The following article is taken from The 21st International Hotel Investment Forum 2018. March 5 – 7 2018 at the InterContinental, Berlin, Germany
IHIF 2018 – Programme Overview – Day 3 Summary
The first day of the 21st International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF), taking place at the InterContinental hotel in Berlin was opened by Alexi Khajavi, Managing Director EMEA & Chair of Hospitality + Travel Group, Questex. Khajavi welcomed Peter Verhoeven, Global Director of Partner Services at Booking.com to the stage in the mornings Tech Innovation Keynote session. Khajavi asked Verhoeven whether he thought the hospitality industry was innovative. Verhoeven replied that whilst there was a lot going on, “there is more to be done as to how to scale the industry through technology”. He understands people don’t want the repeat experience, they want a unique experience. When asked where Booking.com decide where to innovate Verhoeven replied that all decisions where customer centric, indeed “everything you do has to be customer centric. If a customer doesn’t find what they want in your store, they will leave your store.” Booking.com sell 1.5m room nights every 24 hours, that’s the equivalent of 18 room nights per second. With business operating at that level, Verhoeven understands “you need to innovate all the time to keep pace.” The organisation has several small, autonomous teams on the product side drive to innovation. These teams comprised 5-8 people, maximum. Booking.com measure innovation based on the number of experiments you do, with experimentation encouraged. Verhoeven said: “lots of experiments means you learn and then the collective knowledge gained is useful.” On the subject of failed experiments, Verhoeven and Booking.com are content to know that 9/10 experiment may fail and “we need to accept that we fail more often than we succeed. Hopefully we don’t make the same failure twice. That is how you go forward, slowly and gradually.”
Looking forward Verhoeven believes that “personalisation is a big thing and the learning on that is huge. We need to know what the most adequate response to the question the customer asks.” He suggests Booking.com “ingrain innovation in our culture” and this occurs both on the customer side and the partner side, in order to ensure inventory.” He also stated that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are ways of moving faster in innovation.
The following session discussed investment in technology and was lead by Alex Notay, Director of Product and Service Innovation at Places for People who was joined by Arthur Chapin, Chief Product Officer, Brand Expedia Group, Eric Pearson, Rufino Pérez, Chief Operations Officer and Global Transformation Leader, NH Hotel Group and Paul Roberts, CEO, Village Hotel Club. The session began by discussing what is innovation to which Roberts replied that it was “what is the consumer looking for, what are they trying to achieve.” Pérez agreed and said that for NH, F&B was the most relevant area of the business for customers, so they focus their innovation there. Roberts said Virtual Reality (VR) was going to be significant to innovation in the future and allow consumers to see the experience before purchase. Chapin agreed that innovation should be used to solve “the main customer problem” and that “understanding voice technology, that new medium of interaction, will change people’s expectations very quickly.” He also agreed with his fellow speakers, saying “every investment in innovation is based on a consumer need.”
Rather than distance or remove the personal aspect from the industry, Chapin said “technology can increase the personal aspect”. He referenced the intelligent (and compliant) gathering and analysis of data to allow operators to far better understand their customers than in recent years. Notay pointed out that “technology’s ability to interpret inference is the biggest challenge” but this will improve as technology, and its implementation, improves.
Echoing the previous session, Pérez agreed that “failure is needed. You can’t improve if you are not failing and testing things. You are still understanding and learning.”
Looking at block chain and its implication on the travel sector, Chapin believes “blockchain has the ability to completely change how distribution is done. For a long time travel has had central systems to book, etc. Distribution will be the first (area to be affected) but there will be many more.” Pérez believes “one of the main opportunities will be related to loyalty programmes.”