NATIONAL REPORT—There has never been a time in the industry in which hoteliers had access to more data. But accessible and actionable aren’t the same—and with all of the information coming in from social profiles, email marketing, website statistics, booking engines and other data sources, it can be difficult for owners and operators to compile it all in a way that points to real solutions to improve hotel performance.
According to Stuart Butler, COO of Fuel, a hotel marketing agency that specializes in providing e-commerce solutions for the travel industry, the biggest challenge hoteliers face is the disparate systems they are using, which, oftentimes, are not integrated well or use different methods of measurement. “The savviest hotelier will log in to several different systems and manually combine data into a coherent report,” he said. “This is time-consuming and also leads to a high risk of inaccuracy. Meanwhile, others take the numbers they see at face value and end up having to make decisions on incomplete information. In the world of marketing, the latter can result in multiple advertising channels taking credit for the same booking. This becomes increasingly problematic when you factor in bookings that begin online but go on to convert as a phone reservation. Most marketing tools don’t factor offline bookings into their ROI calculations.”
Patrick Norton, VP of sales & marketing, Brittain Resorts & Hotels, agreed. “We have multiple properties, and each one uses several marketing tools and providers,” he said. “We have a lot of data, but it is sometimes difficult to extract insights. We used to spend a lot of time trying to reconcile the information between different systems. This was time-consuming for our team. More importantly, the uncertainty that came from having conflicting data points made it harder to make decisions.”
Information overload was a problem Fuel had itself, which was the impetus behind the Fuel Gauge analytics dashboard. “It started life as an internal project to save our staff time when managing our clients’ budgets,” Butler said. “We were spending a lot of time having to jump between a variety of tools and systems to pull reports. We would then manually aggregate the data in order to determine which campaigns were most effective. We immediately saw the value that the dashboard created by aggregating and normalizing the data into a single application. This allowed us to make faster and smarter marketing decisions, and we quickly realized that our clients would benefit from the same tool.”
The user logs in to a single dashboard, which is customized to show the precise metrics that matter most to them. The system is flexible both in terms of what data is aggregated, as well as who gets to see what. “What data matters to the marketing team is different than what the GM or the owner wants to see,” Butler said. “All of that is configurable and can be modified in real time.
“By aggregating data from social media channels, the property website, TripAdvisor, the property management system, email campaigns, Google Ads, search engine ranking software, guest satisfaction surveys and more into a single tool, hotels are now able to see correlations between data that was previously invisible,” he continued.
For Brittain Resorts & Hotels, a simple and effective solution was needed. “We knew we wanted a solution where we could aggregate our data into a single location. We evaluated several platforms before testing and choosing this product,” Norton said. “Primarily, we liked the fact that it could pull data from our PMS, and that the KPIs were hotel-centric. This meant we didn’t have to spend a lot of time customizing our reports. It just worked.”
Norton added, “It saves us time, provides us with more insight, and helps us to make more educated decisions when it comes to how we are spending our marketing dollars. In addition, the team at Fuel has been really open to our input related to feature requests, and we’ve been able to help shape the product to meet our needs.”
There are many ways the dashboard can help hotels improve performance. “A problem that used to occur for our clients was that we would see a drop in conversion rate on the property website,” Butler said. “The natural instinct is to start evaluating the website for errors and changes. This could take time and often would not provide clarity regarding the root cause. With the dashboard, we can combine the website data with the PMS data, and now see a correlation between the drop in website conversions at the same time an increase occurred in bookings from third-party channels. Having this additional dimension of information allows the property to quickly determine that the issue was caused by a rate being reduced on the third-party channels, but not on the property’s own website. This parity issue can now quickly be identified and resolved, whereas it used to take days in some cases.”
Butler noted that, while parity issues are among the most common problems solved, there are other ways hoteliers have benefited from the dashboard. “We aggregate guest survey data and can show reports broken down by a specific unit number,” he said. “This allows the property to identify patterns related to complaints staying in specific rooms. We had a client who noticed that all the rooms that were the responsibility of a specific housekeeper were getting negative feedback. In researching the problem, they determined that the housekeeper had not received adequate training and were able to rectify the problem, which resulted in an increase in average review scores.”
For his part, Norton added, “We have been able to identify campaigns that are underperforming and reallocate budgets to campaigns that are generating a better ROI. On the flip side, we have also been able to combine phone, website and mobile app data, which has given us the ability to see the full impact both online and offline. In some cases, there have been campaigns that we would have eliminated in the past, but we have kept due to the additional visibility provided by the dashboard. We now get a 360-degree picture of what’s going on, which eliminates the guesswork and makes it much easier for us to budget.” HB