Sep 25

it’s time to reexamine the data structure behind hotel distribution

For years, the hospitality industry has been struggling to upgrade its legacy systems both to meet the needs of the fast-growing field of new players and return the types of sophisticated queries consumers are increasingly demanding.

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And while those of us in the trenches of distribution continue to work diligently to meet the new challenges, I’m increasingly convinced the only real answer is to blow it all up.

Yes, it sounds radical, but it needs to be seriously considered. That’s why we, at DHISCO, are starting over by asking an important question: How can the hospitality industry structure its data so consumers and travel professionals can more easily shop for hotels and rooms with the features and amenities they want?

Today, hotel companies use thousands of unique attributes to describe their properties and rooms. Attempting to marry the search terms and the way the traveler thinks with the way the content systems across multiple legacy systems are constructed is a nightmare. For example, a swimming pool is not just a pool. How do you map, across disparate systems, the code and abbreviation for a lap pool vs. a family pool? And indoor pool vs. outdoor pool? Is it heated? Does it have salt water instead of chlorine? Then, how do you make all that information readable across the hundreds of thousands of platforms used by billions of shoppers looking for hotels with pools — every month?  It’s impossible.

Yes, we can keep developing patches and systems and custom descriptions in free-form fields to map and transform all of this content across multiple legacy systems. But I’m convinced the only real long-term solution is to change the underlying taxonomy, or data structure, and develop a universal system that everyone can understand.

In short, we need a cost-effective system that enables hotels to customize their data in a format that online travel agencies and global distribution systems can quickly and easily read and distribute across multiple platforms.

We are not doing this in a vacuum. We have been talking with some of our biggest partners about joining this effort. We are engaging thought leaders working on next-generation artificial intelligence solutions. We are considering input from across the spectrum, including rates, inventory, static and dynamic content, descriptive content and images and translated and nuanced content – all with the goal of maximum conversion to real revenue for hotels.

It won’t be easy! Look at the transformation of our health care system. It was forced to tackle this problem back in the 1990s. The need for a common data structure was critical, and the structure of a health care record was treated differently across systems and companies. It took years. But today you can go to any doctor or hospital or pharmacy in the world, and they can read the same charts the same way because they use a universal coding structure.

Changing the taxonomy of hotel data – or the way attributes are organized around the descriptive content of rooms and properties – would enable hotels to move beyond basic room types to offer what George Roukas of Hudson Crossing characterizes in a recent article as the “new, attribute-based shopping model,” or ABS.

Under this model, he says, “consumers don’t see the room type or rate plan combinations; they see a list of attributes they can put into a shopping cart to build the product they want. If Jon wants to stay at a particular hotel with his wife and they’re interested in a king bed with ocean view and a balcony, then he can specify those attributes without knowing the room type. Each time he adds an attribute to the cart, the ABS engine prices that attribute separately, and the consumer can see how each attribute affects the total price of the room.”

Roukas goes on to explain how this can increase hotel revenue, by opening up more booking options rather than searches that are filtered simply by traditional room types and rates. The result enables hotels to more accurately zero in on exactly what each customer wants.

As Roukas says, we don’t yet know how shoppers will respond to attribute-based pricing. But one thing is clear: as we move into the next era of hospitality distribution, we need a simpler, more intelligent system. And we need a system in which hotels can both collaborate and compete with the sharing economy, where rooms and home rentals are sold solely on attributes.

It begins and ends with data structure. That is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). We are on it.  

– CEO Toni Portmann



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Sep 05

tapping the potential of IoT

When it comes to deploying new technology, it seems that all we ever hear about is how the hospitality industry is far behind other sectors.

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So it was refreshing for me to read a recent Phocuswright report about how hotels – and the travel industry in general – are leading the way in the use of so-called Internet of Things, or IoT.

According to the report, which quotes a study by Tata Consultancy, travel, transportation and hospitality are the top three industries when ranked by IoT spend per company, as well as spending as a percentage of revenue.

I guess it makes sense, given that so much of IoT revolves around automating at-home tasks like room temperature controls, lighting and television commands. That translates well to hospitality, the report notes, and is behind the move by hotels to use voice-activated devices like Alexa and Echo to help guests more easily navigate all of their in-room controls.

“For the accommodations industry the growth of IoT represents both an opportunity to provide more self-service options to the guest and gather data on behavior, which in turn can improve efficiencies and drive greater guest satisfaction through personalized services,” the report states. “Behind the scenes, hotels and resorts are using the IoT to improve the efficiency of housekeeping and maintenance and to track hotel assets.”

In the cruise industry, we are seeing wearable IoT. Carnival, for example, has begun using a bracelet that opens travelers’ staterooms doors, controls their embarkation and disembarkation experience and acts as a payment device.

At airports, IoT sensors are being used to track baggage, even make the boarding process smoother for frequent travelers in Dubai, according to the report.

This is all great for improving the traveler experience. But what’s really intriguing are the longer-term implications and the ability to integrate this new technology into new and existing systems for tracking traveler data and actions to be able to deliver that Holy Grail of personalized services, whether that is on property or earlier on in the booking process.

After all, IoT is still in its infancy. According to International Data Corp., worldwide spending on IoT will grow 16.7 percent to just over $800 billion in 2017 and nearly double to $1.4 trillion, by 2021.

That explosion will create both promises and challenges, from cybersecurity and privacy to other issues I’m sure no one has even considered yet. And, of course, there is that same issue that dogs the industry at every turn: Figuring out how to merge all this information into legacy systems and then being able to turn it into business intelligence.

But, as the report states, this is one more technology that “hopefully … will lead to more seamless and personalized experiences benefiting both travel suppliers and travelers.”

– CEO Toni Portmann


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Jul 31

despite the best efforts of hotel brands, travelers still love to click around

In their ongoing tug of war with online travel agencies, hotel companies have launched some clever campaigns in recent years to steer more consumers to their branded sites for commission-free direct bookings, promising that travelers always will find the lowest rates there.

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But a new study indicates it still pays to click around.

A survey by the research firm Piper Jaffray found OTAs and travel search sites offered the lowest rates more often than hotel brand websites.

The survey of 1,000 U.S. customers who reserved rooms at 86 chain hotels in the world's largest 25 cities found that OTAs and travel search sites had the lowest price 21 percent of the time compared with 13 percent for hotels. Pricing was the same about two-thirds of the time.

The researchers told Skift they had expected to find more price parity, and that the results show consumers are not shifting despite hotel company marketing efforts.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association questioned the validity of the results, and Hilton and Marriott told Travel Weekly that direct bookings are the only way for customers to get the guaranteed lowest rate with all the perks afforded members of their loyalty programs.

It’s certainly easy to understand why hotels are trying to drive more direct bookings. It’s not just about saving on what they say are sometimes unfairly large commissions. More importantly, it’s about preserving a direct link to the customer and collecting that all-so-important information needed to deliver personalized service and conduct future marketing efforts.

Unfortunately, the internet and OTA floodgates opened long ago, and to borrow the catch phrase from Hilton’s clever campaign, travel shoppers love to “click around” to find the best deals and properties that best fit their needs.

We call it the look-to-book factor, or how many clicks (“looks”) there are for every booking. And it’s a whopping 11,000-to-1, according to the data from the nearly 13 billion hotel booking transactions we process every month. That’s a whole lot of clicking.

Add in the movement to overturn rate parity laws in Europe and the seemingly endless number of new players entering the online travel landscape, I expect the clicking will only increase.

For instance, one of our newest partners, Zumata, is using artificial intelligence to quickly gather information across a host of new wholesalers and other suppliers around the globe. And the meta sites give consumers easy access to an increasingly wide variety of deals.

So while many seasoned and loyal travelers no doubt will take advantage of the special rates and bonuses that brands offer for direct bookings, the Piper Jaffray report serves as a reminder of the value of industry players working together rather than against each other to embrace new technologies that ultimately will drive more bookings and more revenue for everyone.

– CEO Toni Portmann

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Jul 17

blockchain and its potential to upend the travel industry

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about artificial intelligence, “big data” and their potential for transforming the travel industry. But there’s another new technology on the horizon called blockchain, and it promises to upend much of the business world as we know it.

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So what exactly is a blockchain? It’s the technology underlying virtual currencies like Bitcoin. It’s basically a living digital business record or ledger that can be updated in near real-time by multiple parties, creating permanent and inalterable records on everything from bank transactions to house and land sales, real-time shipping records and, of course, travel bookings and payments.

While most of the talk about blockchain currently is focused in the payments world, a recent report from IBM says blockchain already is disrupting the disrupters and could eventually eliminate whole sectors of intermediaries.

It’s both scary and exciting stuff, with unknown but potentially game-changing disruptions to the travel distribution world as we know it.

According to a new analysis from the IBM Institute for Business Value, blockchain has the potential to become “the foundation of a robust system of trust, a decentralized platform for massive collaboration.

“With that, intermediaries will be shuttered. Assets that were once dormant can be exploited. Profit pools can shift and be redistributed. News services delivered on blockchain networks can accelerate access and liberate those that were once locked out of efficient value creation to fully participate in an all-in economy.”

So how might this all impact travel and hospitality distribution? According to the IBM report, two new blockchain pilots are already attacking one of the industry’s newest disrupters, the sharing economy.

La’Zooz, being developed in Israel, cuts out the middlemen in ride-sharing services like Uber by establishing a trusted system that allows car owners to share rides with each other. An Austin-based company, Arcade City, is developing a blockchain-based system that allows riders to directly negotiate rates with drivers.

In the travel distribution space, a startup called Winding Tree is circulating a draft white paper about its vision for using blockchain to upend traditional travel agency sales and commission models.

And experts say blockchain also has huge potential to open new avenues for not only new payment and reservations management solutions but also helping travel companies achieve the Holy Grail of truly personalized services and one-to-one, persona-based marketing.

As the IBM report states, blockchain’s “leveling effects across frictions at various levels of the economy are startling. They suggest that transaction costs and enterprise friction could be so greatly reduced that organizations will be transformed in ways not yet imagined.”

In other words, this is a space we should all be watching very closely.

– CEO Toni Portmann




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May 23

good translation key to staying in global marketplace

In our last few blogs, we shared insights on the content conundrum and the challenges of communicating hundreds of different and often confusing content entries about hotel rooms and amenities across the hospitality distribution chain.

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While those issues have been vexing the industry for years, they become exponentially more complex when it comes to translation.

Translation is difficult to manage. It’s costly. It’s difficult to synchronize when you bring on new products. And many ad hoc language translation decisions are made with little or no control over language quality.

But going global is no longer optional. And to stay competitive, hotels need to be communicating in multiple languages. Many still aren’t, however, and for many reasons.

Translation is hard. And study after study shows that if you do translations, they must be not only highly accurate but also incorporate multiple local colloquialisms.

Yes, more and more people across the world speak English as our economies and everyday lives become increasingly intertwined. But research shows that when it comes to internet shopping, they want to do business with websites and mobile apps in their local tongue.

According to the research firm Common Sense Advisory, 90 percent of online users choose a native language when available, 78 percent are more likely to buy from a site in their own language and 60 percent of online shoppers in Japan and France won’t buy from a site that isn’t in their native tongue.

Those are powerful figures, and ones that underscore how much revenue you probably don’t even know you are leaving on the table if you’re not using a good translation system or are reducing your language offerings because they are too costly or difficult to manage.

That’s why we have been aggressively focused here at DHISCO on creating DHISCO Translation Services, which leverages human translation in a synchronized workflow. We use native speakers to make sure the translations are not only correct but relevant for different regions. And that’s augmented with the latest in translation technology with customizable workflows that enable hotel companies to test new languages before they launch into new markets.

DHISCO Translation Services takes a pragmatic approach to these challenges. It allows hotels to translate their content once across channels and devices, enabling them to optimize their translation resources and budget while reaching more people, quickly, with just the right content.

After all, the only thing worse than not having a website in the language of one of your target markets is having bad translation. In the end, studies and experts have shown that the long-term losses of poor translations far outweigh the costs of doing them right.

– Anne Cole, vice president, content

  Nine languages with country/market selection

  Language Detail
  Chinese (Traditional, Taiwan)
  Chinese (Simplified, PRC)
  Chinese (Traditional, Hong Kong)
  Chinese (Simplified, Singapore)
  Dutch (Netherlands)
  French (France)
  French (Canada)
  German (Germany)
  German (Switzerland)
  Italian (Italy)
  Japanese (Japan)
  Portuguese (Portugal)
  Portuguese (Brazil)
  Russian (Russia)
  Spanish (Spain, International Sort)
  Spanish (Latin America)
  Spanish (International)
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