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Hoteliers' Voice S3E5 - How H-Hotels transitioned from hotel distribution to ecommerce

Christoph Peppers, Director E‑Commerce for H‑Hotels GmbH joins us on Hoteliers' Voice Season 3 to look at the changes in revenue and distribution as e-commerce takes hold. The H-Hotels Group operates 61 properties in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland. The family-run group has over 3,000 employees and includes a number of accommodation brands.


In conversation, we cover:

  • Changing roles in marketing and ecommerce

  • Building an ecommerce culture

  • Hotel ecommerce tech

  • Identifying and selecting the right systems

Key systems and partners include; GoogleAds, Criteo, Affiliates, vouchers, chatbot, metasearch, retargeting


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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 back to Travel Market Life series three of Hoteliers’ Voice. and in this episode, we are looking at How H Hotels transitioned from hotel distribution to e-commerce. Joining me is Christophe Peppers, director of e-commerce at the H-Hotels Group operates over 60 properties in Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland. The family-run group has over 3000 employees and includes a number of accommodation brands. In our conversation today, we'll be looking at the evolving roles in marketing, sales and revenue, hotel e-commerce, and digital sales culture, and identifying the right systems.


Ryan Haynes:

Joining me now is Christoph Peppers. Thank you ever so much for joining me. Now you've got a very interesting title, it's e-commerce director, particularly new here in the hospitality industry. Can you tell me what is involved in your role?


Christoph Peppers:

Well, first of all, thanks a lot for having me, Ryan, and let's get actually straight to the answer to your question. So, for me personally, what I focus most on is actually bringing traffic to your own website. So, making sure that you have a diversified channel mix within your whole revenue stream. And so therefore, the eCommerce department is super, super important, especially within The, H, Hotels, to have actually a diversified user group going, going to your website, going on your page, and just making them convert. So, bring in all the traffic through different channels and make the people aware of the benefits that you actually offer on your website.


Christoph Peppers:

Therefore, that's the main goal that we have in our eCommerce department, and it's actually like spending money for the eCommerce department to save money overall.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely fascinating. I mean, as we know, you know, the whole distribution landscape for the Hospitality industry has massively evolved in the last 15, 20 years. you know the dynamics of sales, marketing and revenue have massively changed. And, how the leadership in those roles, where did you start in hotel marketing to now be an eCommerce? Take it from an eCommerce perspective.


Christoph Peppers:

So actually, I have a reservations and revenue management background. And with, actually I think dating back 10 years ago, I just started digging my head even deeper into the whole distribution side of things. And I think probably very pretty boring for most of the people in the industry, like the distribution stuff. But I was really like having fun with rate, rate loading content management, like setting up CRS systems and actually putting the pieces together where like all the online reservations are coming from, because this is, I think, something that a lot of hotels still to this day don't even know, okay, where are the bookings coming from? Actually, as I got older evolved my roads and got more and more projects throughout the years, I actually found myself within that whole e-commerce and online marketing world without even noticing.


Christoph Peppers:

So, it just appeared naturally. So, I got a website project for one of my former employers. Then of course, like I mentioned before, we had the CRS switch, and CRS setups, and then you are managing with managing the whole SEO and SEM stuff with another agency. So became natural to be in that eCommerce role. And since working for HR test, like for the last, yeah, two years now, I just learned even more what I haven't been dreaming of the last couple of years. So that's just amazing to have such a big company like comparably, a big hotel company and having the possibility to do that, all that eCommerce stuff here.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, eCommerce has generally been connected to the retail industry. So how do you translate that into Hospitality and really help or, you know, help inform other Hoteliers as to why an e-commerce perspective is so important for attaining those direct bookings and improving their revenue opportunities?


Christoph Peppers:

Well, first of all, I think that there's a big difference between retail eCommerce and Hospitality eCommerce, just from the, from the side of the, so from the point of view that when you retail, you just go online, you order stuff, it gets sent home to your, to your doorstep, you have something maybe some dress, some fashion stuff. And but with the hotel, with hospitality, you actually have to go to a place that you bought before. And I think that's a big difference. And that's still something I think a lot of people and companies ourselves included, have really had to figure out the right way to really trigger the customer or the potential user, the potential customer to book on your side to get all the information he needs.


Christoph Peppers:

Because I think that, what retail eCommerce is doing pretty well is that they, that you find all the necessary information, all the, all the benefits that you, that you might have on the site, on the page. And within the hotel industry, I think there are, there's still a lot of things to do to, to even shorten the booking process, to have all that information at a glance and to make people instantly book and not to really think about, okay, should I or should I not? Because I'm personally, I'm like, oh, that's a nice offer for nice running shoes, click and buy. That's easy as possible. And that's something I think in the hotel industry, we really need to go, we really need to have that sense or the same sense and we need to take that step further.


Ryan Haynes:

It's a rethinking, it is really taking as you say, a different approach to the way that we've traditionally done things now that we have that accessibility to booking and buying it through the internet online, through mobile phones. So, can you tell me how you've built an e-commerce culture within H-Hotels?


Christoph Peppers:

So, the cool thing about working for a bigger chain is that you have dedicated departments for different Yeah, for different topics. When I was working for a smaller group or even for just one big property in Berlin, it was like, okay, you take care of the website, you take care of the distribution, you take care of the eCommerce or online marketing stuff. And here actually it's like you have a, you have a distribution department, you have a revenue department, you have developers taking care of our booking engine, you have a website team, analytics guys, and of course us the eCommerce nerds. And so, I think H-Hotels did a good thing to really focus on splitting up all these very important areas and to make sure that every one of these areas is running well or are managed well to make, to really make them focus on, on solely that one topic.


Christoph Peppers:

So, everything works properly. And the cool thing with e-commerce, I actually have, or we in the e-commerce department actually have connections to all of these other departments, which makes it so super interesting because you get a lot of insights into distribution, like development, website and so on and so forth. And you can get, and you can use all that information, all the data as well to really make your e-commerce strategy or all the campaigns that you have in your head really work. And yeah, that's, that's super, super interesting. I think that's, it was, it was a good way to go in that direction.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, obviously, it's also about training and informing and making aware the wider teams that you've connected with, as you mentioned, across distribution, marketing, and revenue to really understand your core goals and objectives. How do you get that buy-in and what sort of conversations do you have or what, you know, what would you advise to other Hoteliers that are trying to steer their ship in that direction towards e-commerce?


Christoph Peppers:

I think the, and that's some, actually, that's a discussion I had a couple of days ago. The most important thing is to be interested in eCommerce because when you just, when you're just saying, well, we need an eCommerce department, we just put somebody there and he's doing his thing or she's doing her thing, that's, you can do that of course, but you don't know what's happening in that department. You don't know all the connections that eCommerce might have with other departments. And that's also one thing. And, and from my, from my perspective as well, for me as a person as well, I have to be interested in the distribution side of things. I have to have regular conversations with our revenue department to really say, okay, where do we have need periods?


Christoph Peppers:

Can we set up certain campaigns? What about the certain brands that we have? How can we promote them further? And that's, that's the main thing to really have an idea what eCommerce can be in your, in your ecosystem, in your hotel brand, but also make sure that you exchange ideas, communicate with the people that are taking care of the eCommerce department. That's super, super, super, super important.


Ryan Haynes:

Now, beyond ideas is data, you know, the essential insights in order to make those decisions. And one of the things that you pointed out at the very beginning was this, you know, need to really understand the source of the bookings. Let's just cover that, to begin with Chris. You know, why is it important to know the source of the bookings in regard to your strategies?


Christoph Peppers:

Why is it important? Because then you can actually have a segmentation, you can build your strategy on these segments because as we all know, we have OTA business, we have two operator business when it comes to like the, like the digital side of things, like the online bookings. And you really have to be aware of where the bookings are coming from on one hand to make sure, okay, how can I actually compete against bigger OTAs? That's one thing. But also, when it comes to your rate parity stuff to really see, okay, what is your rate strategy online in general? Do we try to be in parity with other channels or do we even want to be cheaper than other channels?


Christoph Peppers:

That's one thing. But also making sure that you're not undercut on certain price comparison sites like Giva, Google Hotels and stuff. Therefore, it's super, super important to know where the booking is coming from. Do tests to have price-checked tools in place and these kinds of things to make sure that you have the big piece of the pie when it comes to rates so that you are the master of your own rate you know that you have control of your rate in general.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely. Yeah. As say it's your product and you should be involved, you should be in control of that product and that pricing. And I guess Hotels have had the opportunity now over the last 10 or 15 years with technologies to be able to have that greater transparency and, and then see sort of like how the market's behaving so that you can capture the most business. Now let's look at the hotel e-commerce ecosystem, your tech stack. Can you tell us a bit more about what you use and the types of tools and systems that are involved in your hotel e-commerce?


Christoph Peppers:

So of course, we could split that up in like technology that we implemented into our ecosystem, but also like, like technology that we use, like Google for example, of course in Google it's not just like, okay Google, but you can look at Google in a different, kind of different kind of ways. You have like the Google Ads, PPC campaigns, generic campaigns and stuff, just to have a certain awareness for your brand, for your properties, but also do the performance campaigns to really drive the traffic and drive the revenue to your website, which of course strongly focus on display marketing. Not only like remarketing, like the usual stuff that, you know, you click on the website, you leave the website, and you get bombarded with the display ads.


Christoph Peppers:

It's also like prospecting to also like upper funnel campaigns to make the people aware of certain Hotels certain brands always depend on what's the focus currently. But actually, the main revenue driver at the moment is our meta channels. The meta performance is super important, and super interesting as well because what we have seen or what I have seen in the last two years is that actually the Google Ads brand performance kind of shifted towards like the Google Hotel ads performance. Because when I look at it just as a user, I would look for like High Hotel Hamburg.


Christoph Peppers:

Yes, of course, you can have the hotel ad right at the top of the search results. But also, you have the profile, the hotel profile with the Google My Business profile. You have and you have the channels right beneath it with the prices. And of course, I would personally click the link where I see the cheapest price and the cheapest rating. That's most of the time it's, it's our, it's our website. Yes. Not a hundred per cent, unfortunately, but most of the time it's our website. So of course, I think that's also something why we see a small drop in Google Ads brand performance, but a bigger impact of the meta performance.


Christoph Peppers:

So that's one thing. But also, what we've seen in the last two years is that affiliate marketing or the whole affiliate landscape with voucher sites, content sites, deal sites and cashback sites are really kicking off slowly but steadily for our company. Because what I think is that people are more and more cost-sensitive, of course, I am as well because I'm a deal hunter, so people, other people are as well. And especially when you are listed on cashback sites and deal sites and you have certain campaigns running, especially for summertime for example. People are aware of them. People are looking for a great deal.


Christoph Peppers:

So, therefore, we are seeing a great performance currently because we think we have good deals up and running right now. And this is also a very, very strong challenge that we face right now. But if we want to switch to the technology that we implemented into our hotel ecosystem there, of course, are a lot of things you could mention. My favourite is actually the chatbots tool that we use because chatbots in general I think are very helpful in lowering the workload for your reservation staff, front office staff and so on and so forth. Let's be honest, most of the time people are asking like really regular questions, which is absolutely fine, but it can be done or can be asked by a chatbot.


Christoph Peppers:

You don't have to actually have to have a person just telling you when the breakfast time will be or how many parking spaces you have. You have, and that's one thing. Also, I'm a big believer in conversion tools like pop-up messages, and price comparison, but also like individual content depending on the traffic source who is coming to your website. So, these are all things that we are implementing that we have implemented, and we are further developing and, and further experiencing in, in regards of what can we also, what kind of tools or functions can we also use to really, let's, let's be honest, trigger the person or the user on the website to book a room.


Christoph Peppers:

So these are like the main things that we, that we really focus on.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean quite a broad rich sort of variety of tools and systems that you're using there. I mean, do you take inspiration, I mean, do you look for Hospitality suppliers that are, you know, specialists in your sector or are, do, do you actually consider tools that are used by businesses across industries and different sectors?


Christoph Peppers:

Depends, I think it depends on the use case. I feel more comfortable having a conversion platform that is suited to the Hospitality industry than a platform that's mostly focused on retail as we mentioned before. So that's because I think that the dynamics are pretty different. And, but also, of course, there are instances where you use agencies or use tools or whatever that is, that don't have like a hundred per cent hospitality focus and especially with, with the, with the chatbot that, that we, that we use right now, quick text, it's not owned solely for the hospitality it's for a broader landscape of, of businesses and industries.


Christoph Peppers:

But it's working very well for us. So, therefore, it depends on the use case.


Ryan Haynes:

So, when it actually comes to identifying and selecting the right systems, the right partners, where do you do your research? How do you find and go out and, and look for those solutions that will help you achieve the next stage of your strategy?


Christoph Peppers:

I think there are a lot of different scenarios where you can actually find a suitable partner for the future. It depends on, okay, what is unique currently, what is your experience within a certain area? What are the contacts capable of doing that, that you already have? So, let me just tell you a story and be, and let's go back to the chatbot thing. So, I joined H-Hotels two years ago and we were using a chatbot chat tool that was like, okay, pretty heavily reliant on manual work. And the main focus as mentioned before is actually to lower the workload for the people.


Christoph Peppers:

And so, me and my colleagues went to the HSMAI day in Doff two years ago in September. And the CEO of OG Shift, which is a well-known chat provider in Germany, held a great lecture. And I was like, oh, that's super interesting. That's way better than the thing that we have right now. So, we need to get in contact with her. So, I haven't been able to talk to her during that event, but I've sent her an invitation and a message to a LinkedIn. So, eventually, we did a test with them, but also, which is super important I think, is that you're not just doing a test with one company and see what the results are. You just have to have at least one competitor working either side by side or one after the other to have an idea of what other companies are capable of doing.


Christoph Peppers:

If you don't give certain things a try, especially new stuff, if you think it might fit your company or the strategy that you have, you will never know. You won't get the experience. You, you actually cannot just have conversations with other peers of other hotel companies and share your experience with them. Therefore, I think it's very, very important to try out things, to try new things, to have conversations with your peers, to go to events.


Ryan Haynes:

And as you say, you know, you've got a community of hoteliers around you there in Berlin and the events are a great source for you to have those peer-to-peer conversations to find out how, how other hotels are solving some of these problems. So, it, you know, it sounds as say that it's important to get out there and to really just get it done and test these products. Chris, thank you ever so much. I mean that is really insightful around sort of your approach to hotel eCommerce and the journey that you've been on so far. I know from our previous conversations you have so much further that you want to go with hotel eCommerce, so it'll be great to certainly follow up with you in due course to find out how you're sort of navigating the new world of new systems and tools and technologies.


Ryan Haynes:

But for now, Chris, thank you ever so much for sharing your story.


Christoph Peppers:

Thank you so much for having me, Ryan. It was a pleasure. See you.


Ryan Haynes:

That was Christophe Peppers, director of e-commerce at H-Hotels for our Hoteliers Voice Season three, sharing with us how they've transitioned from hotel distribution to e-commerce. For more of our episodes, please follow Travel Market Life on any of your podcast channels or LinkedIn to get regular updates from our latest episodes and conversations. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks for listening. Ciao for now.

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