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By Benjamin Jost

The technology ecosystem in the hotel space is changing at a rapid pace. In some cases, companies seem to be appearing from nowhere, offering a brand new solution that solves a problem many hotels didn't know that they had. In other cases, companies with extensive track records in other markets are performing pivots, taking everything that they've learned in their history and trying to apply best practices to the travel industry.

While there's often far more noise than signal, there is a swath of companies, startups and incumbents alike, that are finding ways to help hotels improve their customer experiences. The ones that are most effective understand the tech stack in a hotel ecosystem, and are using APIs to seamlessly connect their offerings to the day-to-day operations of their hotel partners.

Introducing APIs
An API (Application Program Interface), is simply a set of rules and protocols that establish how applications should interact with each other. Said differently, APIs are the pipes that connect applications across the internet, allowing secure passage of data between companies. Customers don't see APIs, but APIs are the means by which data is shared. Using an example to crystalize this concept, many hotel websites will incorporate Google Maps into each of the pages dedicated to their properties. This is one basic use of an API. Another common use of APIs has to do with social media. Companies like Hootsuite, which connect various social accounts for organizations, use APIs in order to foster those connections.

Not all API uses are to share data that is customer facing. In many cases, hotels will use APIs to connect the various systems that keep a hotel up and running. For instance, many hotels will connect their data sources, like PMS, CRM or OTA. This can mean collecting data from a guest that booked using an OTA and using that data to remarket to that guest after their stay. We needn't go too deep down the rabbit hole of APIs, since as an executive, you've likely built a quality team of folks who can handle the nitty gritty details; your concern is likely more about whether things work, not necessarily about how they work. The important thing to understand is that if a data sharing process is automated, there's an excellent chance it's using an API.

Using APIs to Improve the Guest Experience
Hotels can use APIs to improve their guest experiences in a variety of ways. One critical approach is collecting data across systems to make it available, and ultimately actionable. For instance, we know that guests will often provide feedback about their hotel experiences. This can come from post-stay surveys, be found on various websites and message boards, or show up in the form of a tweet, Tripadvisor review or Facebook post. Taken as individual pieces of information, or in the aggregate, this data can help hotels inform a variety of decisions. Does most feedback highlight friendly service? Perhaps hotel leadership should take a moment to praise the customer facing members of their teams. Is there a common thread that displays disappointment in the cleanliness of rooms? If so, perhaps it's time to enact new cleaning procedures (or consider changes to the staff, including hiring more people to get the job done).

There is a variety of ways that hotels can gain access to this information. They can try to collect it on one-off basis or work with companies that offer solutions to connect to various networks or aggregate data. For the latter approach, there may be a multitude of APIs in use.

Once the data is collected, hotel leaders can turn the information into actionable insights from first-hand customer insights that have been collected. Can a marketing department or campaign capitalize on the friendly service that has been discussed by guests? Is there a way to compare guest feedback to that of competing hotels to really differentiate in the booking process? The data collected through APIs doesn't have to be limited to individual properties either. Large chains can glean insights about how consumers perceive their brand based on this type of information.

Regardless of hotel size, hotel leaders must recognize that guest reviews are an incredibly important part of the booking experience; our data shows that the only factor that has more impact than reviews is price. Finding ways to understand what's being said is critical to success, and APIs are often the easiest way to achieve this. .

External APIs
Many of the examples of APIs thus far have shown how companies can use APIs to learn about and improve various internal processes. This addresses about half of the use cases for APIs. Again, the most obvious use of an API in the travel industry is how hotels connect their PMS to OTAs in order to allow bookings, but there are many other use cases.

Many hotels are using APIs to create a pipeline of information that can be shared with their business partners (such as OTAs). For instance, a hotel that gathers post-stay guest feedback can then seamlessly send that information to the pages that their guests are viewing before they make a booking decision. Again, feedback is a powerful tool; more than 90% of booking decisions are informed by the online reviews that potential guests see.

Furthermore, hotels that solicit post-stay feedback can generally anticipate that the results of their surveys will be more positive than feedback that's left online; scoring based on survey results tends to be around 10% higher than those based on general online feedback. Piping this information to to booking engines and other partners allows hotels to put their best foot forward, and improve the chance of securing a guest's visit.

In late 2016, we launched our own integration solution, TrustYou Connect, to do exactly that. Companies such as FASTBOOKING, Cloudbeds and eRevMax were among the first 20+ companies to take advantage of the offering, which connected guest feedback with guest information. These companies were, in turn, able to help their hotel customers influence every step of a guest journey. Shortly after its launch, we expanded the program through a partnership with hotel marketing platform, Leonardo. All of this was accomplished using APIs.

How APIs Add Value to Hardware
Something that may be less intuitive, when discussing APIs, is how they can be used to decrease the total cost of ownership for hotel technology. Technology changes rapidly, but not every hotel has the financial wherewithal (to say nothing of the appetite) to do semi-annual technology refreshes to keep up. This is where APIs can play a critical role for hotels. A well written API will allow a hotel to extend the use of their core systems; it will be easy for new technology to "talk to" core systems through APIs.

In practical terms, let's say a hotel wants to switch its choice of CRM platform. In doing so, they need to make a few considerations.

  1. How easy will it be to move data from an outgoing system to an incoming system (is it a matter of downloading from an old system, and then uploading to the new one)?
  2. How will the hotel continue adding new information to the new system (is there a way to automate the process)?

For the latter consideration, it's possible that the new CRM system will be able to incorporate data from the hotel's PMS, meaning that the process can be automated and the most up-to-date information about individual guests is available in one location.

APIs can be complex in nature, and for anyone outside of programmers, can be intimidating to consider. This article isn't meant to advocate for one API over another, nor is it meant to spark hotel leadership into having their tech teams open up their systems to connect to any website or service with an API.

It is, however, meant to show hotel executives that there are options available that can open up a wide range of possibilities. While most hotel executives would agree that placing a spotlight on positive reviews is a good idea, many would be hard pressed to provide guidance on how to make that happen, or even how to start thinking about making that happen. Ideally, having read this primer, you'll be able to frame the discussion with your technology team; rather than asking them how to get more value out of Twitter data, you may be able to ask 'how can we use Twitter's API to gain actionable data?'.

This article was reprinted with permission from Hotel Business Review.

About Benjamin Jost

Benjamin Jost is co-founder and chief executive officer of TrustYou. Benjamin is an expert on social semantic search and is leading the big data revolution in hospitality. Prior to TrustYou, he spearheaded the Southern European M&A team for one of the world’s leading renewable energy providers and oversaw hundreds of investment cases covering a profusion of renewable technologies. He started his career in venture capital at Siemens Venture Capital and Xange Capital. During his studies he conducted extensive research into the security aspects of mobile applications systems and organic RFID. Benjamin holds a MsC in engineering from the University of Technology in Munich and conducted research at the ENST Paris and the University of Washington Business School, Seattle. 

Contact: Katharina Sickora / +498954802925

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