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Visioning a post-COVID era in distribution & digital

Tom Coulthurst
Senior Director, Oracle Hospitality Strategy and Solutions Manageme
This is a syndicated post, view the original post here

In the midst COVID-19, hoteliers responded quickly to manage reservations through direct and indirect channels, adjust cancellation policies, and adopt stringent cleaning and social distancing protocols to accommodate concerned guests.

But what's next?

With the pandemic lingering, stop-gap measures aren't enough. A strong case can be made for hoteliers to consider a wholesale revamp of strategy, not so much to manage revenue but to recover it. The good news: As challenging a task as that is, a well-conceived remodeling of distribution efforts undoubtedly will unlock unexpected opportunities.

Connecting and allocating room inventory to key channels - such as OTAs and conventional agencies - will remain a must, but hoteliers likely will need to develop a new formula for the proper mix. Now also is the time to explore connecting the most-valuable OTA and Booking Engine channels directly to PMS and audit their contributions and ROI. It's a solid bet that direct booking, which hoteliers have been hoping to amplify, will take on a new level of significance. After all, if distribution is all about the representation of the product to the marketplace, what better avenue than a hotel's own website to showcase the property in a new light?

In 2019, Internet Booking Engine (IBE) share of total revenue averaged 19 percent across all hotel chains participating in the just-released h2c's Global IBE and Metasearch Study. More significantly, mobile websites and apps accounted for 36 percent of the IBE revenue, and industry experts expect that share to only increase, especially as consumers search for hotelier updates about changes in policies, special offers, and services during uncertain times. There's real demand for unique hotel website content, yet a surprising number of operators are failing to capitalize on that opportunity. In fact, according to the h2c study, 39% of hotel chain respondents acknowledged that they display identical content across the IBE and OTAs.

Hoteliers should use their websites proactively to deliver customized messaging - for example, about safety protocols and the use of contactless technology - to prospective guests, helping differentiate their business from the competition and increase booking. Websites also serve as an ideal vehicle to execute "hyperlocalization," meaning focusing on consumers within a road-trip radius, because many travelers are opting to drive rather than fly. And websites afford hoteliers the chance to promote new products and services catering to consumers' pandemic-altered behavior. More than ever, "work from anywhere" is taking on new meaning, especially with Zoom conference calls being a staple of daily life. Hoteliers increasingly are taking that cue to invite guests to use their property as their "home-away-from-home" office.

Scandic Hotels, for example, is promising "a better workday" by encouraging guests to enjoy a change of workplace scenery at any one of its 270 locations, forming the "largest coworking network in the Nordics." Its website showcases a variety of comfortable workplace options, ranging from relaxed lounge seating in vibrant hotel lobbies to more quiet areas based on work style and needs. The co-working program, which can be booked using a daily, weekly, or monthly pass, offers benefits such as: printer and copying service, unlimited coffee and tea ("to keep you going"), discounts at restaurant and bars, and access to meeting rooms - all governed by StaySafe at Scandic - the hotelier's procedures and routines for enhanced cleaning and social distancing.

In an article posted on Accor's website - "Co-working: How hotels are reinventing themselves" - the operator highlights numerous examples of how it has converted hotel space into workspace at its properties around the world. Though remote working had been gaining traction long before the pandemic, Accor is striving to fill the "increasingly present need for a more harmonious work-life balance."

Hoteliers are making workspaces available for day use or as part of an overnight stay and allowing loyalty members to earn points in new ways. In some cases, travelers can enroll in memberships to use workspaces on a monthly basis across the entire chain.

Another major push for hoteliers is to incorporate contactless technology for safer, better guest experiences and then promote its usage on websites. According to A Data-Driven Look at Hospitality's Recovery - a joint study by Oracle Hospitality and travel industry research firm Skift that surveyed more than 1,800 hotel executives and 4,600 consumers to understand how their evolving expectations and actions are shaping hospitality - self-service technologies are in high demand. For example, when consumers were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement - "When I travel again, I would be more likely to stay in a hotel offering self-service technology that minimizes contact with staff" - 70% responded that they viewed such technology favorably. Hotel executives responded similarly, with 81% saying they are considering or already offering contactless payment at their properties.

Hoteliers' adoption of contactless technology is minimizing guest-staff interaction for improved health safety and simultaneously providing faster, better, overall service to guests. For example, some hoteliers are facilitating "digital check-ins" by linking their mobile apps to property management systems (PMS) via open APIs. The result? Guests can check-in before arrival and take numerous actions independently while social distancing, including bypassing the front desk and converting their mobile phones into digital keys for touchless entry.

These new guest-service experiences highlight areas where hoteliers will be able to differentiate their properties. Effectively implementing this strategy is central to revenue recovery and increased ROI. Similarly, incorporating new technologies that deliver in-demand services can regain the trust of travelers. Which explains the necessity for cloud-based PMS with the capability to easily and quickly integrate "best-of-breed" solutions, regardless of origin. Accelerating innovation - through open APIs and seamless access to needed functionality and data - means gaining a competitive advantage that yields more bookings. Such API offerings can provide new ways to directly connect hotel PMS inventory and products to channels.

The combination of new offerings and tailored consumer marketing is a critical factor in the equation to redefine distribution strategy. And by amplifying it with the right technology solutions, hoteliers can make the necessary course corrections to navigate the "new next" marketplace.

Do you want to learn more? Visit the Oracle Hospitality website or check us out on the Proven Partners Ultimate List of Hotel Software Companies.

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