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Article by Martin Soler

Food for thought: Deloitte's look at travel future, Google search is changing

Soler & Associates 15 May 2018
In addition to the two projects* I mentioned in last post there's one that I am particularly looking forward to, The Hotel Yearbook 2019, I'm honored to be the guest editor for this edition and we have been working with a bunch of exciting contributors such as KasselsKramer, citizenM, Ctrip, Paolo Torchio from Two-Roads Hospitality, Philippe Vaurs from Elegancia Hotels and many more. Digital marketing has changed from the pure performance and clicks that we used to associate with it. We'll cover topics like how brand building and brand integrity is now managed online. Excited to show it to everyone. *The two projects I mentioned are Tell. Trends a paid quarterly report of the trends in hotel marketing and you can get on the waiting list. And the Marketing Workshop for Hotel Technology Companies happening later this year.Food for thought.Google Maps becoming the ultimate travel appIt is arguable that Google Maps is the most used travel app. The reviews are growing at an incredible pace, the contributor community is actually a community with exclusive events at Google Offices and that's just a small part of it. With recommendations this is growing even more and removing the travelers "where should we eat tonight" struggle. For hotels and trips this eventually means more (paid) opportunities to get discovered at the right moments.ANALYSING GOOGLE TRAVEL APPSThe change in hotel searchHotel marketing has changed a lot over the last few years, the really short version is that today marketing a hotel is more about building a brand (through the experience) and great revenue management. The search for hotels is mostly about matching price, experience and location than it ever has been. As search platforms grow it more accessible building fewer generic hotels and more personalised experiences. There will always be tension between direct and third parties because third parties will try to lower costs to consumers and increase fees to partners, but they don't matter if one can charge the right price to the right guest.GOOGLE SEARCH AND HOTELSDeloitte looks at the future of tech in travel"Over the past two years, travel start-ups raised a cumulative $30 billion in funding - almost totalling the amount raised over the past 10 years." Deloitte's recent look into the future of travel tech is quite interesting and includes a very easy to understand overview of the 5 main sectors of travel technology that will shape the future: Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, Voice, Automation and Blockchain.WHAT TECH WILL SHAPE TRAVELPreparing for Voice tech in HotelsThat voice technology is coming to hotels is not new. We know it is coming, the problem with such new technologies is what should hoteliers do, today, to prepare for it when it comes. It isn't viable to invest into such technologies heavily today since we don't know where it will go. But if anything, online distribution has taught us that waiting it out is a bad idea. Because nobody knows exactly when and how it will change, the only thing to do now is get prepared. This article has some pragmatic steps to do to prepare for the coming changes.GETTING READY FOR VOICEMarketing Lessons from the Movie IndustryThe movie industry has built one of the most efficient marketing machines we know. The risks are huge, the costs are extraordinarily high and the product has a limited lifecycle. Many similar (but smaller) conditions exist in the hotel industry, so learning from some of their marketing ideas can only help. Even if they have the star power, budgets, storytelling and graphic teams that beat any hotel or hotel group, there is still something to learn.SPENDING MILLIONS
Article by Martin Soler

Food for thought: Tours and Activities, a fad? State of AI in travel and more stories

Soler & Associates 2 May 2018
With two exciting new projects on the way and a lot of travel, the newsletter has been delayed. The two projects are, Tell. Trends which is a paid quarterly report on the trends, possibilities and benchmarking ideas for the hotel technology and marketing industry. It will be published both online and in paper together with several independent thought leaders of the industry. The second one is The Marketing Workshop, for hotel technology companies. Which I have briefly mentioned before. And with no further ado, let's look at what is happening.Food for thought.Tours and Activities, a fad?The recent attention on Tours and Activities has made this one of the hottest trends in travel tech recently. Even Google is beta testing their own platform. Is this because growth in the hotel space is evening out or is it really the next big thing because guests want to spend more on experiences than great hotels. And should hotels turn to building better experiences and activities within?EVERYBODY WANT A PIECEHotel's data sharing problemWhile this may or may not be limited to the hospitality industry the problem (think costs, politics and archaic system) of data and sharing amongst technology providers is one of the biggest road blocks to building a better industry. As hotels consolidate into bigger and more efficient establishments they also lose a bit of soul. Much of that soul could be regained with better technology. If PMS see themselves as operating systems for hotels (huge maybe) then they also have a responsibility to ensure other developers can build on top of that.AN OVERVIEW OF THE PMS INTEGRATIONS SCENEAI is good for travel, and hotelsWe focus a lot of our AI discussions on replacing humans and robot driven hotels. But that's mainly a pessimistic look. Reality is that humans hate repetitive tasks and machines love them. Humans are brilliant at creativity and machines aren't. If AI and machines could remove all the repetitive tasks from humans in hotels we'd have people to turn most hotels into a level of service rarely experienced. And with the ever growing competition in the space our industry should be focusing on making exceptional experiences. That will require more people, who aren't busy doing repetitive tasks they don't like doing.THE AI IN TRAVEL STATE OF THE UNIONA look into hotel P&L changesThe upside of duopolies (Expedia/Booking or Google/Facebook) is that it becomes much easier to distribute. The downside is that they control costs and investors make pretty sure those costs always go up. A look into hotel P&Ls shows that agency fees are growing at 6% rate when room revenue is growing at 2%. The open question is when will this reach breaking point. The OTA/Direct battles aren't always rational, but they might become the best way for hotels to keep their profits.HOW MUCH LONGER WILL IT WORK?OTAs really have a PR problemIn reading a quite interesting analysis into the recent acquisition by Booking of Fareharbor one thing struck me, the writer doesn't seems to look at it as a great thing for the Tours and Activities industry. The OTAs haven't (and don't seem to be trying very hard) fixed their perception problem. Big product brands tend to build a passionate community around them (Nike, Apple, Disney etc) and people are proud to associate themselves with those brands. True, it is harder in the platform/marketplace space. But Amazon is succeeding at it. If customers don't care, then they're probably not really loyal anyhow. If suppliers don't care they just consider it a necessary evil. Maybe it's time OTAs work on building great relations with suppliers.AMAZON'S TREASURE TRUCKSMoving away from tech?Whilst AccorHotels has been busy acquiring companies over the last years it seemed the tech route was becoming more and more of a focus. Except, is it really? Is AccorHotels moving away from tech back to more hotel brands? Companies have a DNA, they're hardwired in a certain way. Changing the DNA isn't easy, the switch from a hotel company to a tech company is tremendous. Yet on a recent Skift interview Sebastien Bazin aspires to be alongside Google, Facebook in terms of consumer engagement. There is no doubt about the future potential and growth in doing that. The question is how to it.ACCOR ACQUIRES MOVENPICK
Article by Martin Soler

Food for thought: Accor, Hilton and more CEOs discuss brands, Google is really going the OTA route and more

Soler & Associates 3 April 2018
As an industry we're at the cusp of much more growth than the last many years. Not only is technology going to help improve guest experience, but it is making travelling easier. And the more people travel the more they need a place to stay. This week, some interesting thoughts and links that hopefully will help fuel some new ideas. Have a great week.Best, MartinBrand CEOs agree that brands are greatAre hotel brands the future or have they passed their prime. Hotel CEOs meeting at IHIF in Berlin and speaking to investors agreed that brands are great, that OTAs and guests love brands and want more of them. The arguments aren't totally wrong, but they do seem a little bit too "peaches and cream". The fact is for the majority of guests, the actual brand matters less than the comfort, price and location of the hotel. Obviously brands have better negotiation power with OTAs and suppliers, and there's a definite advantage. But it will take more than that to win the hearts of guests. One great hotel expert once told me the way to differentiate the hotel brand from another is the color of the curtains... I think he was being sarcastic.MORE OR LESS BRANDS?Google isn't an OTA, they sayI'm not a fan of the "is Google becoming an OTA" headline. But when I look at the evolution of their hotel search product (and how they are adding hotel+flights packages) it is just hard to stick with the line that they're just an advertising platform. The design, the way the filters are working and the whole tendency is moving much closer to the OTA than to the Advertising business. In advertising there's a concept of helping people discover products being advertised, which Google's hotel product lacks. It is more about monetizing after the guest has discovered. So no matter what they say and we try to think, the fact is the line between Google Hotels and OTAs is blurring more every day. But then again, who wants to go out to hotels today and say "Hi, we're a new OTA".GOOGLE HOTELS REDESIGNCost of Acquisition per Ad ChannelEverything has a price, also means everything has a cost. At the recent Fastbooking Digital Lab they shared an interesting slide I haven't seen before listing the cost of acquisition by hotel advertising channel. The results are quite interesting. I don't know how they came to those figures (did they factor in the agency costs?) but with this data and adding it to the other channels one could make a pretty good estimate of the various channels and where to invest the most.METASEARCH CHANNEL COSTSVoice for travel booking, it's complicatedThe possibilities for voice and chat systems in the travel space are huge. With the breadth of data that computers can analyse one could quite safely say that in 10-20 years this will make travel a much easier product to buy and it can help balance the over-tourism risks that loom over certain cities by proposing alternatives. The results would be quite good for all the secondary and tertiary locations that could see traffic grow tremendously. But for now, that remains a futurist vision. Because a) searching by voice is really weird and convoluted. Looking at a calendar of rates is so much easier for example and b) The understanding the questions are more often wrong than right. There is still a lot of work to be done there.STOP SHOUTING AT THAT THINGArtificial Intelligence, thoughtsFollowing the above piece, this very factual (if not too flattering) look at artificial intelligence in travel is quite correct. The problem with AI is we tend to expect it to get plugged in and revolutionize everything. It will most probably not happen that way. The truth is, AI will change everything and we will not notice the shift. Small incremental improvements in hotel websites managed by algorithms that learn and improve. Or pricing systems that become better at predicting upcoming surges and lows. In operations, systems that optimize the sequence of room cleaning based on guest habits, similar trends, upcoming occupants. All these systems exist already and bit by bit we're going to change a lot.THE TRUTH ABOUT AIThe evolution of Digital MarketingI was invited as the Guest Editor in Chief for the Hotel Yearbook 2018 that is coming out in October. It made me think hard and long about what is happening with Digital Marketing for hotels. The fact is that the days of looking at digital marketing as a pure clicks and conversions game are numbered. Digital marketing has grown up. Hyper optimising was great a few years ago during the "SEO gold rush" but those days are over. We're coming back to marketing basics of brand building, telling great stories. The question remains, how does one do that in the digital space?THE HOTEL YEARBOOK
Article by Martin Soler

Food for thought: What is Booking Doing? A report on Design in Tech. the ITB Keynotes & more

Soler & Associates 23 March 2018
What is Booking doing?It seems Booking knows that the OTA model will eventually be disrupted by someone or something. And it's not going to happen this year or next, but considering the fact that two large players are entering the market (Airbnb and Google's Hotel service) it seems only wise that for Booking to be testing a lot of new things. This recap by Sean at Skift should be published once a quarter to keep us normal people in the know of all that they are working on.BOOKING GOES TRAVEL AGENTITB: A lot has changed in 10 yearsITB used to have a love/hate relationship with hotel and travel tech. While being the biggest show for travel, the tech scene was pretty small and limited to the big players. The startups and other companies were relegated to side halls, really really far from the main scene. This year was quite different and it shows how much innovation in hotel and travel tech is becoming a mainstream concern. Was it all useful, no. But what is great is to see how the sector is growing and more importantly how busy the tech halls were. The keynotes are becoming more interesting as well. This article from Tnooz has a few of the best ones. Sadly, Airbnb's keynote was mainly a product pitch rather than real insights on where they are going or where the industry should be.DISCUSSING TRAVEL AT ITBGetting InspiredHaving managed plenty of social media campaigns for hotels, there typically comes a time in the day, week, month or career where one runs out of ideas of things to say or do to engage with one's audience as a hotel. But here's a brilliant resource for when that creative block happens, a resource of the best hotels currently on Instagram, sortable by country. Something to bookmark.THE INSTAGRAM LEADERSDesign in Tech Report 2018In the hotel industry our tech companies make software and applications. Most of them look functional (barely). They look like Google of the 1990s, when the only design guide for the company was, does it work. Building a marketing and brand positioning strategy for a company that hasn't understood the fundamentals of design is hard, extremely hard. Because the more exposure they get and the more people get to see the product, the less they will want to get the products. Good design isn't the paint that goes on the house after it is built, good design is the architecture and proper thinking of the house itself. The hotel and travel tech (think GDS) needs a lot of work to level up the standard in design. This extends to processes in hotels, check-in (and out) is an extremely badly designed process that has been replicated by an entire industry. Now's a pretty good time to upgrade.DESIGN IS ABOUT DE$IGNSecurity, The Questions Nobody WantsIn speaking with hotel tech startups I've come to see just how bad the security level is with hotel PMS. Discussions of accessing databases and exporting them with no friction are pretty scary, but also common. It seems that on premise systems are the easiest ones to access. The big hotels normally have processes in place to avoid that, the smaller ones not. Just getting a local IT person to check it out is a great start. The point being it is rarely spoken of, and most definitely a topic.ON PREMISE IS VULNERABLE BUT FIXABLEStart with WhatYes, Simon Sinek's legendary TED talk on Start with Why, is great. But it is also really misunderstood. Starting with Why is a common storytelling rule. One builds the reason for the hero's current state and thus builds empathy with the hero and where they want to go. But so many people think "Start with Why" is a marketing strategy. It isn't, it's just how one tells stories. When building a positioning strategy, a tag line, a product marketing plan one should start with What, what is the product, what is the company. Then one explains How, how the company achieves it, or how the company works. Then one explains Why one does it. And now the audience is listening and can believe. So start with Why when building the story, but start with What when figuring out the positioning strategy.START WITH WHYPS: I'm setting up TELL WORKSHOP in July, a 3 day marketing and sales workshop for hotel tech companies. More will be announced later. Email me if you're interested, it will be limited to 15 companies.
Article by Martin Soler

Food for thought: Airbnb has a killer feature, discussing loyalty (again), what is AI for hotel marketing and more

Soler & Associates 6 March 2018
With ITB coming up in just a couple of days this is going to be an exciting week. I'm hoping to discover some new innovative solutions, or at least confirm those I've heard of. Hoping this will not just be an ITB marketing buzzword show. But even if you're not going, I hope this week's newsletter lives up to your expectations. Best, MartinLoyalty: Will we solve it this year?Existing loyalty schemes are ripe for disruption. So many parts are seeming stale that we need to look into new methods. The main use is to give discounts and perks to those who stay often, that small segment who travel much. But wouldn't it be more interesting to find ways to make the huge segment of less frequent guests loyal? Then there's the issue of identifying guests. But we're in 2018, having to recognize guests with a number or a card is so 1980s. There are phones, emails, cookies and plenty of other ways to recognize guests. The question is will we manage to create a new and better system this year?BUYING LOYALTYEmbracing Artificial Intelligence for HotelsArtificial intelligence is cool. It must be cool because all the cool kids are talking about it. But as one leaves the tech sphere and returns to real life (where most hoteliers live) one realizes it isn't quite as revolutionary. It doesn't fix leaks, it doesn't make beds and all those things. But still it can help generate more revenue and optimize the revenue we make. Maybe the point isn't AI but what it can do (for real, not in a science fiction novel). This great post from Triptease on automation is worth a read.FREEING UP STAFF FOR GUESTSWhy Brands Win?Related to loyalty is brand. Building brands is long hard work, but it pays off with repeat business and better margins. The opposite is commoditization. Every hotel is a brand, even chains are actually comprised of many small brands. Independent hotels are as much brands as the chains on a different scale. It is something that too many forget. Being a place to sleep is being a commodity. The fallacy of trying to be generic keywords in Google is ultimately chasing the goal of being a commodity. So here's a simple writeup of building a brand from a startup founder who did it wrong and then did it right.BUILDING A BRAND IN 6 STEPSA lesson in app design for travelAt some point or another we are or will be faced with designing things. Either a website, an application, a product or a hotel. If we got into industrial age a century ago, we've probably moved into the design age now. Everyone should have an idea of the process that goes into designing things. This case study of how a team of designers re-designed the Lonely Planet app is a good place to start.WHO WHY WHAT WHEREAirbnb's "killer feature" is communityThe one feature Airbnb has which no other OTA can compare with isn't inventory, budget, technology or an upcoming IPO. It's community. The OTAs, having been in the 1990s, are great at e-commerce and conversions. But building communities was never part of that DNA. Airbnb on the other hand, came along after the internet had evolved from an information platform to a community platform. The question now is will that community be stronger than $5b yearly ad budget?FUTURE OF AIRBNB AS AN OTA, DEBATE

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