Hospitality Tech: an environment of unnatural selection
Not so long ago I found myself on stage at the Direct Booking Summit in Berlin. The event itself surprised me.
First, there was the well-framed and even better-marketed singular focus of Triptease towards the direct channel. Not a lot of companies can convey and build on this message so clearly (so, kudos to them for that). The speakers included the likes of Google, as well as hoteliers who 'had done it' - both camps sharing their entertaining and genuine wisdom, without holding back. It was very good - I would recommend DBS to anyone.
In preparation for my part, I revisited a few of my favourite books, including Ian Ayres' called Super Crunchers. It is quite interesting to see how what was a cutting edge book at the time, (originally published in 2003, and then again in 2007 if I recall correctly) reads today. In it, Ayres spoke with reverence on some then brand-new emerging technologies, such as Amazon, personalising (for the first time, really) content to each user, based on the behaviour of others "like them”. This was cutting edge stuff!
Funnily enough, he also made extensive reference to another relatively new technology, cookies!
I couldn't help thinking that technology products and ideas, are created, and have to survive, in an intensely Darwinian environment of technological natural selection. 20 years in the technology world is eons! In this time, flash technology has come and gone, cookies are on their way out (thanks EU!), cold-fusion is not a Macromedia product, everybody stopped using their laptops in favour of iPhones, and Steve Jobs is slowly replaced in our hearts by Elon Musk. A lot has changed.
And yet, in this intensely competitive technological multiverse, where nothing stays the same long enough for over-50s humans to have a chance to understand using it before it looks completely different again... the direct bookings problem remains unresolved.
Maybe problems don't have to evolve. They can just remain unchanged, until someone comes around and solves them. But could it really be that simple?
Well, yes and no. Nobody has solved the direct booking problem, because the indirect channels remain keenly motivated to stay on top, and because the environment within which 'the battle for direct business' takes place changes faster than solutions are delivered. It is like playing football whilst technology 'competitors' move the goalposts, whilst technological innovation changes the turf under your feet and alters the rules of the game, all at the same time.
A hotelier now fights for bookings in an environment of unprecedented erratic behaviour of demand, on the backdrop of a 'weird' economy. He deals with owners who don't know how much is reasonable to expect, and all this in a global village of utter geopolitical insanity.
There has been a huge growth and mix in channels, technologies have evolved and complication of options a hotelier has to choose from. Today the expectations of a booker are hugely higher to what they used to be. OTAs and hotel chains are certainly pushing independent hotelier technology providers forward, but fragmentation on that field means that only so much can be delivered.
The rise of METAs, the careful encroachment of OTA space by Google which stresses their business models, the growth of some well known CRS companies - mainly through acquisitions - to amorphous value sucking conglomerates that have much more important things to worry about than servicing the independent hotelier, the explosion of digital marketing techniques which are frankly hard to follow, the digital marketing companies' range of offerings, the refusal of an unhealthy proportion of old-dog consultants to learn new tricks and consequentially leaving independent hoteliers in the dark, and the hopeless complexity of influencing SEO listings despite what you may be told by people who are not served by accepting the truth, all make it really difficult for the correct message reaching even the eager ears of those that turn up to these events to learn.
The complexity of what is happening will only increase. We will simply (sometimes painfully) have to adapt. My advice is to continue going to these events, and to continue trying to learn. Your hotel exists in the technology world as much as it does in the physical world. Even being able to know enough to select your experts wisely is a huge performance differentiator for your future.
It is not easy, but if it was, everyone would do it.