blog

Nov 06

making the global rounds for the all-important personal connections

Greetings from the road.. It’s a crazy busy month here at DHISCO, but the kind of busy we like as the DHISCO team travels from Singapore to London to Prague to Florida and, finally, Nebraska.

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It’s a whirlwind. But as I think most people have come to learn, in the age of constant digital connections, face-to-face meetings are even more important than ever.

Yes, we can connect with our customers 24/7 from pretty much anywhere in the world. It’s just not the same, however, as collaborating in person, building real relationships, discussing solutions, meeting new competitors, signing deals and, most importantly, identifying opportunities.

Last week we were in Singapore for ITB Asia, where we connected with current and future customers and met potential new partners in the world’s fastest-growing travel market.

This week we’ll be in London for World Travel Mart London, one of the leading global events for the travel industry. At the same time, we have a team in Fort Lauderdale for Phocuswright 2017, where we’ll learn about and participate in discussions with travel industry leaders about the next wave of innovation in travel. We’ll also have two people in Prague for the HTNG conference.

After that, we are off to Omaha for DHISCO’s 2017 client forum, a two-day event that gives us invaluable face time – and input – from the world’s leading hotel companies, online travel agencies, global distribution systems and other key partners.

When all is said and done, we’ll all no doubt be ready for a long Thanksgiving weekend. But we’ll also be re-energized and, hopefully, full of new ideas for better serving our customers and developing new solutions for connecting the world in 2018.

– CEO Toni Portmann

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Oct 23

sharing economy blurring the lines in hospitality

For the last few years, hospitality has been all abuzz about threats from the sharing economy.

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But recent headlines indicate that the long-term disruption from companies like Airbnb may be more about a blurring of lines in hospitality as hotel companies move to offer more vacation rentals and Airbnb moves into a hybrid version of the hotel space.

Last week, Airbnb made it clear it thinks there is value in traditional lodging options with the announcement it was building a hotel-style apartment building in Orlando, complete with a concierge and check-in desk.

It is also making a serious play into the more traditional vacation rental market with new tools that make it easier for professional property managers to offer their inventory on the Airbnb platform.

At the same time, Hyatt joined the growing list of hotel companies looking to compete in the sharing economy by adding the ability for its loyalty members to earn and redeem points on apartment rentals through a service called Oasis.

Accor hotels was among the first hotel companies to move into the sharing economy, acquiring the luxury home rental service onefinestay. It upped its game this year with purchase of two other luxury home rental companies that have boosted its inventory to more than 10,000 rentals.

Choice and Wyndham have also made changes to better compete in the sharing economy.

Last year, Choice announced it would partner with other companies to offer its loyalty members the ability to redeem their points for use at vacation rental properties.

And Wyndham announced it’s making 17,000 accommodations from its vacation rental and timeshare businesses eligible for free stays through its Wyndham Rewards loyalty program.

While it’s easy to understand the threat being felt by hoteliers by Airbnb, we all know that competition is what drives progress, innovation and improvement, and it’s exciting to see how the industry is responding to this disruption.

– CEO Toni Portmann

 

 

 

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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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