by Alan Joch
A war for market share is raging between incumbents and insurgents across almost all industry sectors, but few markets are being disrupted as much as the hotel industry. Millennials are one factor: the Pew Research Center reports that more than one in three American workers are now millennials, while other research shows that 46 percent of millennials embrace business travel—far more than the baby boomers still in the workforce.
Headquarters: Toronto, Canada
Oracle products: Oracle MICROS; Oracle Marketing Cloud, including Oracle Responsys; Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition; Oracle Essbase; Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud; Oracle Hyperion Planning
Length of tenure: 18 years
Education: Bachelor of Engineering degree, McGill University; Master of Engineering degree, Concordia University; MBA, University of Western Ontario
As a result, one reality is becoming clear—millennials and others who travel regularly for business and pleasure are rejecting cookie-cutter accommodations. Instead, they expect the kind of personalized service being delivered by progressive hotels that effectively use customer data to develop unique accommodations for their core clientele. “By capturing and leveraging data, [the travel industry] can better meet the needs of their customers, thus building stronger relationships over time,” the Boston Consulting Group concluded in a recent study of the industry. “In the current environment, digital infrastructure and capabilities have become an investment that many travel companies are no longer able to put off.”
San Francisco, California’s Fairmont Hotel has been a landmark of luxury lodging for more than a century.
The FRHI team confers at the company’s Toronto, Canada, headquarters.
Vineet Gupta, CIO, FRHI.
The Plaza Hotel in New York City, is one of FRHI’s signature luxury properties.
Tanya Pratt, Vice President of Central Business Applications, FRHI
Michael Innocentin, Executive Director of Digital Marketing, FRHI
An FRHI property
This isn’t news to executives at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI)—in fact, it’s a pillar of their business strategy, which relies on customer data to deliver exemplary customer experience (CX) to a sophisticated global clientele. “It’s essential in the luxury segment of hospitality for the customer experience to be personalized and consistent throughout all our properties,” says Vineet Gupta, CIO at FRHI, which operates 115 properties in 34 countries. “Technology helps us do that by making sure that the right customer data is available to the right employees at the right time. That’s our ultimate goal.”Driven by Data
FRHI gives clients a choice of three distinct brands. Fairmont Hotels are landmark venues in large cities, primarily in North America. Raffles Hotels offer residential charm for clients throughout Asia. Swissôtel Hotels and Resorts provide modern design and amenities across Europe, Asia, and North America. However, all brands are expected to deliver exceptional service during interactions at front desks, in targeted email promotions, on brand websites, and in social media communications.
The ability to gather and analyze troves of customer data is at the heart of FRHI’s CX strategy. One of its core information-gathering tools is Oracle MICROS, a property management system that functions as the system of record for all FRHI properties. Installed in 2008, Oracle MICROS collects information about client preferences from the company’s loyalty program, as well as from insights collected by hotel staff in individual venues. “Customer data is key to providing personalized guest experiences,” says Michael Innocentin, executive director of digital marketing at FRHI. “This has tremendous value from a marketing perspective, and from an operations perspective it allows us to do everything from expedite check-ins to personalize pillow types.”
FRHI’s executives weren’t always able to use data so effectively. In the past, separate property management platforms supported each venue, which made information-sharing difficult. So if a guest visited the Plaza Hotel in New York and expressed a preference for an upper-floor room away from the elevator, the hotel agent would capture that preference in a local system—and that’s where it stayed. Many of FRHI’s clients travel the globe, so it’s not unreasonable for a guest to expect that data to be shared among FRHI properties. “In the mind of the consumers, they’re thinking, ‘This is the same company that operates the hotel where I stayed a couple of weeks ago. Why are they asking me the same questions?’” says Tanya Pratt, FRHI’s vice president of central business applications.
Oracle MICROS now provides a standardized platform for collecting customer data at all the hotels and feeding that data to a central Oracle database. Service staffs everywhere see the same complete profiles of guests. “The information follows guests wherever they go,” Pratt says.
Capturing guest preferences was just the start for delivering personalized services. Any comments from guests about their experiences—positive or negative—are also available to staff at each hotel. “The information helps colleagues prepare themselves for each new arrival,” Pratt says. “This gives the hotels a platform for exchanging information so they can run their businesses better.”Marketing Automation Brought to Life
FRHI made great strides with CX thanks to this enterprisewide property management system and a central storehouse of information. But leadership took another important CX step by adopting Oracle Responsys, a core component of Oracle Marketing Cloud. In the past, each property sent emails directly to guests; now Oracle Responsys centrally manages all these interactions to ensure timely communications and consistent messaging.
“To be honest, we’ve always felt that we have done email marketing very well—but to really excel, we recognized that we needed a tool capable of bringing our marketing automation vision to life,” Innocentin says. “Having a platform capable of making real-time decisions based on customer behavior, paired with a content library to support fully personalized communications, was our number one priority.”
The marketing team worked with IT to evaluate various email services that could support FRHI’s trigger-based marketing strategy and marketing-automation plans. They also sought a corporate-level tool that was part of a distributed marketing platform for the hotels to use, Innocentin says.
Oracle Responsys meets these criteria and more. The Oracle Responsys platform can combine internal data captured by hotels with third-party datasources in the hospitality industry. “Hotels can now speak to their local customers who frequent food and beverage outlets and other facilities,” Innocentin says. “The properties use the same system that we use to market centrally to past hotel guests. We are able to deduplicate the contact lists and ensure our contact strategy is enforced.”
Thanks to Oracle Responsys, the FRHI staff now works with higher-quality data, which results in fewer requests to unsubscribe from email distribution lists, as well as improved response rates to email promotions, he adds.Mining Information for Insights
Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition provides FRHI with an important third pillar for enhanced customer service. Like Oracle MICROS, Oracle Responsys, and the customer database, the business intelligence (BI) platform is also centralized, which means each hotel can take advantage of the same information and reporting structure. Data from Oracle MICROS is transferred to a central data warehouse, which in turn is connected to Oracle Responsys. “This gives us the ability to consolidate information at a regional or corporate level, which we never could before, and ensures that the data is consistent everywhere,” Gupta says. “In the past, people at each site had to create their own reports, which were not consistent across all the properties.”
It’s essential in the luxury segment of hospitality for the customer experience to be personalized and consistent throughout all our properties. Technology helps us do that by making sure that the right customer data is available to the right employees at the right time.”–Vineet Gupta, CIO, FRHI
Instead, senior managers now see aggregated data showing regional performance. In addition, each hotel manager receives reports showing operational and revenue management and sales results, including average daily occupancy rates and total revenues for relevant reporting periods. “The reports are based on the same data, but we can slice it differently for those who need macro- or micro-level views,” Pratt explains.
This functionality enables executives to analyze new data to quickly spot emerging customer trends or see early signs of service problems at a particular facility. In addition to helping to improve service levels by comparing actual performance to improvement targets, the enhanced analytical capabilities will help the marketing staff more accurately target customers with new promotions, Gupta says.
“Prior to this, we had been spending a lot of time creating and generating reports, which didn’t leave a lot of time for analyzing the information,” Pratt adds. “With the system we now have, hotel managers can just push a button and the data will be refreshed. This gives managers more time to review the data, and therefore to act upon it.”
She says having a single BI environment for reporting on operational performance is a competitive differentiator for FRHI. “Other hotels have to pull information from many different systems, put it all into some type of data management tool, and go from there,” Pratt explains. “But for us, because Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition hooks into data from the Oracle MICROS property management system, the reporting capabilities are real time—there’s no lag.”
This integration was an important factor in FRHI’s choice of Oracle applications for property management, email marketing, and BI. “Disparate systems that aren’t integrated create inconsistent data,” Gupta says. “So, for us, Oracle’s close integration of these technologies was very much a key to our decision.”CX Guides the Future
With comprehensive resources for data-driven operations as a foundation, FRHI’s IT and business leaders are considering new ways to further improve customer service. The priority list includes new mobile applications for clients. “Our customers tell us they would like to communicate with us more via mobile devices,” Pratt says. “That includes using them to access our services, make reservations, and interact with colleagues at the properties. So our focus will be on enhancing communications and guest services—all with mobile devices.”
Another initiative now in the early exploration stage is expanded business-to-business services. “We’re looking at how we might implement technology for our B2B customers that’s similar to what we’ve done on the B2C side,” Pratt explains.
While the new mobile and B2B initiatives are still being worked out, one thing is already clear—whatever comes next will be designed to have a significant, positive impact on client service. “For us, it’s about putting the guests first,” Pratt says. “We will continue to invest in technologies that allow us to focus on the guests the best way that we can.”
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