Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Super Trends and Takeaways from TDS N. America 2012

As the dust settles from the industry maelstrom that descended on Las Vegas for EyeforTravel’s 13th TDS N. America summit, what better way to round-up two action packed days, 90+ presentations and 4 distinct conferences than a good ol’ slapdash blog post?

Despite flooding causing Maccarran airport to close the day before the event and the Obama campaign dropping in to keep the journey interesting for traveling delegates, the summit pulled in 500+ attendees from all industry sectors and corners of the globe. Below are the most salient topics to emerge;

Personalization and Continuous Improvement of the Guest / User Experience perhaps unsurprisingly took front and centre for in many a debate.

Greg Land of IBM cited that 88% of CEOs surveyed by IBM this year reported their top priority within the next five years was to get closer to their consumers. Nor1’s Sanjay Wahi reinforced this impetus by highlighting how real-time data management can be leveraged to create hyper-personalised, relevant and lucrative ancillary offerings to the high intent traveller on the fly. Wahi demonstrated how this strategy created a 25% average increase in original booking value for upgraded bookings with travel brands. Still more staggering was the fact that analyzing transactional data and booking patterns enabled them to lift conversion rates by 15-20%.

Mobile is key to this approach, reports MMGY’s Claire Bishop as our smartphones are now such an inherently personal possession, they represent a perfect opportunity to serve customers as a personal concierge to drive incredible customer service and user experiences. Claire also went on to liken customer engagement to ‘a courtship’ in that brands shouldn’t be doing all the talking but rather should listen, take their input to heart and respond accordingly to create a message that really resonates with them and people who are like them.

HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank resonated with mobile being ideal tool for unprecedented personalisation and building real loyalty.  

“If they had a great experience, they will go back to the app and concrete loyalty is won, time and time again’

It’s a ratings game with hotel apps, Shank continues ‘‘But hoteliers need to remember that when guests rate an app, they are not just rating the technical aspect; they are rating the entire experience of interacting with the company. Some of the most negative reviews of hotel apps are about the support experience; your weakest link brings down your rating—even offline elements.”

So what’s the trick? ‘‘Focusing on the customer experience both online and offline will increase app ratings – People are expecting such a lousy interaction … that if we provide them with something great, we’re going to blow them away.”

The Mobile-Powered Renaissance of Last-Minute Mobile Bookings

Expedia reported that 32% of all overall hotel bookings in Las Vegas come from mobile devices. Not surprising considering the spontaneous / erratic soul of the city and weak market conditions, more interesting was the dilemma this trend creates for suppliers. Max Starkov of HeBS warned of the dangers of conditioning customers to book last-minute and at sub-optimal price levels. His argument was echoed by Minoo Patel of NIIT Technologies and IHG’s Bill Keen, both pointed out the fact that last minute travellers arriving in a new and often unfamiliar city urgently need a hotel room, so why discount and erode your rates and brand? HotelTonight’s Jared Simon, countered by explaining that rooms sold through HotelTonight can only be accessed via mobile and on the same day so these are rooms that would not otherwise be sold. ‘‘The best revenue managers will realize that an individual will have different booking needs at different times and will ensure that their hotels are in front of those bookers with a relevant offer regardless of the booking need’.

In other words, Consumers with a pre-existing allegiance to one brand or another will go through the brand’s own channel in advance to complete their reservation.  If consumers were already faithful to your hotel, they’d call ahead or visit your website first; the reason they’re on a last minute site is because you’re sold out.

On whichever side of the fence you happen to sit, the fact remains that the industry is starting to wake up to the last-minute phenomenon with the likes of Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity all entering the fray with their own same-day booking services and EU players following suit. See more Google data and trends on last-minute mobile booking here

Revenue Management Takes the Innovation Crown

Amidst stiff competition from an eminent panel of travel industry innovators, it was a scientific revenue management solution that stole the show and emerged triumphant as the EyeforTravel ‘One to Watch’ in 2013.

-Rates is an intelligent, algorithmic  pricing tool that seeks to democratize and simplify revenue management for small to mid-tier hotels who lack the time, resources and tradition of their big-budget counterparts. The tool is so simple that CEO Vadim Asadov claimed a five-year-old child could run it.  “It’s rocket science wrapped into a calculator interface’’

By using a neat combination of historical sales data, real-time competitive rates and a host of other multivariate market/demand and even human input, the system’s algorithm provides optimal pricing points and predictive analytics that Vadim reports has helped a 3 star hotel increase RevPAR by 42%, almost 30% higher than the market growth, which led to $60,000 in additional monthly revenue. Impressive and also refreshing to see revenue management rightly take its place at the industry table. 

This is a mere taste of the learnings gleaned from TDS N. America, for the attention impaired (who won’t be reading this), here is a synopsis of the hottest topics and trends from the summit in tweet form

We’re keen to hear your thoughts, do write in and let us know what your most useful /memorable takeaways were from the show! (Sadly no entries re networking drinks)

Until the next one!

Marco Saio
EyeforTravel Director of Global Research & Projects