Website optimization key to converting bookings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When it comes to executing hotel bookings, an optimized and effective website is invaluable. That topic among others took center stage during a panel at the Hotel Data Conference, entitled: "Tech Talks: Emerging Innovations."  

While the discussion covered a wide array of industry-related technology topics, it also revealed Oracle Hospitality and Phocuswright data focused on the commonly held conviction that guests demand greater in-room technology. 

The data uncovered that 32 percent of travelers want to control lights and temperature with hotel provided tablets, while 27 percent want to use their own smartphones to do so and 25 percent want to do so via voice activation. Using technology to schedule room cleanings is more of an imperative for 35 percent of travelers and 25 percent want smartphone notifications of housekeeping’s arrival.

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But as Benjamin Habbel, founder and VP global business at Voyat, an ecommerce optimization platform that aims to increase direct bookings, the hotel industry's tech focus should be elsewhere. “We’re behind in this industry; we’re still talking about optimizing for mobile sites and we work with brands that put Alexa in every room.”

The focus on improving the online user experience with loyalty programs is also misguided, according to Habbel. As brands continue to look for ways to recognize their loyalty members online before they ever come to the brand’s website—a task that Habbel called “nearly impossible”—they’re overlooking the opportunities to optimize their websites to convert more quickly.

“We want to drive revenue to direct channels and convert them, not lose them, and you have a very short window to accomplish that. If you don’t have the right optimization tool in place,” Habbel said. “That’s where I would focus, rather than on developing beautiful profiles for loyalty users.”

The Role of Blockchain

Paul Breslin, managing partner at Horwath, who attended the session, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT that these applications are practical since not only do hotel websites have lost traffic that can’t be tracked, but there’s no way of measuring how much of that traffic is lost. But despite the panel’s debate surrounding blockchain, Breslin doesn’t see it as a headwind.

Although typically associated with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain is also potentially suitable to securely record events, manage records and personal files, track financial activities and process transactions in addition to identity management. Because each transaction is validated and recorded across a decentralized computer network, creating a “block” of information within a “chain” of computers. Thus, the information can’t be altered retroactively without altering each transaction in the sequence throughout the entire network.

Microsoft and IBM have already latched onto blockchain service and for that reason, Patrick Dunphy, CIO at not-for-profit trade association Hospitality Technology Next Generation, believes the industry does need to pay attention to the technology. “We’re beyond the point where blockchain is cutting edge and it’s going to pass us by if we don’t pay attention,” he said. “Although we’re also not there yet from a distribution perspective, we shouldn’t ignore the underlying technology.”

For Jess Petitt, VP of global business analytics at Hilton Worldwide, blockchain is a concern for the industry’s larger companies, although he also pointed out that the industry has a more fundamental issue on the technology front: “Top hospitality schools are teaching future hoteliers Excel skills and not how to compute in the future,” he said. But Petitt also acknowledged that at its core, the hotel industry is about people serving people, not technology, adding “the industry needs to get back to serving people.”

The Challenge for Hotel Brands

Jason Freed, managing editor at revenue optimization firm Duetto and HDC attendee, concurred that those in the hotel industry know best how to care for guests and are often prone to mistakes in trying to develop technology internally. Yet, that doesn’t negate the need for newer, more advanced technology that would and should replace the legacy systems to which large hotel brands are often still wed.

“Hotel brands are still struggling to move away from technology that was developed in the 80s, but the way guests book rooms now requires more innovation,” he said. Individual owners of branded properties who do want to make the move to newer technology often get left behind as major hotel brands won’t allow a handful of properties to switch unless the entire portfolio is going to migrate to a new system; or, as Freed succinctly put it, "They get stuck in change management.”

But hotel brands are also challenged with striking a balance in their technology investments. “Today’s connected travelers are accustomed to technology being a part of their everyday lives, and are looking to hotel brands to provide a similar tech-forward experience while on the road,” said Bill Duncan, global head of All Suites brands by Hilton. “As a brand, you must constantly look for ways to be innovative to keep up with guests’ evolving needs.”

Hilton will roll out its Digital Key to an additional 2,500 hotels by the end of the year and is also upgrading WiFi bandwidth.

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