As published on www.hotelexecutive.com on March 29, 2016
Big Data will provide a complete "digital profile" of current and prospective guests, enabling hotel executives to create more effective marketing and communications campaigns. This opportunity, available for all and affordable to all, will transform the way hoteliers interact with travelers; it will revolutionize this relationship for the better by making outreach more direct, personal and relevant. Thus, these benefits are too important to ignore - they are too substantial to dismiss - since the result will be a more intimate and gracious expression of loyalty from hotel executives on behalf of their most loyal supporters. Welcome to the big dividends of Big Data.
Attention, hotel executives: Every morsel of information about every guest - past, present and future - already exists; it is available for you to analyze, scrutinize, read, review and examine; it is decipherable, thanks to a revolution in technology and a transformation in pricing, where data - all those ones and zeroes, in perfect correspondence to each person's digital profile - reveal how, when and why to customize your marketing to each patron . . . without busting your budget.
This series of events is worthy of the word revolution because, when you look at the way hoteliers try to attract new guests and retain current visitors, when you look at the expensive advertising campaigns by global brands and the more modest initiatives from boutique destinations, the type of messaging is, for all intents and purposes, the same.
These efforts, through print, radio, TV and various forms of online media, tell the public what a specific hotel is; whether it is an international chain that chooses to summarize its values with a slogan, or whether it is an independent hotelier that seeks to highlight its emphasis on exceptional service - either company spends the majority of its time talking about itself, never bothering to learn how to speak to each individual guest, who has his or her own respective interests.
Big Data changes this relationship for the better.
Picture a business traveler from the Midwest, someone who almost exclusively orders room service during his trips, versus a family that vacations at this property, and always requests a babysitter for their two youngest children - and takes advantage of the locale's in-house rental car provider.
This material, and much more, is not only available; it is part of the greatest democratization of data - the single most important milestone in the mass accessibility of intelligence - since the rise of the printing press, on the one hand, and the debut of the paperback book, on the other. Again, I do not exaggerate in the slightest because, when we convert the language of the Web into the vernacular of everyday speech, when the esoteric is no longer unintelligible, the result is a revelation unto itself.
Hotel executives have it in their power, , to personalize their marketing and communications to each guest's wants and expectations. Think of that business traveler, the one who wants a superb in-room dining experience, and consider the following: Data scientists and branding experts can create the micro-marketing necessary to reach that guest by giving him the details he wants - including menu upgrades and special offers - that will ensure he stays at the same hotel on his next trip.
That is the power of Big Data.
More importantly, these features are affordable, , for crafting the hotel marketing plans of tomorrow. That means the barriers to this intelligence - namely, the costs involving the acquisition and clarification of complex (and raw) amounts of data - are obstacles no more.
Does this also mean hotel chains will cease to buy expensive and soon-to-be obsolete (without pricey upgrades) software tools to decode this content? The question is rhetorical because there will always be a mistaken belief that bigger is better; but, among that global confederation of hotel executives and chief technology officers for whom the bottom line does matter very much indeed, the democratization of data is everything it promises to be; it is everything it needs to be. Remember, too, this is a conversation - about having a conversation; which is to say, hotel executives communicate - and to whom they entrust this assignment - will determine whether these individuals seize the moment or squander this opportunity.
For hoteliers can customize their messaging, in real-time, by using the one medium that is so elusive and alluring: Social media, that (until very recently) vast repository of sentence fragments and links, and fake followers, artificial likes and bogus accounts; the filler in a monologue - no, an endless loop of empty catchphrases and corporate verbiage - that sounds appealing but is, alas, appalling because of its failure to say or offer anything of value.
Big Data avoids the noise of the Internet - it transcends the rants and taunts by the trolls and miscreants - to tell us - to tell hotel executives - when and how to reach, say, that business traveler from Chicago, that conventioneer from Cleveland or that vacationer from Columbus, Ohio.
By reading each person's digital profile, which is like a dossier of numbers with hidden meanings, a hotel executive can - finally - engage guests on a personal level. That fact alone exposes the lie about previous attempts at "engagement," which is akin to a data dump of worthless figures, illustrated with the pseudoscientific tools of the trade: Graphs, charts, diagrams, statistics about page views and impressions, and analytics that look impressive - the reports rarely cease to cast an illusion of engagement - but, in truth, fail to engage recipients to do anything but delete, block or ignore this or that message. That presentation conflates numbers with data, when the latter has a message of its own while the former is a message others craft to mean whatever they need it to be - and to assert whatever a client wants to be.
The engagement I refer to is, in contrast, a one-on-one dialogue (or a group discussion relevant to that group's common interests) that combines substance - news you can use - with style by way of a hotel executive's fluency of conversation or gift for pacing.
It is engagement made possible by skilled technicians, who spare hoteliers the time and expense of creating these programs on their own. The financial savings is significant, large enough for hotel executives to invest their resources in said experts do the work, in-house, necessary to make that engagement visible and tangible. Guests will reap the rewards of these upgrades, in the process acting as word-of-mouth marketers for the very hotels that want to expand their reach and enhance their name recognition.
Welcome, in other words, to a win-win proposition.
Big Data is the foundation of this renaissance in marketing and promotions. In turn, the building that rises from that base - the hotel that takes its place on this ground - bears the frame and outline of data; it contains the names - the specific names of guests - responsible for that property's longevity and success. By delegating the supervision of this data to experts of all manner of specialties, from designers and developers to marketers and business managers, hotel executives can engage the right teams to engage the right guests. That is the democratization of data, in action, with measurable results.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention the so-called "halo effect" these efforts can have on hotel's overall reputation. As Big Data makes engagement more precise and responsive, there should be an increase - a positive reaction - by guests regarding extending their stays, spending more of their money on-site and devoting the bulk of their time to the property itself. This result is also quantifiable, unlike conventional - and more diffuse, not to mention more expensive - marketing campaigns. Therein lies the essence of uncovering a traveler's digital profile: It is an affordable - and accurate - encapsulation of what every hotel executive must know, wants to know and will continue to try to know. One need not try, in vain, any longer because the democratization of data renders the outreach of the past moot.
Rather, it keeps that outreach in the past. It enables hotel executives to focus on the future, a potentially bright and lucrative horizon of realistic possibilities and pragmatic probabilities. These benefits accrue to everyone, provided hoteliers commit themselves to using data to advance an agenda of engagement, conversation and collective discussion.
Hotel executives must not forsake this platform; they must not forget why this scenario is so promising and potentially profitable. They need only look at their guests to remind themselves of the stakes of this endeavor, the magnitude of its impact and the implications for the hospitality industry as a whole. Information has a yearning, of sorts, to be, if not financially free to all, then accessible - for a reasonable fee - to all.
The access described above achieves that goal. It furthers the ambitions of hotel executives worldwide. It satisfies their immediate needs, and fulfills their long-term objectives. It gives hotel executives the advantages they crave, and the assets they covet. It inaugurates the era of Big Data.