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Contributed by Estella Hale, Chief Product Evangelist, SHR
Dealing with integrations has been an ongoing challenge for the majority of hoteliers in recent years. Each year, there are more to be mastered, promising better booking experiences for you and your guests. However great integrations are in cutting manual resources, there is still pain and it bothers us. But I believe that it’s actually good to be bothered. For that is how we advance communication standards within the industry.
Recently, we sat down with Kevin Duncan, Vice President of Revenue Management for Classic Hotels & Resorts and President-Elect of the Arizona Chapter of HSMAI, to discuss what he has seen in his day-to-day experiences, SHR’s position on the subject, and what this all means for your hotel business.
First off, it’s important to understand the current integration landscape. The way we interact with the guest has changed from someone walking into your lobby with no expectations, to someone sitting in your parking lot making a reservation on their mobile device and walking in already with solid expectations. Also, integration specifications used to be very unique and the bigger tech players set the rules. But now, we’ve moved to web-based applications, so access to integration standardization has opened up. In the end, though, the outcome for the guest is what matters most. How does a revenue management expert like Kevin see integrations today?
“Like many hoteliers, I see the state of integrations as confusing and chaotic at times,” Kevin explained. “Ultimately, we need to drive integrations to serve the guest from beginning to end whether that’s with an app or text to talk, hitting their touchpoints that matter most to them.” So how can hoteliers approach this task of making integrations serve the guest from an operational as well as a service standpoint? Kevin suggested getting all the key players in the room; IT people, RMs, GMs, Food and Beverage, Marketing, everyone involved. “It’s important to include everyone because of one thing I’ve learned, and that’s with all the advances in technology in recent years, we have people who tend to want to stick with older ideas,” he explained. “So, they need to be educated along the way. We want everyone on board with why we’re doing what we do so there is a much higher chance of success in all departments.”
I agree with that, and will add that comfortable habits also happen on the systems side. We see it with operations and in other departments as well. To see what is truly possible we need everyone’s onboard so we don’t miss anything, especially when meshing new tech with legacy systems and legacy staff.
What about how APIs are affecting integrations? We know that several of our industry organizations are trying to create reliable standards for APIs; the Open Travel Alliance, and HTNG, for instance. But even so, it is all still fairly complex. “Over the last year and a half, I’ve listened to conversations on what to do with guest data and how to translate it. We want to know that consumer from day one,” Kevin explained. “Where have they been in the past? What do they tend to buy? I want to throw out a rate that can capture that. And though right now it’s true for now that the PMS is the heart of the system, Kevin thinks that’s changing because of integrations. “The PMSs are getting full, so I see that hoteliers want their own data warehouses to they can access it when they need it,” he explained.
The ultimate goal, of course, is creating the best guest experience that builds loyalty while increasing revenues at the same time. This means moving away from what we knew about our guest to what we will know in the future. Again, moving away from the PMS, this will revolve around the CRM, integrated into and RMS, CRS, and PMS. I also believe that having technology that allows us to hold massive amounts of info in a more affordable way is huge. Now we have it, but how do we then visualize it? It’s interesting to note that asking questions like this is how we advanced in how we treat volatile data. For instance, our message failure rate used to be much higher, but with the growth of OTAs and having a much shorter booking window, it forced us to push the failure rate down with better interfaces so things became more seamless for the guest. This goes back to it being good for integrations to be a bit uncomfortable now. It pushes us forward toward the right rate on the right channel at the right time.
Are the stages of the booking journey related to integration, and are they helping hoteliers succeed more often? “From an RM standpoint, the price offerings being given will be more customized to each person. The stages won’t change. The offerings will,” Kevin said. And as hoteliers are thinking of these booking paths, known and unknown matters. For instance, for a known user, it’s the CRM integration that will play the bigger part from past data and habits. For an unknown user, it could be with the website itself. So, you need to ask yourself, how can I integrate that into the booking path so that the room they just spent two minutes reading about pops up for them? Integrations need to solve the biggest pain of reaching your guest on a personal level.
What is Kevin’s biggest pain? “Managing our hotel content is one. Thankfully, we use a CRS through SHR that consumes so much data now; photos, descriptions, rates. We can view that pre-buy phase with the consumer, then as they move through their booking experience, we can see the details of what they are buying and how they are thinking,” he said. It’s also important to remember that you have different mediums within the CRS to manage content which is what hotels need today to keep up with growing content demands, including user-generated content. To have a system that publishes seamlessly in real time is vitally important to make that personalized offer possible.
The bottom line on integrations? Kevin believes that though the OTAs have a lot of hidden tech which they use to dominate many markets, APIs and integrations, used correctly, are going to help move that balance toward more direct bookings for hoteliers. I foresee a big shift for systems concerning profiles. Traditionally handled by the PMS, I see them moving toward the CRM or the CRS building those profiles and communications up to a new level of more personalized offers. Ultimately, the hoteliers who are listening now will be able to make progress the fastest today, and stay ahead of the integration curve tomorrow.
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