Center for Hospitality Research Hosts Panel on Reimagining Travel 

Industry leaders convened for a panel titled Reimagining Travel: Reinventing the Travel Experience & Using Data to Boost Recovery. 

By: Prameela Kottapalli
A woman and child hurry

The virtual keynote, hosted by the Center for Hospitality Research and moderated by School of Hotel Administration lecturer Dave Roberts ’87 (ENG), MS ’88 (ORIE), featured experts in the travel and guest intelligence industries. The event explored the analytics, use cases, and organizational challenges that will shape travel’s rebound in 2021 and beyond.

Meet the panel: Host Dave Roberts, lecturer at SHA, Antonio Figueiredo, senior director at Salesforce, Vivek Bhogaraju at Expedia Group, and Framcis Davidson of Sonder Corporation. Vivek Bhogaraju, and Francis Davidson are pictured here.

Setting the stage

The panelists kicked off the keynote by defining guest experience data as a comprehensive means of gauging and contextualizing customer satisfaction through Artificial Intelligence (AI), and performance revenue data as a means of future-proofing revenue management to keep the focus on maximizing demand by over-indexing and leaning more toward future-looking data and macro and market level insights to power those recommendations, as a shift from looking from historical patterns and context to more future-looking data to maximizing demands and thereby maximizing revenue.

Navigating the travel slump

Davidson offered a perspective of “optimism grounded in reality” to explain how companies can navigate recovery in the travel industry. He emphasized the importance of acknowledging people’s fears and waiting for the pandemic to abate. “When the pandemic is under control, the floodgates open,” he said. “There is an argument out there that there is a lot of pent up demand, so much so that 2021 and 2022 travel will exceed that of 2019.” Once customers do decide to get back on the road, businesses can potentially allay anxieties by offering a contactless experience that allows guests to interact with brands digitally, rather than in-person. Traditional revenue management tactics relying on historical data and patterns are no longer relevant due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. Bhogaraju noted that Expedia Group is encouraging its lodging and vacation rental partners to lean on future-looking insights and metrics to evaluate how market demand is evolving over time.

 Utilizing guest intelligence and revenue performance insights

The conversation then shifted to how businesses may be able to leverage newly localized demand to boost recovery. By centering marketing insight around customer emotion and generating relevant and dynamic content through data-managed platforms, companies can create meaningful channels to increase revenue. “We’ve seen studies (neurosciencemarketing.com) showing that using campaigns with emotional content performed about twice as well as those using an only rational approach,” Figueiredo recounted. “The ‘why’ factor is important here, so when you create a marketing campaign you really know exactly what message to present to customers.”  Bhogaraju added that understanding the changing source markets for properties and driving incremental demand from these new source markets is a very practical example of how the convergence of guest intelligence and revenue performance practices can drive revenue and profitability.

 Performance marketing in practice

Offering advice in response to the fact that industry leaders have so little in their control right now despite being tasked with stimulating demand, Davidson described the strategies that Sonder has deployed since March of 2020 to generate profit and drive revenue via performance marketing. Given the stagnancy of travel and urban markets, the company found opportunities in guest stays of 14 days or more, dedicating a marketing campaign to these extended stay efforts and related value propositions.

“When the world zigs, we thought it would be a good idea to zag, and to look for pockets of demand that we’d be particularly well-suited to fulfill,” Davidson said, adding that the vast majority of Sonder’s portfolio features apartment-style offerings suitable for extended stays.

While such extended stay strategies may not be scalable for some brands, they embody tactics that can be particularly powerful in generating profit during the travel industry’s low season.

Challenges to data management

After answering a series of attendee questions addressing the creative means by which industry practitioners can generate revenue, the panel dove deep into the notion of using data management systems to enhance the customer experience.

Figueiredo postulated as to why some companies face impediments in navigating data management, attributing these challenges to the lack of flexibility, integration, and contextual data in many hospitality systems. “Some companies fail to build that 360 [degree] view of the guest as they don’t have the comprehensive mechanisms to bring data from disparate solutions like property management, from revenue management, or any other relevant systems, and to glue that information together to bring into the guest profile.” Bhogaraju added that in order to deploy revenue performance and guest intelligence initiatives in a sustainable manner, practitioners must develop these initiatives with a focus on the outcome. Driving incremental value to the organization and/or its stakeholders (such as guests or travelers) needs to be at the heart of these initiatives.

Travel in 2021 and beyond

Davidson discussed how Sonder, by digitizing customer interaction through a mobile app service, enhances the guest experience by allowing guests to seamlessly access services and engage with such services while off-property. Digitizing and automating these processes also creates opportunities for reducing operating costs, without compromising the quality of a customer’s stay.

“It provides an opportunity to resolve any issue that might arise in a way that guests might not feel comfortably actually reaching out to the front desk about,” Davidson said, asserting that the millennial generation may glean comfort from a digitized experience.

Digital guest engagement also produces valuable data; every interaction is saved and can be analyzed to improve the guest experience. Moreover, AI and machine learning present possibilities for Sonder to turn insight into automated solutions and additional user-friendly features.

Figueiredo concluded that data protection and privacy are necessary and important considerations for companies that are digitizing the guest experience.

Takeaway

The COVID-19 pandemic has created upheaval in the travel industry. Bhogaraju concluded, “We have to work to ensure guest intelligence and revenue performance insights are all-pervasive and all-inclusive. Reminding commercial teams to balance sustainable revenue strategy with guest centricity will ensure a longer-term recovery. Giving teams timely and accurate guest intelligence and revenue performance insights is a good first step. Making sure that it is actionable and embedded in day-to-day decision-making is the ultimate goal.

Recovery from the impact of Covid-19 is unpredictable and may take longer than we would like. But we have an opportunity to design what that recovery looks like and manage the impact. This is within reach and in our hands. The question is who among us will stay focused, execute with confidence, and stay obsessed with the traveler, to come out stronger on the other side.” Watch the full recording of this webinar to learn more.

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Prameela Kottapalli

Prameela Kottapalli

Prameela Kottapalli is a staff writer for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business Centers & Institutes. She is a sophomore majoring in the College Scholar Program in Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences. She is part of several initiatives including migrant justice advocacy, leadership of her professional fraternity and social sorority, Outdoor Odyssey, and the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars Program. She is passionate about telling unique stories and enjoys writing about the cutting-edge innovation of the Centers & Institutes.

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