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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most technology savvy executives will gather for our first Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12.
Skift Tech Forum, which will take place at the United Club at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, will focus on tech disruptions in retailing, distribution and merchandising of travel as well as on timely debates such privacy versus personalization. Expect insightful conversations from a broad range of speakers, including CEOs and top executives from United Airlines, Southwest, Uber, Accor, Sabre Corp., Hilton Hotels, Alibaba, and Kayak.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in the technology space.
As Hilton’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Chris Silcock is responsible for overseeing the global hospitality company’s entire commercial team, including, but not limited, to e-commerce, regional marketing, and customer care.
It’s quite a lot of ground to cover, but for Silcock, a longtime Hilton and hospitality veteran who happens to have a degree in computer science, that’s what makes data and analytics so helpful — and crucial to his role.
At the inaugural Skift Tech Forum on June 12 in Silicon Valley, Silcock will discuss how data and analytics are helping shape Hilton’s direct booking strategy, as well as what role it is playing in personalizing and better enhancing the overall guest experience.
What follows is an edited version of a recent Skift interview with Silcock.
Skift: Where would you say we are with regard to the so-called direct booking wars today? Are hotels winning or getting smarter about revenue management and getting more direct bookings and if yes, how are they doing that?
Chris Silcock: I’m not sure I would characterize them as “direct booking wars.” From our perspective, we’re focused on trying to deliver a better experience for the customer. If we do that, they will prefer our brands and our hotels. The best way we can do that is to have a direct relationship with them. If they share information with us, we can personalize their experiences with us even more. It gives them access to Choose Your Own Room, digital check-in, Connected Room, and so much more — all of these things that require us to have a direct relationship. How do we build a better customer experience?
There are customers who are not familiar with our brands and who come to us through the online travel agencies. Those online travel agencies, they continue to be a valuable partner and source of incremental customers to our system. It’s about how best we can work together at this moment.
Skift: What role do data and analytics play in how hotels are run today?
Silcock: It’s a huge and increasing role, I would say. We are at the start of that journey of being able to use the data assets we have access to in a meaningful way to really differentiate the experience for our customer. We sit on a huge amount of data and it’s growing more rapidly and we’re collecting more of it at different points of interaction.
We can use that data to make the shopping experience more effective, by putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time. We can use it to personalize their physical experience. I don’t know if you’ve tried our Hilton Honors app; you can actually pin your favorite room in a particular room. That way, we know what room you like and we can use that information to put that onto other hotels to find the room that’s best for you. Digital engagement and the physical space are involved here — we’re using data to personalize and provide more choice and control for customers and make it an exceptional experience overall.
With us, you’re actually experiencing what it’s like to choose your room from a floor plan of available rooms. We’re still the only hotel company to do that. You can pin your favorite room and soon be able to have the temperature the way you like it and have the entertainment you want — it’s transformative to the customer experience to have this new Connected Room, too.
Skift: How is Hilton attempting to personalize the customer journey? And specifically, in the customer experience within a hotel?
Silcock: As I said, we’re doing it throughout the customer journey. When you are dreaming of taking a trip, by connecting data across channels, we can also connect your experiences. Some customers may take a look online, or on the app, and then call the call center to book. We can connect those dots. We can speak to you from an informed place.
As you start to learn if customers stay with us and what types of rooms they choose and what types of products — like advanced purchase or flexible rate — we can adapt the displays we put in front of you. The email communications we send to you will be more personalized at the moment you open the email. It’s based on what you have done most recently with us, on property as well as with Connected Room and Choose Your Room. We’re starting to use the data to connect the dots across different parts of your experience. Whether we’re talking about food and beverage, meeting space, the guest room — we can connect all those pieces just so we’re able to learn a little more about you and make it, therefore, a better experience.
Skift: And how is Hilton approaching personalization without encroaching on privacy?
Silcock: Of course, we take our customers’ safety and security and privacy extremely seriously — both physically and virtually. We take care of millions of customers every year. Our collection of data from customers is used in order to drive a better experience. To provide customers more choice, control, and personalization.
We have very clear disclosure of our data privacy policies. We don’t share data unless it’s for a very specific reason and we inform them of that. All of it is used to drive a better customer experience. Our information technology teams are engaged in ensuring we have everything we can. We are very active with cybersecurity to do everything we can to ensure safety and privacy of our customers’ data.
What’s interesting about our use of customer data is, in this world of big data, customers tell you if you add value by how they respond. If we send them irrelevant information, they will opt out of our messages or not engage. You have to test things and learn but you learn very quickly what is valuable to the customers because they will engage with you.
Skift: What does the future of e-commerce look like to you or to Hilton? Will e-commerce be more driven by voice activation or messaging going forward?
Silcock: I think that transition we have witnessed thus far will continue. From desktop where you have large amounts of information to mobile where you have small amounts of data that are more curated and more personalized. Voice has even less ability to provide lots of data to customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) and bot-assisted search and seeking of information and travel search options is next. That’s why we are so relentlessly focused on providing a better experience. Ultimately, when your device goes out into the world to seek travel options on your behalf, it will do it based on your preferences that you’ve declared with technology, and our brand will be preferred, hopefully.
I do think there’s a long road ahead of us but we will see more assisted AI-driven travel options that will rely on customers’ historical patterns, trends, and preferences. That’s why we are doubling down on the experience. We want to be their preference for future travel options.