As a hotelier, when you’re in the thick of juggling all the necessary daily tasks, you seldom have time to take a step back and look at the big picture. Moreover, given how demanding this line of work can be, it’s hard to find the time to travel to other properties or conventions around the world to gain perspective and improve your understanding of the industry.
That’s why I’ve recruited Michael Blake, the CEO of Hospitality Technology Next Generation, who has some powerful insights on the sharing economy and the future of loyalty programs. HTNG conferences, where attendee numbers are typically from about 200 to 250 people, have an exhibit hall but don’t require vendor members to purchase a sponsorship in order to attend.
“We believe in the phrase, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with others,” he said. “This strips our events from being solely sales-focused and strengthens the networking opportunities that are available for senior executives, product developers and other technology roles. And on the educational side, our organization works diligently to bring in expert speakers to discuss trending industry topics that are specific to the attendees in a given conference’s region.”
How is HTNG different as a hospitality organization?
HTNG is a not-for-profit trade association run by a small staff of just 11 individuals, with workgroups as its heart and soul. These groups consist of hospitality professionals, technology vendors and consultants who volunteer their time. Our workgroups take an industry challenge to work through and end up creating a standard, best practice, self-assessment or other external material available for public use. During interactive sessions at our 2017 events and with the help of our board of governors, we have identified six strategic pillars that now align our workgroups to higher strategic concepts for the industry.
Aside from our workgroups, as previously mentioned we have much smaller events. Our conferences are not giant tradeshows where your sales team goes to only sell products. We actually encourage a company’s product managers to attend in order to discuss integrations and product strategy.
How is HTNG assisting the industry in both understanding and dealing with the sharing economy?
We see companies like Airbnb not as a threat but as another distribution channel. Our message of interconnectivity and data moving freely through an ecosystem is also consistent with what our non-traditional players want. We are actively working with multi-tenant housing and other hospitality verticals that see HTNG as a way of assisting them in their new builds and customer experiences.
How can hotels best utilize the sharing economy to prevent erosion and then grow RevPAR?
Hotels need to move to direct connections. A flight, rental car and hotel room should all be able to be booked at every instance a vacationer goes to just book one. This can be done now through an expensive third party, but it would be nice to untangle the back-end, save money and overall ease this complication by allowing hotels to book these connections directly.
When hotels, car and air transportation bookings can always occur in the same place, they will generate more visibility, bookings and an overall increase in revenue. Sharing economy providers like Airbnb and Uber are all additional channels to be included here. One will be able to choose if they want an Airbnb or a hotel for lodging, a rental car, taxi or Uber as car transportation and whether or not they have greater needs, they could potentially choose their preference of a train, airplane or other transportation vehicle.
How are loyalty programs changing and what’s driving more customer engagement?
We know loyalty programs historically as X dollars spent equals Y points earned. With these programs, greater loyalty and advantages have always been given to those most travelled by a system or through the equation of those who spend the most money receive the greatest reward. Ultimately, these programs are stuck in the day-to-day present with no future-thinking.
There is so much structured and unstructured data that can now be taken into account to allow organizations to know sooner if someone has ‘future potential’ to start targeting them now in order to pull them in and get them engaged versus later on down the road. For example, data can include my previous spending habits, and then that information can be used to select a price range to offer me a room at, with it being known that I am more probable to book at that rate.
Loyalty programs will start shifting to use that collected data to tailor offerings and target individuals earlier. Personalization and these tailored offerings are what is driving more customer engagement –when a customer’s potential is actually understood instead of giving every customer the same “Book four nights, get the fifth one free!”
What is the single most critical aspect of technology where hoteliers need to improve?
Hospitality brands need to realize that they need to stop building their own technology. Hotels build things, and then those things don’t integrate with others, but since they have spent their resources, time and money developing this technology, it drives them to want to make their product work instead of having it go to waste. There are people that specialize in building technology, and that expertise and those resources that are readily available should be leveraged. If someone was the best technical builder for a specific product, they would be working for a tech company, not a hotel.