hospitality in general. So, you can take BI across any organization, but someone should be adaptable with you as you grow. And most importantly, that person should be very, what's the word to use? Flexible and or just driven with the team because there's a lot of collaboration that you have to do or have with all of the stakeholders within the organization.


Ryan Haynes:

Thank you. And then, you know, your peers, I mean, there's so many out there who are really trying to get that buy-in from senior management to invest in Annu piece of technology. What are the pieces of advice you give to them?


James Wilson:

Just keep pushing it, don't take it personally. I think for me, it just became so personal. Essentially, you, you spend all these hours and times of, you know, building out formulas and, and Power bi or you are building out a report in Excel and there are massive formulas that you're doing and you know, you also have to have this whole creative side to you to be able to visualize the data because some people are visual learners versus, you know, some people just want the raw data. So, you have to find a way to kind of mesh those two things together. And so, one audience may like this report, whereas the other audience doesn't like this report. And then you take it personally and it's not taking, don't take it personally, it's just they, they're wanted to see it go a little bit further and, and just cater to a broader audience.


James Wilson:

So just be able to continue to go back and forth until you find that view or that illustration that works best for the majority. You won't ever please everyone, but you know, just keep pushing it.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, I get the idea of not taking it personally. We can be so passionate and connected with our jobs and our tasks and our works, can't we? That it's, you know, blood, sweat and tears and then it's not quite what someone wants.


James Wilson:

That is 100% accurate.


Ryan Haynes:

James, it's been an absolute pleasure to have spoken with you and learn a lot more about outriggers, Hospitality use of data and what you've been doing in a role. It's been absolutely fan-fascinating because you've been there for quite some time, and you've actually been able to see the evolution of your business intelligence unit. So, you really, congratulations.


James Wilson:

Thank you so much, Ryan.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was James Wilson, director of Business Intelligence and Analytics Services at Outrigger Hospitality Group. Check out more of season three for hotels, voice on TravelMarket.Life or on LinkedIn across any of the other podcast services, including Spotify, Deezer, Apple, and Google. Thanks for listening. I'm your host Ryan Hayes.

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