The Analytics of Business Travel

July 29, 2015 SnapShot Team

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Today's business traveler offers hoteliers great new opportunities for increasing bookings. As this resurgent class of travelers demands for new and better ways to book their stays, only the totally engaged properties will be able to capitalize. While some big hotel brands keep business travelers loyal to their brands successfully, the competition is ramping up with services like Airbnb Business Travel. The challenge is to identify business travelers and their needs unerringly and timely.

As business travel is one of the most profitable segments in the industry, the following analysis will focus on it.

The typical business traveler arrives late, leaves early, pays well, and spends extra money in the hotel. If the hotel can identify the business guests properly, it is easier to satisfy their expectations.

While travel is sometimes a big overhead expense, strengthening, or, establishing new partnerships, is crucial for maintaining, or opening, new markets. For the guest-facing hospitality segment serving these travelers, gleaning key insights will determine revenue growth accordingly.

The rise in guest empowerment and their understanding of the industry has traversed the leisure travel segment, but is only now becoming a critical leverage point for converting business travelers into hotel clients. What was an almost totally cost-driven dynamic (and outsourced service), has now become an "expectation" set of variables, which has empowered business travelers, as if they were holiday or luxury accommodations seekers. The business travel "experience" is now comparable and parallel with the “experience” in other market segments.

As an example, a business executive in our network almost exclusively books on Airbnb for longer stays. As it turns out, those stays allow a certain type of traveler more freedom and a feeling of homeliness not found in hotels. This person is an executive who always booked in high-end hotels.

To continue, this rise in business traveler power is a huge stumbling block for those hoteliers not prepared to control the costs of delivering the value that business people now demand. Two vital factors in this new shift present themselves:

  1. First and foremost, hotel managers must get competitive, and stay that way, within the digital competition framework. It is no secret that business travelers are tightly wired and connected via the myriad devices and platforms we have come to depend on. They also expect instant service, the same way as their clients expect instant service from them.The boutique hotel concept of "sitting down for check-in" may be cool and funky, but when one arrives at 10 p.m. after a long flight, and wants to go to sleep, or to prepare for that fateful meeting the next day, it just is not cool at all. "How did the hotelier miss that?" - is a question sometimes asked. Failing to identify what business travelers want is a hurdle that needs to be addressed. With just a little bit of insight into one's reviews, any hotelier can glean key decision-making information, with details like "I loved the fast check-in and frictionless check-out," thereby improving their service and the customer satisfaction level.In addition, business travelers influence via their social connections. While not necessarily measured in millions of Instagram followers, influence is an extremely valuable and relevant motivator for conversions, beyond a traveler's friends and family circle.
  2. Secondly, understanding such things as the "Über effect," or on demand app-driven commerce, have become necessities for today's hotelier. More to the point, new services and competitors like Airbnb have caused a real paradigm shift in the customer expectations that used to be the norm. Airbnb, as in our previous example, offers value most hotels are unwilling, or unable, to deliver on.

Mastering "variables" like how, when, and why, a customer may want to choose your hotel, just got more complicated. However negative this may seem, the dynamic also affords an opportunity to excel in the "left behind" matrix of competitors. The move toward creating "guest experiences" before, during, and after the hotel stay, has now migrated to that corporate-friendly experience you may be hearing about.

To clarify these points, this Skift interview with Montage Hotels & Resorts CEO, Alan Fuerstman, encapsulates how the whole "experience" dynamic has now spread across the service and amenities landscape. According to Fuerstman, Montage employees are now trained to "look for ways to exceed expectations and surprise guests with things that appeal specifically to their experience." Fuerstman goes on laying out just how his hotel operation transcends training service experts who are innovative, into the impact of technology on his business, at the front and back end of operations. Supplying guest-facing tech is one thing, utilizing the latest tools is quite another. What the veteran hotelier speaks of, as far as backend technology, advancements hit home, and hard.

Many hotels use (or attempt to use) technological advancements to do such things as tracking guest preferences, correlating guest histories, and trying to glean dynamic intelligence from collected data. The success of these instruments and strategies relies on how well the information percolates to the hotel staff. So there is a two-headed monster in any hotelier's operational toolset now. There is no single tool out there, effective enough, and with the simplicity also, for every hotel revenue manager or hotel owner to rely on. While new technologies, and the data out there, can put a hotel into the "next" realm of hospitality competition, managing traveler experience/conversion strategies lags behind many other industries.

Proper and expeditious use of hotel industry analytics, especially when it comes to business travelers, presents a unique opportunity for the progressive hotelier. Here we are not talking about some complicated, interconnected hardware that beeps when a business traveler passes by. We are describing simple analytics, such as clearly understanding what guest appreciates most from a hotel, and surpassing expectations with that knowledge. Of course, staff must be able to understand who each business traveler really is. This is not exactly a technology problem, but a human one.

If you can imagine tools that allow your staff to quickly determine a business person's preferences, or even those of a particular corporation at any given time, then strategic advantage is your guiding light. The time is coming when transportation preferences and offerings, dining, event timing, seasonal variations, and a multiplicity of other factors, will govern not only bookings and rates, but the ancillary revenue, and many other optimizations hotels can benefit from.

The time is right ahead when technology will surpass the awkwardness we see today, to free up hospitality operators for their native task of catering to guests.