Report on Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) Workshop on room types
Ever had that experience where you think you have booked one room type on an OTA and actually end up with something completely different at your destination? Often something that is so unsatisfactory that you spend a great deal of time and energy trying to get a good fix for the problem with hotel staff.
The booking glitch occurs because each hotel has its own categorisation of room types, but when these room types are contracted to tour operators, online travel agents, GDS’s and other travel distributors, some of the detail of each specific room type is then coded as a standard twin, double or single and the specific detail offered at each hotel is often lost. That is the information containing sea views, internal views, mountain views, smoking rooms and a whole plethora of other options is swept away, in the drive to make a booking easy and quick to make on your tablet or smart phone. For tour operators that tend to operate on fixed contracts, this isn’t so much of an issue as if a non-standard hotel has extra features in the room, such as suite, extra bed, sofa etc. a person expecting a standard twin may often be surprised to receive room extras and apparent upgrades rather than a lower standard of accommodation as the tour operators err on the side of caution. However, for the client who has booked with an OTA, the non-smoking room and the sea view may have evaporated. How then can the booking journey be made easier for the client. TTI explored this very problem at a workshop held in June, Thirty one travel experts came together to see if there was a viable technology solution to create an easier match/mapping for room types offered by hotels to echo those room types ultimately displayed online. The day was broken down into a series of sessions. Firstly the problem was explained to the group and a break-out brain storming session followed. The substance that came back from the brainstorming included the following observations: -API information is always presented to the end user i.e. the hotel -The need to satisfy the customer wish list -There is usually a B2C front end -Agents become quite adept at smoothing over booking mismatches -If a customer books last minute and is effectively getting the last of the availability they have to appreciate that they are essentially travelling economy! -Availability is distribution driven -Unique products drive lack of standardisation -There are challenges to face before mapping and de-duping room types can take place Tim Wright, chairman of TTI, summed up his approach to addressing the specific problem into three distinct categories;- 1.Inventory – what’s on offer 2.Qualifier – extra’s, sea views, showers/ bathrooms etc. 3.Rate Plan – what the rooms actually sold for For each hotel, the available rooms can be assigned universal room codes, these can be embedded into ‘meta data’. As ‘meta data tags’ are searchable items for Google, the most relevant room types will then appear in search results for each hotel. Tour operators have a much greater responsibility to get the room availability right than OTAs that currently have very little responsibility for the booking, even if the customer does end up with a mismatched room at the destination. Steve Dobson of ATCORE suggested: ‘Standardise the common room types and deal with the soft options, i.e. sea views, balconies etc. at a later stage’. Howard Rosenthal questioned why does everybody do it differently? ‘Sometimes there are 32 different rates dumbing down to a handful of room options – singles, twins, doubles.’ He cited Travel Republic as one of the companies that are making a better online translation between hotel rooms offered to those actually shown as being available to book. ‘Ideally, we want an automatic solution for room matching. There is much confusion in the market as every technology company thinks it has a better solution, also there is the question of cost. Who would pay for the tech solution? ‘ Howard also voiced the problem, ‘Would a good technological solution produce a compelling commercial proposition for the hotels? Would they actually end up with more bookings? Would they be prepared to pay for a better online solution?’ Nickolay Malyshev from DataArt thought there were currently many room mismatches being generated by the current inability of systems to fully translate to the end consumer the true hotel room type availability. He thought it was a big problem, which could partially be ironed out at the contractual level, by operators making better contracts. He said; – ‘as a room supplier (Hotel) you are trying to get the best distribution. As a travel distributor, you try to bring it down to the lowest possible denominator, to simplify the offering for the website to make it easier for consumers to make bookings on the move.’ Before TTI searches for a solution to the room type problem, it is necessary to understand what are the real benefits of changing the status quo by introducing better software. Some of the benefits include: – Pricing flexibility / translating to higher margins.
Agents can select higher margin products (not just price), leading to increased funnel opportunities down the distribution chain, which in turn allowing agents to sell a higher board basis: BB, HB or FB – Better conversions/improved profitability – Less complaints/fewer compensation claims/increased customer satisfaction/ repeat business/higher credibility – Some suppliers charge on a conversion basis, so that anything that will improve the overall conversion will be welcome The TTI break out groups agreed that the following rooms types encompass a Hotels’ total offering: – Beds size/number, Views, Balcony, Bathroom configuration, Suite – sub-categorisation number or rooms, Dining facilities, Room category, Smoking/non, Min and max occupancy, Local charges, Board basis. In summation, the TTI rooms workshop gave a fair airing to the subject matter, with most attendees adding value to the discussion. Throughout a process of next steps TTI will explore through a further workshop, best possible solutions, look at the feasibility of creating set room codes, linking meta data to the room type codes, review whether dynamic room type matching is possible, seek a 90% solution to de-duplicating room types. It was considered by the group too difficult to map all rooms types and most key participants agreed that it would be easier to map the room types that were in the majority, i.e. single, twin and double rooms. A date will be set in the near future for part 2 of the TTI rooms debate.