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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

Hoteliers' Voice S3E7 - How Point A uses airline retail as a model

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Nick Pilbeam​, Commercial Director for Queensway Hotels and Hospitality operating Point A Hotels joins us in Hoteliers' Voice to look at the influence of airline retail model in the hospitality sector.


Queensway is a family business founded in 1973 creating meaningful and memorable hospitality experiences. Its portfolio includes hotels, coffee houses, restaurants, residential property and a private member’s club. Point A Hotels offers cosy, comfortable, budget friendly rooms in the heart of the big city.


With seven hotels in London, one in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin, Point A focuses on providing collaborative, fun and exciting places to work.

In conversation, we look at:


  1. Tech for leading edge hoteliers

  2. Learnings from airlines sales models

  3. PMS for smart operations

  4. Automation and data

  5. Pricing for profitability

PMS - Guestline, RMS - IDeaS, Distribution - HotelRez


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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. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes, and this is part of Hoteliers Voice season three, how Point A Hotels uses airline retail as a model. Joining me will be Nick Pilbeam, commercial director for Queensway Hotels and Hospitality operator of Point A Hotels. Queensway is a family business founded in 1973, creating meaningful and memorable hospitality experiences. Its portfolio includes hotels, coffee houses, restaurants, residential property, and a private member club. Point A Hotels offers Cosy comfortable budget-friendly rooms in the heart of the big city. With seven hotels in London, one in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin.


Ryan Haynes:

Point A focuses on providing collaborative, fun and exciting places to work for. Its fantastic hosts. In today's conversation, we are going to be looking at technology for leading-edge Hoteliers, learning from airline sales models, PMS for smart operations, Automation and data, and pricing for profitability.


Ryan Haynes:

Joining me now is Nick Pilbeam. Thank you very much for joining me today, Nick. Now it's really got an interesting concept for Point A. Can you tell me about it and why technology is so important for your brand?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Absolutely, Ryan, thanks for having me along. Yes, no problem. Thanks for the introduction on Point A. We are small hotels with a big heart, so as you've heard, we're in excellent downtown locations, primarily in London, but also in the UK and Ireland in terms of our Scotland and Dublin properties. But effectively what we are really modern, is actually a different concept. We've successfully disrupted the three-star budget model with a very modern, comfortable sleep-and-go offering where our bedrooms are fantastic concepts you would expect. Fantastic breakfast, great value, pricing, and a fantastic location so you can come to town to do your thing, stay with us, have a great breakfast, and then go. So that's our concept.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

And business is great. You know, business is absolutely flying, which is a great place to be, but we're not risking our laws. Automation is a key part of our strategy. And why is that? And I suppose the natural assumption is that's to drive down costs in this situation of inflation that we're in, which is actually not our primary objective. Our main objective is to improve our customer experience and actually to give our customers more choice on how they interact with us. Either pre-arrival at our hotels or post-stay. So that's actually a really important part of what we're doing. One of the many things that we're doing in that space is rolling out self-checking across our estate, but actually, a number of hotels are doing that. That is a bit of a trend right now. We see a lot of value in that from a number of aspects, but we're also, you know, this actually changes the whole way we operate.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So, this changes our pre-registration, and how guests register for their arrival. So, they might digitally pre-register but still have a manual check-in, or a hosted check-in because they like to deal with people when they check in. We are a hospitality business, but there are others who may not want to pre-register but might want to have an automated check-in, cut their key and go to their room. So, we're actually expanding the choices, the ways that our guests can interact with us whilst collecting more data to again, reinvest that back into the guest experience to recognize our customers in a better way. And yes, third priority, there probably will be some cost synergies, but that's not kind of the main priority.


Ryan Haynes:

Now I know we're going to be diving a bit more into the specific aspects of your hotel tech stack, and one of the points you just particularly mentioned was Automation being a particular focal point for you in the business. Now, when it looks, when you're coming to look for new, new systems and suppliers within the industry are you actually putting that as a key criterion that there are aspects of Automation and as you say, is this for, and how do you sort of balance that perhaps between that guest experience like you just mentioned, but perhaps, more importantly, your hosts, your staff on-site? Because as you say, it's about creating, you know, your ethos there is about creating that environment that is enjoyable to create, I guess that hospitality experience.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Absolutely, and I feel that the reason we're on this Automation journey actually benefits our team on the ground as well. You know, we want to be an attractive brand to work for that we attract high talent and retain them. Again, it's still a challenge for in Hospitality industry. So, we feel that automating, you know, manual, boring, repetitive tasks is actually really important. So that's a key area that we look for to benefit our guests and our teams on the ground. And to answer your formal question on, you know, how we choose technology, Automation is a key part of that. I mean, I'm relatively new to Hospitality having come from airlines and Hospitality, I mean there are plenty of systems to choose from. It's actually really exciting. But the key is how you can get your hotel system estate to hang together.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So actually, the quality of two-way integrations is that is a key success criterion for us when we're selecting technology because if you've got a nice point solution that doesn't hang together with the rest of your tech estate that delivers a seamless guest experience, we're going to struggle. So that actually is one of our main requirements now for selecting new tech.


Ryan Haynes:

Now, I mean your background in airlines as you just mentioned, what Learnings are you able to apply now to this world of Hospitality that you've entered? And perhaps, you know, are there any areas that you realize there is a huge gulf between the way that Hoteliers do business and actual airlines?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

It's fascinating. So, airlines comparing that industry to hotels, if you look at over time, you know, airlines invented revenue management. Airlines invented the large-scale loyalty programs. Airlines invented them with the first rollout of self-check-in. Airlines invented, you know, ancillary selling, unbundling the journey. Things like paying for your seat selection, you buy an economy seat, well they're all the same, well actually they're not quite all the same, are they? And you are willing to pay maybe 10 pounds, 20 pounds to sit further up or further back down the aircraft. So, I think over time airlines have led that aspect of development and are obviously empowered by technology to deliver that to flyers. If you compare and contrast the hotel industry, the hotel industry has been catching up fast, right?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So, AI-powered revenue management is much more common. Now in global Hospitality, which is great loyalty programs, arguably the hotel loyalty programs have almost overtaken the airline loyalty programs. If you look at the big players out there with the major multinational brands, they've done a really great job. So that's come forward leaps and bounds over time and then check-in self in automated check and that's more common now and I think that will be one of the trends through the global industry over the coming years and is already on the way so that not necessarily new. So really that comes down to the what about the ancillaries? What else is out there? So, one of the things in terms of what we are taking from the airline industry into our hotels is we've just announced the ability for guests that booked directly with us to actually select the exact room that they're going to be staying in at one of our properties on the floor plan of the, of the hotel.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So, if you're familiar with as many people are choosing your aircraft seat, that's really old news, right? And actually, that makes quite a lot of money for hotels, for airlines, for us, we're going to make that complimentary for direct guests for obvious reasons, but actually that really helps and improves the guest experience because whether you've co-chosen, you know, a double room, wherever it's in the hotel, is it on the first floor next to the lift above the bar, which is may maybe where you want to be or is your same room on the top floor miles away from the lift and any noise of, of you know, footfall outside of your door, that is your choice. And that choice is personal, and we want to give people the chance to be able to do that because that will add value to their stay.


Ryan Haynes:

I might be asking a little bit of a tricky question here, Nick, because I mean this has been something that's been in conversation for quite some time in the hotel industry. People are able to select their room and every time you speak to operators and general managers, their key concern is, is that room going to be available or has that been taken out of service? Or if that person's only there for one night, what about someone who's staying for three nights? So how, how is that man, how, how is that sort of managed effectively from the availability of these rooms?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Yeah, there's been a lot of debate about exactly that point. So, where we settled on one, one of the reasons we're doing it on direct customers only, obviously that's not a hundred per cent of our bookings. So that limits the room stock that we put available for pre-selection so that it helps the operational teams. They're quite happy with that. It means they've got that flexibility in the room inventory to be able to move things around as operational things happen, which is just normal in hotels. But actually again, if you look at the airline model, if you look in the TSS and Cs, when you choose your EasyJet seat on every tease it says due to operational reasons, you might be moved from the seat, you have been reallocated. No guest wants a room where the shower's not working. So, if that happens out of your control for operational reasons, then it's absolutely fine to explain it to a guest and movement.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

In fact, I think they'd welcome the move. So, if we take these Learnings from a mature offering in another industry, I think all those issues can be addressed. But putting a hundred per cent of the room stock on for pre-allocation by guests is challenging and we're not going to be doing that for the time being.


Ryan Haynes:

Thanks for answering my question. Very informative. Right. Okay. So, moving to your tech stack then the PMS, the heart of the hotel, essential to smart operations, what are your key considerations when actually identifying the right PMS and delivering that digital experience and automation, I mean obviously two-way integration is, is key. You mentioned that, but what other aspects determine a good PMS for you?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

It’s interesting and as before you said Queensway Hospitality is we operate multiple assets. So, the reason I say that is in my recent experience it's really horses for courses. So, on the Point A side, our requirements and the level of technology that we need are different from the four-star luxury boutique properties that we operate. So, I think it really depends on the business and the type of hotel that you are, the type of chain that you are and the type of guests that you serve. That's sort of point number one. Point number two is that no single system in the hotel tech stack delivers everything you need out of the box, unfortunately. And they're all different shapes and sizes. So, I think the key point apart from integration is that you're selecting your combined tech stack in such a way that the whole tech stack is going to really deliver that seamless experience.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So yes, the PMS is the heart of that tech stack and is, I'll give you the most important bit, but actually, can you find the other constituent parts to make the whole work for your business? I think that is the key to all the PMS that are out there. And again, there are a number of really, really good ones. Which one delivers the guest experience that you need and for the gaps that you have, can you on a cost-effective basis fill those gaps in a cohesive architecture.


Ryan Haynes:

And can you tell me a bit about what you've chosen and selected for point A that works well for your model?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Absolutely. So, PMS, we use Guestline and actually, we're great partners with the Guestline for Point A and I've been working with 'EM for a number of years and have all our hotels on that platform. And actually, for our check-in rollout, we're one of the early adopters of their guest stay product, which is their check-in add-on for the PMS. So again, one of the reasons we've gone with them, is we work very well with them as a partner, which we look for a supply, we like more of a partnership than a supply-client relationship. But also, there because they're bringing the check-in application to market that's tightly integrated with the Guestline, which just avoids integration problems and data problems. So that's who we're using on that side. We, for our revenue management system, use ideas, we're on their most advanced AI-powered pricing engine at the moment.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

All the widgets which done, and we're using all the automated pricing. We're also one of the early adopters of optics, which is the idea of quite a new business information dashboard from the revenue analytics point of view. If you're not, if you're an IDeaS customer and you're not using Optics, have a look. I highly recommend it. It is brilliant in terms of reducing the amount of time to get to real value-adding revenue management that's absolutely fantastic. So, I think those are the main areas of the Caltech estate that the heart if you like, of what we operate on The Point A side.


Ryan Haynes:

Well, let's extend that on the revenue management side because pricing is essential today being market relevant as you say, it is about having that value for the property and the essence that you want to deliver to your guests. But profitability is essential. So how do you do this? I mean Automation as you mentioned within the Ideas product is obviously delivering quite a bit of the horsepower that you need. But tell us a bit more for those who don't necessarily go for RMS automated systems or don't even use, use an RMS.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Absolutely. So, I think if we step back a bit, why are we using an automated system at all? That is because we believe the most effective pricing strategy, particularly in dealing with an inflationary environment, is dynamic pricing rather than fixed pricing. So, where the demand is strong and the market is strong, you can command a higher price. And where it's not all the different seasons or other events happening in the market, then you, you know, you obviously you drop, you're not wedded to a fixed price where you might actually leave some business on the table. So, we believe that dynamic pricing is the way forward. If you operate multiple hotels with dynamic pricing and you want to do that properly. So, monitor what the concept they're doing, take reputational data into account, you know, what are your booking.com scores, trip advisor scores take all of these thousands if not millions of data points into account is set the most often dynamic price.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

We believe the only way to do that effectively is on an automated basis. So actually, our revenue management function we haven't reduced at all. In fact, we've invested in that function. But with the automation, we're spending 80% of our time on really high-value revenue management rather than 80% of our time on the very well on the low-value, repetitive, quite boring, mundane parts of revenue management. So that's where we come from. From an overall pricing perspective, I think the other thing to say is beyond the Automation when selling pricing in this environment, you need to know the incremental cost of the incremental room that you're selling because you know it's about that cost management. So that's a critical part of thinking about pricing strategy.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

And I think the other thing is the distribution costs. You know, we are absolutely more than ever micromanaging our distribution costs. So the sorts of KPIs that we look at when we talk about revenue and pricing is, you know, net ADR, net RevPAR to make sure that we're driving quality revenue into the business, not necessarily high-cost revenue.


Ryan Haynes:

Wonderful, thank you very much Nick for giving such an informative explanation there. I mean it can be a very complex subject, particularly nowadays with so much data going in and out of the systems now data is a big thing for Point A and obviously managing that effectively. What insights have you managed to glean so far from your data that you've been able to get through the point A systems to drive that commercial strategy?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Yeah, there's plenty of data in Hospitality, isn't there? So internal data, you look at external data, you know, OTA Insights, STR I mean we're not lacking data, which is great actually. So, I think the first area of focus that I looked at was revenue Analytics and the timing of the IDeaS optics product was brilliant. So, we're quite advanced in our revenue Analytics where we're focused on is actually guest behaviour. So, what is our repeat rate? What are our high lifetime value segments? Where do we acquire them from? What segment are they operating in? What is their source market? How far away is their hotel that they're staying in from where they live? So, we're investing in a customer data platform, data lake, data warehouse, whatever you choose to call it, to really combine the data from our, these various constituent parts of our platform and then put them together in such a way that re really understands the behaviour of guests.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

The early results in that are phenomenal because it, it points really clearly provides not just reports, but it provides actionable insight. What do we do with our business next? Where do we take our proposition? So, we're starting to work on our next generation, our loyalty offering based on these insights on guest behaviour. So, revenue is a part of that, but there are so many other parts to that picture that we're starting to fill in on the puzzle it is a journey, and it takes a long time, but it's well with the effort. So that's, that's where we're spending quite a lot of our time.


Ryan Haynes:

And can I just drill down then into the resources, human resources that you've actually got working with you across this? Because we've talked about data, we've talked about revenue management and as you say, you know, you haven't decreased the resources there, you've only invested to focus on that high-level side, but what does your team look like?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So, our commercial team is actually a newly formed team bringing revenue and marketing much more closely together in a combined commercial team that has one direction. So that's going quite well on the revenue side, a fairly traditional setup. We have a revenue management team, we have groups, executives, we have sales roles. So, quite a classic setup, but not in hotels. They're all based in our support office working across the estate. Again, if you have enough Automation in the background going on to automate the repetitive tasks, you can get your talent right out in the front of the business, spending more time in the market, and talking to customers in different segments. So that's the philosophy that we follow. And then we have a small but perfectly full marketing department that's quite sort of highly or over-indexed on tech, digital and Analytics because that is where we're spending a lot of our time in terms of taking new digital products to market.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

We're doing all sorts of crazy things like this room selection and that takes a lot of horsepower on the technology side. And actually that, that puts really my final point. You need to decide in terms of your team size, which bits you do in-house or which bits you partner with a third party either because they bring software to the table, or they bring specialist expertise to the table. So, I think the skills and the team shape of a classic commercial department are going to change over time. I think you'll see job titles like data scientists being much more prevalent in commercial teams as Hospitality moves forward over the next few years because I think that is the future, you know, there is so much data, but what is, where's the gold in the hills around what that's telling you about what your guests are doing and where to take your business next.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

So, that's kind of our shape today, but it is definitely emerging and evolving over time.


Ryan Haynes:

So, as you go through this hybrid model of partners and in-house to team, team resourcing, how do you select your partners, be it the tech systems or be it your other agents that are helping you drive the business?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

I mentioned earlier, partners, partnerships. It does need to feel like a true partnership. We're not a huge business. So, I think the price point has to be right, that we can afford it given that, you know, we operate 10 hotels in the budget segment. But beyond that a, a true partnership that feels like, you know, a two-way street, I think is really important. Bringing some good technology and Automation to the table that doesn't give us integration problems or give us guest calling up because something has gone astray because there's some problem with data, we don't need any of that. So, that integration point is really key. And actually, partners that add value, you know, we work with HotelRez for example and they're great, you know, they see an opportunity in on their side of the market for us and they'll call us and say, hey, Point A, we've got an opportunity if for in this space, whatever that might be, would you like to be involved?


Nicholas Pilbeam:

Can we put you forward? How can we work more as partners? And subsequently, we're, you know, the first to put our hand up on early adopter programs, what they want to bring to the market. So, more relationships like that is what are what we look for.


Ryan Haynes:

Wonderful. Thank you, Nick, for joining us today and giving us your Hoteliers' Voice story for season three.


Nicholas Pilbeam:

My pleasure, Ryan. Thanks so much.


Ryan Haynes:

You. So that was Nick Pilbeam, the Commercial Director for Queensway Hotels and Hospitality that operates Point A hotels as part of season three. Hoteliers’ Voice go to, TravelMarket.Life for more or head to any of your podcast channels for the full list of episodes. Thanks for listening, I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Ciao for now.

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