Digging for Gold: Mining Data to Capture Share, Profits

BY STEFANI C. O’CONNOR

NEW YORK—Non-stop changes in how business is conducted in the 21st century and the explosion of social media across the globe has forced rapid adaptation to new technologies for those in the lodging industry, a sector once suspicious, if not outright resistant, to such advances, but which now embraces and even innovates within this brave, new world.

Key for those in the lodging sphere, of course, is gaining revenue, building profits and sourcing the opportunities to do so, all the while remembering it is a people business. Modern technology is able to mesh all of these aspects and, through sophisticated means, help hoteliers reach what are being termed “persuadable guests,” those who can be “captured” as new market share.

“The hotel industry has been a little slow in technology adoption, but it’s reached a point where it’s the guest that is driving and pushing toward the use of technology,” particularly Millennials, said Anil Kaul, co-founder/CEO, Absolutdata, a decision engineering company that applies advanced analytics to help businesses with key decisions by bridging data, insights and action and specializes in big data, high-end business analytics, predictive modeling, reporting and data-management services.

Kaul acknowledged debate remains in the hotel industry around technology, citing a recent conference he attended where hoteliers voiced concern over increasing automation, e.g., keyless entry, mobile check-in, asking what’s to become of the “hospitality” in the hospitality industry.

“There’s this big angst in the industry that ‘if we adopt technology, are we going to lose the soul of the industry’? I have a different perspective. I believe technology is about giving guests control over what they want.”

Kaul believes this can be applied whether the guest is in super-efficient mode—streamlined check-in/out, fast service—or at a more relaxed pace.

“I should be able to use technology to find the best hotel, check in, order something for my room… if I want more hospitality, technology can help the front desk recognize who I am. They would know what my preferences are, what I like and what I don’t like. I don’t get greeted by somebody who doesn’t ‘know’ me…that makes my interaction with people so much more powerful,” said Kaul. “Technology gives me the choice over what kind of interaction I want.”

The CEO “absolutely” feels hotels can mine data to find and target guests.

“We work with a lot of large hotel loyalty programs (such as Hilton Worldwide’s) and we can clearly see from the loyalty data that you can figure out who are your best guests…using that data, you can go out and inquire and find other guests who have similar needs, wants and characteristics; that’s the power of the data that comes in,” said Kaul.

The company uses data and analytics to show impact to the bottom and top lines and measures the impact on the property, including repeat business. “That’s where the value of data starts coming in,” said the executive. “Clients want more and more analysis because they can very clearly see the positive business impact. And business impact happens both in terms of finding good guests and making every guest stay comfortable and better so they will come back and give them those extra stays and a bigger share of the wallet.”

Even with all that has happened with technology vis-à-vis lodging in the past decade, Kaul feels, “We are just taking the first baby steps with data right now. Data is actually going to change the industry in a lot of different ways, not only where interaction with guests is concerned, but also in terms of how buying is done for the latest things in the hotel, how you design your hotels. All of those things are going to be so much more informed by data that in 10 years when we look back, we will certainly notice that the hotel industry has completely changed. The companies that take the steps and make sure they are able to leverage their data will be the ones doing very well at that time; the others will be left behind.”

—Stefani C. O’Connor