The hospitality industry is increasingly looking for innovative technology to adapt its inventory and distribution systems and – in colloquial terms – sweat its assets.
Several initiatives are gathering momentum at the moment. For instance, Suiteness.com, which is selling hotel suites online to an untapped market, families and groups; start-up Bizly.com, an online booking platform that enables hotels and restaurants to fill small meetings rooms; and AccorHotels, which has just launched its AccorLocal app to leverage its services and spaces.
Robbie Bhathal, chief executive of Suiteness says:
“Hotels are looking at more and more technological solutions to showcase their unique inventory. They are looking at distribution as not just putting heads in beds, but as a means to gain incrementally through selling their inventory in unique ways.
“It also shows a general openness and investment interest in new innovations and real technical solutions for the distribution of their inventory.”
Viceroy Hotel Group is the latest luxury operator to sign up to the Suiteness platform, which showcases one-bedroom and multi-bedroom suites that are often overlooked in the traditional marketing mix of accommodation types. It also helps hotels to compete with Airbnb by tapping into the family and small group market.
“In New York, 35% of Airbnb’s listings are two or more bedrooms. Hotels already have the kind of inventory that can attract these customers, but most of that inventory is paid for only 30% of the time. This is because of legacy technical reasons and because of inter-departmental turf wars.”
Suiteness says it gets round these limitations by using a new technical solution that sets it apart from the OTAs – not least, it does not connect to hotels via GDS.
“Recently hotels have opened up their APIs to companies like ours. Instead of treating this opportunity as a better GDS, we are integrating more deeply with the hotels.
“We understand a hotel’s inventory, build it into our system and then map this onto their APIs. This way we can unlock new inventory previously only available to front desk agents. In fact, because of this, we can feed this inventory back to the hotels to book directly on their own sites. We’ve started piloting this with a few large hotel groups.”
In a similar vein, Bizly says it’s the only platform that allows large companies to book small meetings by marketing underused spaces in hotels and restaurants.
The SaaS company is currently building out a registration marketplace that will then link bookings to the company’s existing event software to consolidate data.
Chief executive Ron Shah says:
“Hotels and venues must find innovative ways to reach corporate end-users.
“Traditionally, hotels build their sales organisations around selling to centralised event teams. Today, bookings are not centralised. Sales, marketing, HR and other [departments in companies] book these events directly. Reaching these [teams] is critical for the success of hospitality event sales.”
Keeping it local
Meanwhile, AccorHotels has just launched its AccorLocal app, which aims to maximise profitability from underused services and spaces by tapping into demand in the local community.
Customers can download the free app and order a particular service in just a few clicks. Hotels use partnerships with their suppliers and local merchants to give customers options ranging from ordering and collecting bouquets or bread, to dropping off laundry.
Locals can also book into the hotel’s facilities, such as spas, swimming pools, fitness rooms, access to printers, co-working spaces and so on, without needing to be a resident.
The services offered tend to be localised. For example, an Accor property at La Defense, Paris, is next to a motorcycle parking lot and a big corporation, so it offers a helmet storage facility and breakfast pick-up, too.
Scott Gordon, chief executive of AccorLocal says:
“The aim is to maximise underused assets [in the hotel], by bringing a third-party to it. For instance, enabling a yoga teacher to hire an unused meeting room. The opportunities are unlimited and will bring huge new potential to our hotels and value to locals.”
“We are the first hotel group to launch this. Some startups do some elements of our global service offering, but their focus is on delivery. We see that having to wait for a delivery can cause anxiety for a customer. We want them to be able to drop off [for example their laundry] or pick up [a takeaway breakfast] whenever they feel like it day and night.”
AccorLocal was trialled in March in France and is set to roll out across the UK and rest of Europe in 2018. Initially, development of the app was outsourced to an agency, but as the first conversion rate results were not good enough, a chief technology officer; Fabien Penso was recruited.
Described by Gordon as “a gamechanger” Penso and his newly recruited team created the app technology from scratch, benchmarking it against others, such as Deliveroo, UberEATS and VoyagesSncf.
To market the app, Accor has made the most of its loyalty scheme. Gordon says:
“We are sitting on an asset with 32 million loyalty club members worldwide and we will leverage that database and enable them to increase points in their daily life.”
He adds that it’s too early to talk about results – and these will vary depending on the services or spaces that each property wants to sell, “but it’s a win-win for the hotels, local merchants and customers”.
The app handles everything, including payment, and so enables seamless service by freeing up staff to give their attention to the customer when they arrive. Gordon says:
“Technology has allowed us to save time on a lot of tasks. Our ambition here is to welcome and serve guests. This is at our core. Service is [facilitated] via a digital app, but it is delivered by human beings. There is human contact and live customer support.
“Today, it is still taboo to hang out or use services [such as a spa] in hotels if you are not staying there. We want to break down these barriers. It happens a bit in the USA and we want to bring it to Europe.”