They say that data is the new oil. The giants that deal in data include Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – and they also happen to be the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Industrial giants such as GE and Siemens now sell themselves as data firms. But which companies are the big data distilleries in tourism?
Smartphones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable. Whether you are going for a run, watching TV or even just sitting in traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace—more raw material for the data distilleries. But what about going on vacations? What data trace do you leave when you travel? Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy, but who sees what happens when you travel?
The travel and tourism industry is one of the world's largest industries with a global economic contribution (direct, indirect and induced) of over 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2016. In 2016, the top earning travel companies were hotel online booking companies, Expedia and Priceline (booking.com), with sales of $60.8 billion, and Priceline at $55.5 billion respectively. But you do so much more on a vacation other than booking a hotel right? Where is the rest of the data hiding? Many data scientists say that most data ends up sitting in silos. So this must surely be the case with travel. Expedia and Priceline the Hotel booking companies hold the booking data. Local taxi companies or Uber may hold the taxi data. The local museum or theme park where you buy the tickets may hold the ticket purchasing data. The local restaurants you go too may hold the data about what food you buy. Then what about what happens in the hotel, where does that data go? How long are you in the room? What time did you get there, what time did you check-out? What do you watch on TV? Do you use the gym? Do you purchase breakfast or drinks at the bar? What temperature do you change the thermostat too? When do you turn on the lights?
You could probably say that travel data is crude and unrefined. But it doesn’t have to be. And where is the data? Well Hotels are sitting on it, and mostly doing nothing with it. Hotels are gold mines of data – but the only way they can tap into that data mine is if they turn their hotels smart. Its smartphones apps and the internet that make data abundant, and valuable. But just offering a basic app with one purpose such as booking the hotel is not going to work. Research firm L2 found that hotel mobile apps with multiple functions do better than those with just one purpose when it comes to rankings on the Apple App Store. The firm analyzed 311 big hotel brand apps in its August “Hotels: Mobile Innovation 2017” report, finding that while 90 percent of big hotel brands have their own mobile apps, only 14 percent of them ranked in the top 1,500 travel apps in the Apple App Store. Meanwhile, the Hilton Honors app and Marriott’s app were the only ones to rank in the top 30 in the travel category of the Apple App Store – and these happen to be the only hotel apps offering digital keys, and mobile self check-in.
Hotels stand right at the crossroads now of a new data era. They can choose to become data barons – that is they can make their hotels smart – not just putting a basic app in the store for bookings only, and hope that people download it. They have to be smart when they make their hotels smart – they have to offer a range of smart features such as digital keys, mobile self check-in, app controls of TV, lights, electricity. And then they can also offer upsells too, and even have a go at capturing data by offering such things as discounts/info at local attractions, discounts/info at local restaurants, info and links to the local taxi’s or Uber, and so on and so forth. By getting smart, the hotels can not only capture data in their own hotel, but they can also capture data about what goes on all around their hotel too.
By collecting more data, any firm, whether it’s a hotel or Facebook, has more scope to improve its products, which attracts more users, generating even more data, and so on. For example, the more data Tesla gathers from its self-driving cars, the better it can make them at driving themselves—part of the reason the firm, which sold only 25,000 cars in the first quarter, is now worth more than GM, which sold 2.3million. So how about it hotels, are you ready to get smart about smart hotels, and start data mining?