After the darkest two years in the history of the hotel industry, 2022 offered a chance to smile again. The party from pent-up demand can’t last forever, though. As revenue managers look ahead to 2023, it’s time to double down on digitalization efforts and rethink the approach to data analytics.
This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.
Hotels enjoyed plenty of highs in 2022, including record-high RevPAR performance in July and some brands hitting pre-pandemic levels. However, shorter booking windows, unpredictable demand cycles, and new guest expectations are a reminder that there will be no return to normal. Instead, the picture of a new generation of hospitality is emerging, and in 2023, it will come into focus as business travel gains momentum and group bookings continue to come back.
SkiftX connected with three hospitality leaders — Chris Crowley, chief revenue officer, Duetto; Shona Whitehead, founder of Cogent Blue; and Juan Ruano, business consultant at Ruano Consulting — who shared some of the most valuable lessons of 2022 and what they’re watching for the road ahead in the new year.
What Already Happened Doesn’t Matter. Advanced Data Is in the Driver’s Seat Now.
The thinking behind a data-driven hotel revenue strategy used to be simple: Look at the story from last year or last quarter. However, a glimpse in the rearview mirror now looks quite blurry. In 2023, hotels will need to use data to predict what’s on the distant horizon.
“Historic data is no longer sufficient to build a hotel revenue strategy,” Crowley said. “Demand will continue to be variable because we will experience multiple overlapping market crises — pandemics, wars, and recession — on a recurring basis. As such we will need to adopt very flexible pricing models, especially in the high-volume hub city destinations.”
Crowley points to the opening of the Virgin Hotels Edinburgh — which uses Duetto to automate room-type pricing rules based on demand — as a prime example of the capacity to succeed without having any ability to look in the rearview. The property, which opened in June 2022 with more than 10 room types, had no historical data, and as the brand’s entry point into Europe, there was no data available to share from sister properties either.
“The revenue team used short lead market demand data and pick-up data to be able to price and forecast more accurately,” Crowley said. “Having access to forward-looking demand data, such as the website data Duetto ingests, was very important in enabling the hotel team to identify small market trends, making sure they didn’t miss out on any opportunities.”
There are more than 14,000 hotel construction projects in the pipeline around the world, according to data from Lodging Econometrics, so this forward-looking approach will play a huge role as more of those properties open their doors.
If You Want to Attract the Right Talent, You Need to Have the Right Technology.
As 2023 approaches, more than 90 percent of hotels are still unable to fill their open positions. However, the most obvious ingredient — the number on the paycheck — isn’t the only piece of solving the labor shortage puzzle. Those prospective employees also care about being able to use tools that make their lives easier.
“Technology should be used to automate repetitive tasks and free up team members to do the more interesting jobs and properly spend time doing what they should be doing,” Whitehead said. “I don’t think hospitality has harnessed that yet. Staff members worry new technology makes their jobs redundant, but it doesn’t. Having the latest systems can help you attract and retain talent.”
It’s not just about helping fuel productivity for frontline employees, either. Crowley points out that new technology is built for the new age of flexible work for back-office team members.
“A cloud-native system like Duetto allows for a more fluid and hybrid way of working for the revenue manager, which is a tremendous benefit when attracting young talent today,” Crowley said. “A legacy system often requires an office presence. But by working in the cloud your talent can work from anywhere to drive revenue for the hotel.”
It’s Time to Say Hello to Hyper-Personalization.
While data has helped hotels create offers that feel more targeted to customer categories, the true power of one-to-one communications has continued to feel somewhat elusive in the industry as big brands continue to send out mass emails with irrelevant offers. However, the tide is starting to turn. Ruano explained how Helios Hotels, a group of four independent hotels in Spain, has leveraged its tech stack — Duetto as a revenue management system, Sihot as a property management system, and SiteMinder for channel management — to create a more tailored experience.
“This tech stack has enabled the group to move away from tour operators and drive more direct business,” Ruano said. “The revenue leadership is also now able to view data on all four properties through one combined database, enabling them to drive greater guest loyalty among the group as it is easier to identify returning customers and market to them accordingly.”
In addition to identifying returning customers, Crowley said that hotels will continue to leverage loyalty programs to deliver highly targeted offers that hit the pricing sweet spot for each guest based on their preferences and behaviors.
“Hotels are learning to integrate customer data and loyalty profiles across the entire spend onsite to curate personalized offers for a more discerning guest,” Crowley said. “In addition, our work in our casino and leisure resort space has allowed us to assign personalized pricing and packages based on upsell demand or loyalty profile directly from the inventory through revenue management.”
And It’s Time to Say So Long to Legacy Tech.
Hotels that want to tap into this level of personalization and AI-powered analytics will need to take what can feel like an overwhelming step of breaking up with their legacy systems. While embracing new technology can feel daunting, Crowley recommends two key areas to focus on at the beginning of 2023.
“There are two starting points,” he said. “One is to start with your property management system. This is effectively your Google sheet of who is arriving and who is leaving, and it facilitates most of your billing. However, the most impactful tech component for driving profitability is a revenue management system. This drives one of the biggest levers in the customer’s purchasing decision: the price. It is also the lever to hotel profitability. Ask yourself some questions about your regular customer profile. What do you know about your guest? Where is this information stored? How can you access it?”
Those questions about customers should serve as a north star for any leader looking ahead to 2023.
“Front and center of all technology decisions should be customer engagement,” Whitehead said. “This can flow into revenue, and it can flow into profit. But if you’re only making a technology decision on your top or bottom line without considering where the customer is within that decision, it’s going to be a bad decision.”