APIs, AI, getting hyper-personal and the human touch

Whether you are focused on data, technology, marketing or RM the message from Day 2 of EyeforTravel North America was that you need to understand the ‘why’

Customer data, how you protect it and keep it secure, in relation to the new Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and how it might impact your data and marketing strategy, was the focus of Day 2’s opening keynote. GDPR has now been enforced in Europe and does impact US companies doing business in Europe.

For Esteban Velez, VP - Information Technology & Cyber Security, Classic Hotels & Resorts, the opening keynoter, GDPR relates to consumer data protection. While this is a big issue, his view is that GDPR might be difficult to enforce in the US, and the bigger issue for his business is security.

Although handling customer data has become increasingly complicated with the growing importance on data protection, in recent years travel companies have become more open to sharing data with each other. This has been enabled by API technology (application programming interface), which was the subject of Day 2’s second keynote address. In practical terms, APIs mean that different systems from different organisations can be integrated so that an hotel or airline customer can, for example, rent a car or book an activity all in the same place. From Susan Black, the chief commercial officer of CIE Tours and Philip von Ditfurth, founder of Apaleo, a winner of a 2017 EyeforTravel start up competition, delegates heard the benefits of adopting an API strategy.

APIs mean that different systems from different organisations can be integrated

Von Ditfurth explained that hoteliers have traditionally been dependent on legacy hotel property management systems (PMSs) that are difficult to change and to connect to new systems. Launched to address this problem, Apaleo developed its own native PMS that puts the ‘API first’. An open, cloud-based and two-way API, Apaleo’s system is able to connect to hundreds of applications supporting a variety of functions, including revenue management, analytics, room control, hotel operations and so on. In other words, hotel functions that were previously tied to the legacy PMS can now be unbundled.

Does this mean that the legacy players are dead? Probably not. Unsurprisingly Oracle Hospitality, for one, has made the shift to a cloud-based environment and is actively promoting this to existing customers, and targeting new ones. 

Choosing the right technology is one challenge, but finding the right API partners is another. According to Black, CIE Tours’ API strategy began by mico-segmenting customers, a move which enabled the company to identify the right partners. CIE strategy is part of an overall drive to triple in size, support new efficiencies and enable system integrations that were previously impossible.

Hyper-personalised AI and the ‘other’ AI

It is now widely accepted that the travel industry stands to gain hugely from the right application of artificial intelligence. In an AI-focused session, Celebrity Cruises’ Neena Vicente, the group’s director of ecommerce and Raul Parquet, a senior manager of guest commerce, outlined how they were using artificial intelligence to deliver hyper-personalised content.

Earlier this year, the firm began by offering unique AI-driven content to customers based on geo-location and weather. As one example, customers in a region hit by snow were shown a beach vacation. According to Vicente, the team developed a ‘majority fit’ strategy that varied content on the landing page based on a customers’ last search. Later, additional criteria such as geo-location, weather, last search, type of device, psycho-segmentation, and more, were added to tailor a hyper-personalised ‘individual fit experience’.

Focus on ‘why’ you are doing this rather than ‘what’ are you doing

AI came up again later in the day from, no less, Amazon Data Scientist Eduardo Erazo. Erazo urged travel brands to focus on ‘why’ you are doing this rather than ‘what’ you are you doing. It was important too to distinguish between dirty (false) data and muddy (unsegmented/unstructured) data. The rise of the ‘other AI’ namely ‘augmented intelligence’ is technology’s answer to the handshake and indicates that the human touch remains relevant.

Hotels vs the homestay

The line between companies offering traditional hotels and short-term rentals continues to blur. In New York, for example, Airbnb is offering hotel space along side private homes, while at the same time hotels are exploring short-term rentals, either through new divisions or partnership. Speaking alongside C-level represents from Vacasa, and RedAwning, Emmanuel Arnaud, CEO, HomeExchange, explained how the firm was offering the next wave of peer-to-peer solutions that could expand the market through zero-cost opportunities for travellers. Pitched as a disruptor of disruptors, HomeExchange allows using to “pay by offering your own home as an exchange”.

Addressing growing competition required a total revenue management (RM) was Accor Hotels’ VP of Revenue Management & Analytics, Adam Hayashi. Hayashi, whose role is to lead Accor’s charge into the luxury segment with the acquisition of FHRI in North and Central America, said the group had identified multiple ways to drive new and creative ancillary streams. Among there were improved use of real estate and conducting regular multi-functional brainstorming sessions. (For more insight from Accor see EyeforTravel, Meet the man leading Accor’s luxury change into North America)

Systems remain a key challenge key challenge is harnessing data and bringing it to life

Another hotel perspective came from Darren Skomorowsky, Director of Revenue Management, Hudson Hotels, who predicted that within five years RM will move from a rules-based, reactive process to one which actively influences customers behaviour based on new micro-segmentation. 

Continuing this theme, Claudia Infante, the director of revenue strategy at Margaritaville Resorts, said that systems remain a key challenge in harnessing data and bringing it to life, and what is needed is “central system connectivity”.

Rich Tuckwell-Skuda, President North America, Avvio reiterated the “need to eliminate silo’s to identify revenue opportunities in unexpected places”.

An inspiring, tangible and transferrable case study on customer churn came from Stephanie Montgomery, Senior Manager - Customer Insights & Analysis, American Airlines. Watch out for more detail on this in the coming weeks.   

On the question of why hire a chief data officer, delegates were asked to consider instead a customer engagement officer. In other words always think about why you are doing it and not what you are supposed to do!

Also announced on the morning of Day 2 was the winner of the EyeforTravel Start-Up & Innovation Awards. Also founded in 2014, ZingTrip is putting the zing back into travelling, and is on a mission to keep travellers healthy and active by introducing and connecting them with fitness options. It beat Kiva Solutions, an online distributor of meetings and events spaces. Watch out for an exclusive ZingTrip interview in the coming weeks

Missed Las Vegas? Join us for EyeforTravel North America San Francisco (14 -15 March 2019)

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