By Holden Madison

What does it take to efficiently work with data in hospitality? Four data experts weigh in.

EHL recently welcomed three hospitality companies actively engaging in data science during a panel discussion hosted by Associate Professor Alessandro Inversini. Participants shared their experience working with data, its opportunity and its pitfalls.

Suzanne_Ward_AccorChecking in With Data Suzanne Ward, Director Enterprise Solutions Integration MEA – AccorHotels

For a hospitality giant like Paris-based AccorHotels – which has 4,200 hotels, operating in 100 countries and a total room-capacity of 570,000 hotel rooms – data has been tapped into inside and outside its hotels and accounts for a major driver of change, not only from a distribution and revenue managements systems perspectives but to capture valuable data points and translate insights around customers' demand.

If data can help better predict average lead times, peak dates and blackout periods, effective data usage is really about getting to understand your customers and build accurate profiles – from room preferences to welcome amenities.

And how does a group with a gigantic amount of data collection points across 20 brands accurately link customer profiles together?

According to Ward, it is first and-foremost all about an organization's ability to make data collection continuous, granular and take actionable measures upon data collection.

It means not only handling small details at best – for instance, collecting the correct customer contact information without grammatical errors makes a difference in daily operations – but being able to pinpoint key consumer behaviors and linking it to data collection opportunities. Case in point, having data readily available on guests’ spending habits can move the needle on profitability, and knowing what potential guests are searching for before they actually book a trip is precious information that can continuously refine marketing tactics, not only to attract the right consumer segments but also to match them with the right brand profiles.

Pinpointing data collection opportunities is only a first step. Tapping into more traditional methods of insights generation such as focus groups can help prioritize guest recognition and experience personalization as top factors to act upon for guests. Then the full data opportunity really comes to life through customer journey mapping – from pre-arrival to post-stay and an organization's ability to establish end-to-end touchpoints and positive moments of truth.

The intricacies of data management also raise their own set of challenges. A recent example in hospitality was when the general Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was issued in the European Union. That not only meant adapting the data collection systems in hotels, but effectively training people handling data, across various layers and functions of the organization.

And what about the future in data analytics in hospitality? Ward believes that by freeing up data-crunching tasks to artificial intelligence, employees will be able to think more analytically and critically.

Vincent_Schaffer_Teo_Stocco_SmoodDelivering Data Hot Vincent Schaeffer and Teo Stocco – Smood SA

At Smood – the food-delivery company serving 11 markets in Switzerland – data is a core element of doing business. Besides the app's user experience being designed with chefs, restaurant owners and of course customers in mind – making it as simple as possible for all parties – the more data the company is able to collect, the better sense it gets in terms of trends and behaviors amongst their customers.

By tapping into two dimensions of data – visible data such as the website's and app's usage or invisible data such as algorithms or APIs – the company has been able to aggregate it into models, which have become an essential part of making their product evolve to meet customers' needs. For instance, data models – combined with real time data from drivers' behaviors – are used and updated on an ongoing basis to determine when, where and how to assign car drivers to deliver food and better predicting road traffic bottlenecks to find faster routes.

So what's in store for the future Smood? Even more data it seems. Building on his company's competitive advantage in Switzerland, Stocco noted his previous work with Amazon and both him and his counterpart intend to capitalize on key lessons from the eCommerce giant, being the consistently using and adapting the data opportunity to new business cases.

Hampus_ljunggrenLike, Swipe, Subscribe for Data Hampus Ljunggren, Head of Business Development – Travel Appeal

Ljunggren, who works at data analytics firm Travel Appeal, shared his experience working with independent hotels and smaller-scale hospitality institutions. According to him, there is a trove of data that is generally not tapped into by hotels, with management sometimes thinking they simply don't have enough data to exploit or that they do not have the right skillset in-house to efficiently start activating existing data points.

To better serve customers, Ljunggren believes that companies must take an active approach, first by starting to empower the front line of a hotel and the staff in general to access guest information and making a data-centric approach part of their day-to-day. After a stay for instance, sharing guest reviews can prove extremely powerful to help the staff improve the quality of their service.

Ljunggren cited the example of the breakfast offering of the Dorchester Collection in Los Angeles. The company noted that 50% of clients had made an alteration when requesting a menu item for breakfast. Customers desired change, and Dorchester ditched their menu and implemented a menu-less breakfast. The result: simply satisfied customers.

Ljunggren’s best advice to hoteliers, restaurateurs, and hospitality professionals:

Start with your customers in mind. Do what your customer is asking for, not what you think is best for them.

Data in a nutshell

Think data quality, not quantity:

The quality of data collected (accurate, nimble, constantly updated) bears greater relevance today than the quantity of data received.

Build diverse a data workforce

Think about the diversity of your data team members' profiles and the variety of outcomes they can bring to the table: having a mix of technical experts (in-house or externally) goes without saying to lay out the foundations of data collection, but involving – in various capacity – data scientists as well business professionals and management can create the best business outcomes.

Make data work for everbody

So, we have data, right. What's in it for me? Having an internal communications plan to drive internal buy-in as well as clear guidelines for data usage (and restrictions) or performance dashboards accommodating various levels of use by internal stakeholders will go a long way to truly build a data culture within an organization.