Data scientists should be at the heart of hotels, according to Terri Scriven, head of hospitality and tourism at Google.
Speaking on a panel of hospitality experts, at the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin, about how customers' needs will be met in the future, Sriven said hotels have websites rich in data that they are not using to improve the guest experience. A data scientist role should be a "key, core, respected" position integrated into businesses, rather than a "standalone, reporting function", she urged.
Although Scriven quoted Whitbread, Hilton, Meliá and AccorHotels as companies leading the way in hospitality data analysis, she added: "Hotel websites leave much to be desired. There's a reason OTAs are winning out."
She acknowledged "beautiful images are important", but emphasised that the focus should be on how to convert website visitors into customers, for example, by using data to customise suggested hotels to stay at, or the overall offer on the site, to each visitor.
"It's not that expensive or time intensive and you can outsource it," she said, adding that although 50% of web use is now mobile, hotel mobile sites are often not responsive or slow to load, and therefore losing valuable custom.
Marco Roca, chief development officer at Hard Rock International, stressed that hotels are not using data to anticipate even the most basic customer needs. As someone travelling from America, he said that his need for a plug adaptor to enable his devices to fit European sockets could be anticipated at check-in.
André Gerondeau, chief operations officer at MeliÁ¡ Hotels International, suggested that when it comes to data, hotels try to "move away from demographics and towards psychographics," and attempt to cater to guest needs not defined by their age.
Several panellists, however, underlined that the low-tech way is sometimes the best way. "Technology is an enabler not an end," said Bhushan, emphasising that data needs to be used effectively, "data is only as good as what you do with it."
And Hannes Spanring, chief executive of Meininger Hotels, urged hoteliers not to over-complicate things: sometimes asking guests what their needs are, and asking the right questions, can be the best way to meet them.
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