Mr. Pal

Mobile Technology

Big Data Trends: Raising the Bar for Guest Expectations

By Suman Pal, Principal Product Manager, Agilysys

Imagine for a moment, passing guests in queue at the hotel front desk waiting to check-in while you're heading straight to your room instead, or securing your favorite table and skipping the wait list, all without having to talk with a single staff member. No, you're not dreaming. The day of frictionless guest service is here. Guests are demanding it. How well is your hotel embracing it?

The rapid evolution in mobile, social and cloud technologies combined with a monumental shift in guest expectations has launched us into what is one of the most pivotal transformations in hospitality. Throughout the guest journey, mobile and digital interactions have become an expectation of guests everywhere across virtually every generation. Alternate methods for everyday operations and guest interactions are driving this transformation, and further raising the bar for what a guest expects in terms of their stay and service-level experiences.

Need a room in San Francisco this weekend? Mobile websites, accessible via any mobile device, make booking a cinch. We are well on our way to having the most complex and interactive CRS (Central Reservations Systems) technology at our fingertips, even on-the-go.

Missing a fluffy pillow in your room? A new style of service requests - guest communication apps - are displacing numerous calls made to the front desk every day. Many hotel brands are employing concierge solutions to facilitate communication with staff and to drive room service ordering.

In a hurry to get to your room before the big meeting? Alternative, mobile methods of check-in are quickly becoming the norm. No need to stop by the front desk to get a key. Kiosk check-ins offer no waiting and, these days, your smart phone offers technology that opens more doors than ever before.

These are but a handful of examples from a long list that illustrate the mobile and digital transformation we're undergoing. The real gold lies within the data that supports these interactions. While mobile technologies are driving us toward enhanced guest experiences, each and every guest technology interaction generates volumes of data; data that drives the largest hotels brands toward more automated workflows, guest services and increased revenue.

Data, Data, Everywhere There's Data

In addition to the data generated by guests themselves - by way of mobile booking, check-in and dining reservations - hotels and restaurants are embracing tablet technologies, too. Wait staff continue to capture data for those guests who prefer to be served versus serving themselves, and additional communication tools, like text and social, add ever more data to our repositories.

In addition, the use of mobile connected devices (the Internet of Things) and location-based services are expanding as well, pushing data generation and storage to all-time highs. According to a recent study by IDC (International Data Corporation), worldwide data is predicted to grow 10-fold by year 2020. Not only is the volume of data growing exponentially, the rate at which this data is generated (data velocity) is increasing rapidly. Plainly said, there's more data than we can effectively consume.

Data Quality Vs Data Quantity

Only about a fourth of this data is actionable, according to the IDC study. Rather than focusing on acquiring and maintaining high volumes of often extraneous data, we should focus on the most relevant data. How do we know what data is essential? What data is relevant in order to understand the guests' stories, their needs and their expectations?

There is already a rich and wide variety of data in hospitality, but unfortunately it's often compartmentalized in silos. These silos are typically owned by departments and reside within three key business areas:

  • Guest Acquisition - Since new guest acquisition involves significant marketing activities through different channels, the system of record for this data in the early phase of prospecting is often a marketing system.

  • Guest Retention - Retention programs generally leverage knowledge about guest identity, therefore, loyalty systems are often the system of record and help drive this business objective.

  • Guest Servicing - This is usually performed through a PMS (property management system) or a CRM (customer relationship management) system, as well as a table management system at a restaurant, and maybe a few others.

The need to effectively visualize and consume the data from these disparate systems requires a single integrated data framework. Moving the data from silos to a unified repository creates a 360-degree view of the guest stay, their history, preferences, spending, even allergies and wine choices.

Let's not forget what really brings their stories together:

  • Guest Monetization - This occurs through the front desk staff or call center agents who offer room upsell, a dinner with entertainment package, spa services or a round of golf. Monetization continues when the guest takes part, for example, at the restaurant with a premium wine selection instead of the house choice.

Guest Monetization data is some of the most essential information we can collect. It's the guests' valuable response to offers resulting in increased revenue opportunities. Unfortunately, it's not captured in most systems, or is too easily lost.

The potential we have to capitalize on all of this data, and to leverage it to perform analytics, specifically predictive analytics, and drive personalized guest services is tremendous. So, how are businesses moving from silos to data integration? What are these same organizations able to do once they have a complete view of the guest? How are they better at understanding the value of each patron?

How Hotels Capture Quality Data

The first step is to select business platforms and systems that can collect all the data at each phase of guest interaction, from pre-arrival, during the stay and post-departure. The right hospitality technology platform, such as a PMS, is capable of collecting this essential data at every touch point. The right technology captures data via onsite as well as from mobile devices, leveraging the most advanced technology to serve guests across the property.

From arrival and check-in to room service, spa services, dining experiences, golf outings and show reservations, hotels who employ the right PMS technologies have a holistic view of the guest throughout the lifecycle. This not only provides the obvious advantage of more quality data, it also minimizes the sheer number of systems required to maintain this 360-degree view of the guest. And reducing the number of management systems reduces the incidence of data duplication or errors.

Open Data Access - The Role of RESTful APIs

One of the most important pre-requisites in a PMS is to have systems that can easily and quickly communicate with each other. This creates actionable insights, and ultimately drives more offers to encourage guests to spend more on what they already want. However, collecting data with the right PMS is just the first step. Integrating, understanding and fine-tuning the data is next. For years, there have been many approaches to connecting systems - including mobile devices - seeking to provide a unified view across systems. The result has been the development and acceptance of open PMS communication and integration standards, based on technology like RESTfuls APIs, that improve ease-of-use and provide a more consistent interpretation of the data.

Why BI isn't Enough

Business Intelligence (BI) tools have been in use for many years to answer specific business questions. However BI alone does not provide the predictive insights that are necessary to model and anticipate guest behaviors. Moreover, it often isn't accessible via a mobile platform. For this, hotels are leveraging big data analytics.

Big data incorporates the use of additional tools, such as statistics, data mining and machine learning, and is well suited for large datasets. It can easily scale to address the high volume and velocity of data to provide the predictive insights most valuable to hoteliers. The result of big data often manifests in the form of predictive analytics; recommendations that the guest is most likely to act upon if offered the opportunity.

Predictive Analytics is the Buried Treasure in Your Data

Big data might be the new tool, but understanding your own products, services and guests is essential. Certain questions need to be answered first: How are we going to make money with this? How will the model be deployed? What does the data look like? How fast do the predictions need to be? How often do we need to update the model? How will the new output be used? How will we introduce change in the process?

Many hospitality technology solutions were not built with analytics in mind. And until today, hoteliers had to cleanse and prepare the data themselves before it could be leveraged in predictive modeling.

A few tips to consider before embarking on a predictive analytics initiative are:

  1. Choose a PMS must be capable of capturing domain knowledge - that is, your products and guests - as well as interface with other systems using RESTful APIs.
  2. Execute a data governance process that will allow for data standardization among internal groups.
  3. Select a guest engagement area to pilot
  4. Consider partnering with a vendor who has experience executing these types of projects.
  5. Balance your partner selection with a focus on analytical ability not just industry knowledge.

The use of data-driven predictive analytics has proven to reveal guest insights that wouldn't otherwise be available. As a result, it can create product and service recommendations that result in the greatest likelihood of receiving a positive guests' response.

Guest expectations have risen. And the bar for meeting those expectations has been raised with them. The digital and mobile transformation we're experiencing, combined with the sheer volume of data being collected, offers a gold mine of revenue opportunities for hotels of all sizes. The insights data provides is so much more than the complete view of guests' identities, preferences and behaviors. Combined with big data and predictive analytics, hotels are learning to leverage their data effectively and offer up more unique, differentiating experiences for their guests. When hotels offer this caliber of guests' service, they inspire greater loyalty and grow revenue with ease.

Reference: IDC's THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE IN 2020

Mr. Suman Pal is Principal Product Manager at Agilysys, a leading technology company providing advanced software solutions and services for the hospitality industry. Mr. Pal is responsible for the innovation of the next generation hospitality guest data management and analytics product. Mr. Pal works with operators to understand their day-to-day challenges and opportunities. His research enables development of technology that helps hoteliers understand their guests’ habits, and also to adapt to the digital transformation within the industry. He also leads the product and partner strategy for Agilysys’ next generation cloud-based property management system. He has launched several new enterprise grade cloud-based products. Mr. Pal can be contacted at 877-369-6208 or suman.pal@agilysys.com Please visit http://www.agilysys.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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