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Travel must go on digital journey

Hotels rely on digital channels in order to generate leads for them which they then convert into sales. But, says RICHARD MULLINS, the main problem the face at the moment is to gather and use the data from third-party sites like

Hotels rely heavily on digital channels to generate leads and convert them into sales. Their major challenge and opportunity is to gather and leverage guest data more effectively in an industry currently ruled by third-party aggregators such as Expedia, and

During our recent roundtable with representatives from hotel chains and boutique hotels in South Africa, we heard about how important these third-party sites are in generating leads for hotels. To remain relevant in a market where potential guests start nearly any search for accommodation online, hoteliers have no choice but to make their inventory available on these sites.

However, at the same time, most hoteliers are eager to boost their margins by getting repeat business, and cross- and up-selling their services and offerings from partners such as car rental and leisure firms. The challenge lies in that these goals can only be met by engaging with customers directly and in a more personalized manner.

But to get this right, it is important to be able track guests across multiple touch points and engage with them in more meaningful ways. Some examples of these touch points and the related technologies include the content management system, display campaigns, social media, email, web analytics, and even offline channels such as call centres. Increasingly, we’re also seeing mobile apps in the mix, ones that streamline the booking process, or that even allow guest to order drinks and meals once they’re at the hotel itself.

The challenge is to link all the data from the touch points into a cohesive view, one that allows the teams to understand their customer journey and how they can start to optimise the engagement with the customer across channels..

This will help them to offer richer, more integrated customer experiences. For example, they can streamline the booking process for a regular business traveller to deliver the sort of convenience and ease he or she might expect. Or they could bundle and up-sell outings or adventure sports packages to leisure travellers.

To get to the point where it can offer a seamless, integrated customer experience, the hotelier will need to ensure that it has a view of each individual guest that spans multiple touch points. This requires investment in the technologies needed to mend the data fractures between its systems and channels.

The long-term rewards of engaging directly with guests and turning them into loyal, repeat visitors will justify this investment.

* Richard Mullins, Middle East & Africa director at Acceleration

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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