Hospitality is an industry built upon the principle of providing great customer service. The best hotels have always been regarded as those which offer a truly personal service to each and every guest, catering to their individual needs with no request too big or too small.
Providing this level of service was straightforward when everything from researching a hotel and booking to your stay involved direct human interaction. With the initial takeover of technology and online booking systems, much of this guest-centric service was lost. Machines simply could not offer the same level of service as well trained hotel staff.
However, this is changing and hoteliers need to sit up and pay attention.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technology has advanced to a point where hotels can provide a tailored guest experience online.
The ‘personal service’ that would once have been provided over the phone or in person can now be replicated by the hotel’s digital output, but not enough hotel businesses have embraced this.
The online travel agents (OTAs) were quick to capitalise on the available technology to build customer-responsive websites and booking engines which made accessing relevant information, sourcing the best deals and booking quick and easy.
This is why, despite often being a more expensive route than booking direct, the OTAs now dominate the market with Booking.com alone accounting for 50% of European hotel bookings.
Hotels should learn from this. Using machine learning and AI, we can now build websites and booking engines which track and analyse anonymous customer behaviour, based on geography, guest history, booking preferences, interactions on-site, conversations and more, in order to curate and present them with the information and deals most relevant to them.
This is how Avvio’s AI-powered booking engine Allora – the first of its kind in the world – helps hotels create a user booking journey tailored to individual needs or preferences. We’ve analysed nearly 10 million customers through Allora learning models to date and our AI learns and develops from every single one, refining its offering accordingly.
With each brief online search presenting people with hundreds, even thousands, of options for hotels and other accommodations, people often suffer ‘choice fatigue’ and have neither the time nor inclination to work their way through the reams of data to find the best deal.
They want the best deal presented to them.
Sales and marketing material should not be sent out to all and sundry but carefully targeted towards those users whose interests tie in with the key messages.
Today’s guests are used to the internet giants of Google and Facebook tracking their online behaviour daily and using this information to carefully curate what adverts, products, deals and news they are presented with. They expect all companies they deal with online to know them better than ever before, many people are realising the positive benefits associated with allowing our tastes and search behaviour to be tracked so we can receive an enriched personalised experience served with highly relevant content.
There is also a growing segmentation of the market which demands more targeted promotions. Big hotel chains have worked hard to fight back against OTAs with loyalty schemes and clubs offering exclusive benefits but these will usually only appeal to certain demographics. Cleverly targeted online promotions can be adapted to appeal to many diverse customer groups. There is a danger that without enhanced personalisation we will be offering returning customers irrelevant or out of date information for their preferences.
Guests need to be given proper incentives to book with a hotel direct, whether through special deals or bonus services limited to direct bookings. But the key element is to choose the incentive that will be most effective for the individual booker.
At Avvio we constantly invest in further innovation and enhancement of our booking systems and attract the most talented developers to ensure all our hotel customers are benefitting from market-leading technology which will optimise all their guest interactions.
This will help them redress the balance with the OTAs, winning back more direct bookings and thus increasing profits.
While the OTAs should be praised for bringing in masses of bookings and often extending the sales and marketing reach far beyond independent hotel businesses’ in-house capacities, they also demand hefty commissions of up to 25%. This can sometimes reduce a hotel’s profit margin to almost zero so it is in the interests of hotels to drive up their direct business.
This is why our booking engines and hotel websites are all designed with this as the central focus. Until now too many hotels have allowed themselves to become lost in the past, with archaic websites that are slow, clunky and difficult to use. This has created a dependency culture with the OTAs. At Avvio, it is our mission to change this and ensure all hotels benefit from dynamic user-friendly sales-boosting booking sites.
Written by Sean Finnan, chairman of Avvio