ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta - Data is one weapon that is playing an integral part in hotels’ quest to embrace customer-centricity, and combat several challenges, be it for taking on the sharing economy model/ private rentals or even capitalizing on the association with online intermediaries.
But this journey isn’t a straightforward one, considering the fact that it takes so many different systems to run a hotel, and collating, integrating disparate sources of data and turning all of this into actionable insight is easier said than done.
At a time when one remark on WeChat or a picture on TripAdvisor can spoil a hotel brand’s image, acting on this in real-time data – what was the operational issue, who was the customer etc. – can be of immense utility.
Data is important, but only data isn’t enough
For a hotel to act in entirety on such third-party data, just having information isn’t enough.
“Everything starts with information. You need to have right data, best information if a hotel organization intends to be more responsive, guest-centric. Look beyond averages (average score of a brand or a property across online travel sites), and rather data needs to be based on what’s impacting the business today. And like in any business, it is not easy to engage employees and make them use new tools/ technology,” says RJ Friedlander, CEO of ReviewPro, a specialist in guest intelligence for hotels, encompassing online reputation management and guest satisfaction surveys.
RJ Friedlander, CEO of ReviewPro
For their part, the team at ReviewPro has built a simple interface via a web-based tool and a mobile app, and has automated reports for the entire organization, but as Friedlander asserts, this is just part of the story.
“Data alone cannot provoke change - rather accessibility, acting on it, customer support, training, incentivizingstaff and ending up with the development of a customer-centric culture within the organization (is the key),” recommended Friedlander. He spoke to ChinaTravelNews.com in an interview post Shiji’s decision to acquire a majority stake in ReviewPro.
Evaluate the utility of data – should be about “now”
Data based on how a brand or a property is performing on online travel sites, be it for review sites, OTAs, meta-search engines etc., isn’t new. But what matters is the utility of data for hotels to improve upon their core offering, in order to sustain a favourable rank, review etc. on such sites. The major issue with guest intelligence can be the quality of data. For instance, if there is stagnation in terms of scores, let’s say a bunch of properties congregating at a similar score, wouldn’t it make it tough for other to come in and break through?
“Most companies that track online reputation look at average scores. There are issues with this - the operational problems being faced yesterday might not have anything to do with what was it like three months before. Average score are not as dynamic as they need to be and tend to be flat. There is a need for algorithms that checks “score” on a daily basis, not based on average. By focusing on problems that surfaced today, you can drive your scores/ ranking up,” Friedlander said. This can impact:
* Performance of employees with precise data: Referring to an example, Friedlander mentioned that his team has been working with Jurys Inn for two years, “Their average TripAdvisor score was 3.5 (for 31 properties) when we started out, and by leveraging guest intelligence and changing internal processes (goals, performance of staff, rewarding staff etc) in order to align the culture as per the feedback and voice of the guest, in less than a year 28 of the 31 hotels manage to improve their score on TripAdvisor to 4 average, and average daily rates also went up. If a hotel intends to change, they need to relook at what and how they are doing, and this should be for the data that is about “now”, he said.
* Revenue generation with higher ratings/ reviews: Friedlander also underlined that be it for an independent hotel, or general manager or revenue manager of an established property/ brand, everyone in the industry knows the significance of a higher review score. “With performance of properties that is resulting from reviews or ratings on third party sites, one can increase their price. Hotels themselves know if they have a score of 9.4 on booking.com they can charge more than their competitor if they have a lower score. Occupancy tends to be higher, too. Ones with a score of 7.5 may be need to opt for deep discounting, low scores means properties are suffering,” he said. ReviewPro’s Global Review Index (GRI) is one such barometer (based on 175 online sites in 45 languages), where past studies have indicated that 1% increase in the index can push ADR up by 0.89%, occupancy by 0.54% and RevPAR by 1.42%, and this has been “going up” over the years.
So as real-time data about every move made by the guest during the booking funnel becomes important, the hospitality technology space is witnessing strategic alliances.
Commenting on the deal with Shiji, Friedlander said, “Shiji as a group is making progress in its vision (of being part of consumers’ lives when they eat, sleep, play and shop via presence in hotels, retail, destination management, food servicing etc.). The group has amassed tremendous scale and their prowess is known in the arena of hospitality technology. A pillar of Shiji’s strength is related to the area of “where people stay”, and data and analytics is one area that Shiji is diligently looking to help hoteliers deliver better experiences to their guests. This is where there was fit with ReviewPro’s core competency.”
He further added, “We were in the process of raising capital. And the evaluation (at a time when Shiji is also in the process of business transformation) resulted in a strategic alliance.”
Shiji’s major impetus today is on knowing the pulse of the guest through an open platform, featuring various data sources and turning into actionable insight. “Our intelligence in exactly that - knowing the customer what they say before the stay, during the stay and after the stay. Not in a general way, but in specific terms knowing guests’ opinions about operational and service issues at a property level, brand level, global scale level.”
So what is being done to gain access to real-time data, and blend it with the existing data and analytical capabilities to be control of the situation, be it for good or bad? For instance, two different guests talking about extremely different issues about their stay - one sharing a feedback in English on a review site in Europe, and the other user writing on an OTA in Chinese language.
Friedlander said, “We have taken something that is complicated, not straightforward and made it automatic and simple. We have separate data and analytics for online reputation and guest surveys. We work on area-specific alerts, reporting, analysis and recommendations. For instance, for F&B, there is assessment of online reviews, during stay and post stay surveys...all of this packaged and delivered as reporting and alerts via a mobile app. Today head of F&B can be alerted about the issues affecting the guest experience in any of their F&B outlets and react immediately to deliver better experiences. Same for operations and quality, same for revenue management and distribution. We create value out of these data sets of guest feedback. So be it for real-time data or historic information that used to be static, and one had to go for looking into tools to analyze, we made it dynamic, proactive and easy to apply toward guest experience improvement.”
Ready for China
The list of 175 travel sites that are being monitored by ReviewPro includes ones from China. Prior to the deal with Shiji, ReviewPro already had a website in China, their tool has a Chinese interface, plus the team has worked on Chinese semantic analysis, and is equipped with sales executives, customer support and account managers for this market.
As for how savvy are Chinese brands in the arena of reputation management, Friedlander said every market, be it for China, Italy, Germany, the U.S. etc., have their own phases of maturation. “There are always properties that sense opportunity and opt to invest first in technology, generally tend to be 4-star or 5-star hotels that focus their value proposition and differentiation around great service and operational excellence. China, too, is similar in this sense. Budget properties, economy or relatively smaller properties, with lower average daily rates tend to be the ones that often are changing in the second phase.”
Outside China, segments like economy brands and youth hostels have already embraced online reputation management and guest surveys, as at the end of the day it is all about exceeding guest expectations. “So in China we are seeing movement from 4-star or 5-star hotels, and independent hotels that are more flexible. But this is expected to evolve rapidly moving down the star rating, as it has already in some other markets.”
As for how challenging it is to make independent properties understand the significance of evolving technology, customer voice etc., Friedlander said the rise of OTAs is the biggest opportunity ever for independent hotels. The possibility of a traveler from a different market knowing about an independent property didn't even exist. “But now if you have a high ranking on TripAdvisor, on booking.com, DaoDao, Ctrip etc., business and leisure travellers can find you. And you can be showcased online with a decent online reputation or guest satisfaction score. There is no way to leverage this manually. Technology is needed to evaluate feedback including from the competition. For example, in Shanghai, Puli Hotel and Spa rank well (14th as per GRI) on OTA sites, has visibilty...so it is vital to rely on technology and intelligence to measure, benchmark, track and improve.”
ReviewPro is already working with more than 100 properties in China, and the list includes Kempinski Hotels, Melia International, The Ascott Limited, Anantara, Marco Polo Hotels, Dorsett Hospitality, Gloria Hotels and Resorts etc.