Back to the Futuretech

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Titled Futuretech, the event was held at the lovely Great John Street boutique hotel and was a discussion on how rapidly developing technology is affecting the way boutique hotels and serviced apartments run their properties, market and sell their inventory, communicate with their guests, and manage their revenue streams in the future.

Moderated by Boutique Hotel news founder Piers Brown, the speakers were Michael Marchand, senior director UK, Ireland and Benelux, TrustYou; Cheryl Hawksworth, sales director, UK & Ireland, IDeaS Revenue Solutions; Paul Barton, director of E-commerce, Think Apartments Ltd; Stephen Hesketh, group director, The Richmond; and Katharina Callaghan, director, LivingSocial Escapes, UK and Ireland.

Kicking off on the subject of online marketing and flash sale sites, Katherina Callahan described how her audience is different from a hotel's mainstream clientele. "Living Social users are very motivated to try new hotels so we see one of our roles to deliver new customers for hoteliers. We assume that our customers don't know where they want to go so we suggest some ideas to them - it's a very different approach from the OTAs. It offers hoteliers the chance to tell a story if they have a unique property - rather than just pushing their product on price."

Moving on to revenue management, Cheryl Hawksworth explained that hotel revenue software was originally based on airline pricing technology, while Stephen Hesketh, whose Richmond property in Liverpool (serviced apartments and boutique hotel rooms) has only been open since May explained the challenges facing a new business.

"Building the brand and volume is key in the early days of a property. Revenue management will become more important as time goes by. We do it the old fashioned way, with a calendar and spreadsheet to see if there is, for example, a Liverpool football match or a music festival happening. The BridgeStreet London model of 28 day minimum stay doesn't work in Liverpool. We can be so flexible that we can change our rates daily if called for. For The Richmond, the transient market is key. Indeed, the serviced apartment sector is shifting towards the transient market as well as the long-stay market."

Inevitably the conversation soon moved on to OTAs, their pros and cons. Hesketh was frank on the subject: "We would have closed the doors already if it wasn't for OTAs. The Liverpool market is probably 50 per cent OTA business, with us that figure is nearer 75 per cent. OTAs are a Godsend as everybody books online in this day and age."

Cheryl Hawksworth agreed: "Many hotels would not survive without OTAs. There needs to be a huge focus in the industry on optimising channel costs."

Paul Barton noted that tech-savvy consumers who tend to make booking son their mobile devices are drawn to OTAs: "The shift to mobile and last minute booking is even more pronounced on OTAs. People on OTAs book further out than those through our own website. Multi-language sites and Apps are two major strengths of OTAs which we can't compete with, so it's a case of working with them efficiently."

Katherina Callahan stressed the difference between a LivingSocial customer and an OTA customer: "75 to 78 per cent of LivingSocial customers are women. Our customer is very different from a customer."

From focusing across the hospitality sectors, the discussion moved specifically to the rapidly evolving serviced apartment market. Paul Barton said: "Think Apartments has a roughly 50/50 split between corporate and leisure customers. It used to be much more corporate driven."

Cheryl Hawksworth emphasised the danger of fragmentation in the serviced apartment market, and a potential divergence between serviced apartments and apart-hotels. All agreed that the term serviced apartment is not very exciting and not well known by the public.

When asked about challenges the sector faces in the future, the speakers had some interesting tips for their peers. Paul barton said: "Social media is very important. Maintaining a loyal base of clients, a community, through social relationships is essential."

Michael Marchand said OTAs should become more active in the social media space, and urged the hospitality industry to get involved with the Semantic Web (The Semantic Web is the extension of the World Wide Web that enables people to share content beyond the boundaries of applications and websites. It has been described in rather different ways: as a utopic vision, as a web of data, or merely as a natural paradigm shift in our daily use of the Web. Most of all, the Semantic Web has inspired and engaged many people to create innovative semantic technologies and applications.)

He also urged hoteliers to collect their own reviews on their websites - it's unique content which is very good for SEO and a differentiator from OTA and Trip Advisor reviews.


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