The world of distribution…. through the eyes of Pegasus [video]

As you probably noticed, I haven’t been uploading many blog posts this year, but I still receive many emails from hoteliers who are confused by how they can distribute their hotel in an ever growing and complex network of travel channels.  In fact, over the last two weeks, I counted 26 individual questions posed to me via Twitter and email on this very topic.  What each query had in common, started as a very simple question, with an often complex answer.  How does distribution work, and how can I get my hotel into as many channels as possible, yet still control my rates and reputation.  

It’s a good question and there are many distribution companies and services out there to help you.  But to deal with the first question, you need to understand the various channels and possibilities.  For instance, for a hotelier it is not just a case of building a great brand.com website and sitting back for the bookings to flood in.  Sure, you want to get as much business direct and if things are going well, this channel will make up a high proportion of your bookings.  But hoteliers more and more need to have their property seen on online travel agency websites, metasearch sites such as Kayak, and through the travel agency channel reached via the GDS companies.

I saw a press release this morning from one such distribution expert, Pegasus Solutions, who were launching their brand new website.  I happened to stumble across a new video they have posted, which explains distribution channels and what they offer hotels.  I do not promote companies via my blog, so apologies for the rather ‘Pegasus is amazing’ style video, but I wanted to share with you in any case, as it will help visually explain distribution channels and what a company like Pegasus could do to help you.

I hope you find it useful.

Room 77 grabs $30M investment from Expedia

room77_logo_rgbHotel metasearch engine Room 77 announced last night that it has closed $30.3 million in Series C financing with participation from a brand new investor Expedia.  The company’s existing investors also participated, including Sutter Hill Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Concur Technologies, Felicis Ventures as well as Expedia’s founder Rich Barton, former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford and Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow.  This brings Room 77’s total capital raised to $43.8 million.

As most readers will know, I love the great work that the team behind Room 77 are doing – they are fundamentally challenging the way consumers search and shop for hotels and instantly search hundreds of travel sites at once to find the best hotel at the best price.  The company combine this with some great technology to enable a unique shopping experience (see previous posts here).  Since launching its hotel metasearch platform a year ago, Room 77 bookings and revenue have accelerated dramatically.  In the past nine months alone, the company has driven hundreds of thousands of room nights through its marketplace, recording significant month-over-month growth.

By combining fast and comprehensive search technology with unprecedented service, Room 77 claim they are proving it helps users save time and money whilst getting them a great room.  Based on internal analysis of more than five million hotel searches, Room 77 uncovered at least one lower price for travellers in two out of three searches, averaging $72 per stay.  The real asset to me is Room 77’s “Room Concierge” service, which leverages the company’s proprietary room data, such as blueprints and simulated RoomViewSM technology, to help travellers get in a great room when they book through Room 77.

Mobile Room 77

“We believe metasearch is an increasingly important model and complementary to our travel transaction businesses,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer. “The level of innovation and depth of content at Room 77 excites us about its future role in this important customer acquisition channel.”

COO of  Room 77 Kevin Fliess commented: “Room 77 is obsessed with helping travellers uncover the best hotel deal anywhere in one fast and easy search.  Our investors recognize the inherent value of metasearch and the importance of rapid innovation in this category, and we’re delighted to welcome Expedia, Inc. to this esteemed group. As recent events in this category demonstrate, hotel metasearch represents a massive market and huge global opportunity. This round will only help Room 77 grow our marketplace to help travellers around the world find great hotel deals which, in turn, drive incremental business and revenue to our hotel and travel agency partners.”

Room 77 expects to use the additional capital to grow its team with top talent; expand into new markets; increase investment in product; engineering and room-level content; and step up its marketing efforts to build a world-class brand.

When I first heard the news I immediately thought that Expedia were on the way to buying the company, or more to the point, buying the technology that Room 77 have built their business on, after all  their search is far superior.  But I was somewhat pleased to read that Expedia do not hold a majority stake in Room 77 and the company is retained by founder Brad Gerstner.  Congratulations Room 77 – we look forward to seeing what 2013 brings!

HEDNA annonce 2013 Board of Directors and Executive Team

ImageProxy.mvcHEDNA (the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association) announced its 2013 Board of Directors at their Winter Conference held December 3-5, 2012, at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.  HEDNA are an important association to our industry, especially to those of us involved directly in distribution and is made up of representatives from all over the hotel world, from technology companies and GDS; distribution companies and hotel chains.  So here are some names to watch.  There are three newly elected members of the board:

  • Craig Barnby, Director, Hospitality Solutions Architect, Orbitz Worldwide
  • Mike Carlo, Global Market Leader for Travel, GlobalCollect
  • John Owens, Senior Vice President, Global Sales, Pegasus Solutions

Additional Members at Large for 2013 are:

  • Tom Bruno, Director, eDistribution Development and Operations, Marriott International
  • David Cabreza, Director, International Distribution Services, Hilton Worldwide
  • Doug Carr, Executive Director Distribution, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International
  • Cynthia Castillo, Head of Hotel Program & Customer Relationship Travel Services Business Group, Amadeus IT Group S.A.
  • Kevin Furlong, Director of Data Services, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
  • Linda Kent, SVP, Electronic Distribution, Wyndham Hotel Group
  • Edward Perry, Global Senior Director of Social Media, OTA Partnerships and Innovation Projects, Worldhotels
  • David Revelle, Director of Business Development, DerbySoft
  • Dee Thomas, Vice President – Product Management, Supplier Solutions, Lanyon
  • Rajesh Vohra, Sales and Marketing Director, Sarova Hotels

Retiring from the board are: Louise Meyer, Vice President, Hotels, VFM Leonardo; Sarah Fowler, formerly Strategic Account Director, Pegasus Solutions; and Melanie Ryan Owens, Senior Vice President, Sales, Bankrate, Inc. and formerly with Orbitz Worldwide, who leaves the association after eight years on the board, the past four as President.

HEDNA also announced the Executive Committee for 2013: Rajesh Vohra takes the reins as President of HEDNA’s Board of Directors; Doug Carr was elected Vice President; Edward Perry retains his position as Secretary; and Tom Bruno retains his role as Treasurer.

HEDNA saw a record number of new members in 2012, in addition to enjoying record attendance at the Winter Meeting in Las Vegas. “The strong support of our members has allowed HEDNA to increase its educational offerings, expand outreach, deliver additional networking opportunities, and further strengthen the organization’s strategic vision to be the leading global forum to advance hospitality distribution,” Owens said in her opening remarks.

As she announced the new board and passed the torch to Vohra at the close of the conference, Owens expressed sincere thanks to the HEDNA membership, Board of Directors and the association’s world class staff. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve as President of HEDNA these past four years,” she said. “I am truly thankful for your support and your faith in me to lead this inspiring association.”

As he begins his two-year term as President, Vohra pointed to his previous role as a board member as sound training for the job ahead. “After a very enjoyable and fruitful two years on the HEDNA Board I am delighted and excited to have been elected to lead such an august group of industry leaders.   Melanie has been a wonderful President and will be a truly hard act to follow. The future for HEDNA is very bright, and I look forward to helping shape that future over the next 2 years.”

As Google Hotel Finder ramps up, what do consumers think functionally?

Google Hotel Finder has been on most of our lips over the last twelve months, as we eagerly (and in some cases, nervously) await to see just how adoption of Google’s latest foray into travel goes.  This week brings about Google’s next phase of the project, opening Google Hotel Finder up to other markets outside of the US.  You can now visit your Google homepage and append /hotels to be taken right into the tool and start searching for hotels all over the world.  Exciting move.

But how will we as an industry measure the success of Google?  Of course, we will look at volumes of unique visits, searches and booking conversions, but what about pure usability?  What do end consumers think of the search process and is it what they have been looking for to rival the service provided by online travel agencies?  Let’s take a look at the tool in more detail.

So first up, we have the welcome page.  A nice idea from Google, and not something you’ll find in traditional online travel websites or chain brand.com websites.  Of course, it’s less needed in the later, but Google choose to start with a welcome and explanation of the tool because it’s new and because they are potentially collating a lot of results – the emphasis is on the power of their search and trying to understand travellers current search pain points.

There are four boxes on the left hand side detailing how you could use the tool.  Firstly, and probably the best part of the tool, is the ability to interact with the search results, displayed on a Google Map to be very specific about your hotel location draw any shaped area to automatically filter results.  Secondly, there is a location search designed so you can look at common tourist areas.  Thirdly, users are able to create a short-list of hotels, particularly useful as Google Hotel Finder will aim to return vast numbers of results and lastly, highlighting that you are able to compare hotel results to get the best value for money.

Then come the results….

For the purposes of this post, I’ve based my search on London.  Interestingly, when I start out with Google Hotel Finder, I’m not asked for any search criteria, only my destination.  This is really unusual in the online search world, but it actually works very well.  Google then take me to their map display, showing pinpoints of all the hotels in the given city, with more detailed hotel descriptions and options listed in a scrollable side panel to the left.  This is working on a principle that we will show the user every possibility, then given them to the chance to strip back the results to exactly what they want.  First of all, you are automatically prompted to enter a date and duration on the calendar.

Each time you apply a search criteria / filter, the results map and hotel listing dynamically update, and we begin to see a customised display.

Next comes the clever bit, and my favourite feature of Google Hotel Finder.  Here is the chance to set a search radius.  The user is no longer governed to search in or around a or attraction, but can actually draw an area over the map results to specifically ask Google to only recommend hotels in that geographic area. You are also not restricted to use a box of circle, you can draw any shape at all to cover any area of the city you wish to view, as shown below.

I really think this a great feature of the tool, especially for large cities that have numerous hotels.  No longer does a traveller have to be price or brand lead.  Sure, many OTA’s and even brand websites utilise map displays, but all tend to rely on a very generic “I want to be in New York” logic rather than being able to specify your very own, unique location demands.

Next, you are able to really start homing in on your perfect hotel by applying a range of filters and criteria, from filtering results by price, star rating (both ascending and descending  user rating, amenities and ‘price compared to usual’.

At any point in the process, you can browse for hotels via the detailed list on the left hand side.  Clicking on  a given hotel will replace your map display with a detailed view of the chosen hotel where you can start to look at photos, general information about the hotel and look at Google’s user-generated content.  You can also start adding hotels to a favourites list so you can flick between properties you are trying to choose between.

In all of my searches, when I try to book, I have no alternative to facilitate my booking with Booking.com and certainly outside the US, I’ve struggled to find over OTA’s where I’m directed to make the booking.  Most hotels also have their brand.com website listed, but a lot of the independent hotels out there are missing this information, so here’s out first action point for the smaller hotels out there.

In fact, a lot of people complain about multinational hotel websites (TripAdvisor springs to mind) saying they can’t get access to their own hotels content or update details.  Google Hotel Finder actually make it very clear how you can do this and ways to improve and add your content – for any hoteliers reading this post, I’d really urge you to take a look at this early and make sure your details are up to date.

This tool really was made for complex city searches… when I tried to plan a trip to New York, I entered the same search on Google Hotel Finder, Booking.com and Expedia – guess which was best to use?

So, functionally as a search tool, I think Google Hotel Finder ticks a lot of the boxes. I’ve been very impressed with the content and usability of the website, especially the map shopping, and for this reason I think it will be a success.  Quite how quickly, I’m not sure as there are lots of ‘quirks’ that need to be ironed out, but this will come in time. One thing’s for sure – Google want to succeed in travel and have invested heavily to do so.  This is one piece of the jigsaw, and we, the hotel community would be naive to close out eyes to it.  Whether we are hoteliers, working in distribution or we are online sellers of hotels, a brand new, free tool like this will have implications for us all.  I include in this statement the word ‘sellers’.  What’s to say that Travel Management Companies don’t start sourcing best available rates with Google Hotel Finder?  Or high street travel agencies and hotel booking agencies?  In fact, at a recent HBAA Technology conference, this notion was being explored.   This tool really does have a proof point for all sectors.  As such, I’ll be writing more posts on Google Hotel Finder shortly, looking at the commercial aspects of the tool and seeing how hotel chains, independents and third-party companies can, and are working with Google in this intriguing new platform.

I’d love to hear what you think of the tool, the project and how you think it will impact the hospitality industry.  Please do leave a comment.  Thanks for listening.

The Trivago webinar – What did you think?

On 30th October I wrote a post about Trivago and more specifically the fact that they were reaching out to hoteliers and offering a webinar to explain how the company works and offer tips on how to represent their hotel effectively on the website.  This post proved incredibly popular and today, the webinar took place.  I caught up with Helena, Hotel Relations UK & Ireland for Trivago about how the session went and asked her to summarise the key takeaway points for anyone who couldn’t attend:

“The first in this series of Trivago webinars went really well. We had a very good attendance with hoteliers from both independent hotels and chains getting involved. It was a great opportunity for them to learn how to use the Hotel Gateway and how to represent their hotel most effectively to trivago’s 20 million monthly visitors.  After demonstrating the key functions of the service, I gave advice on what type of photos to add for the best impact and how to respond to customer reviews to show off an open attitude and dedication to customer service. Some important points to take away from the webinar are:

  • Make sure your listing is complete, with comprehensive information, a well-written description and at least 10 high quality photos
  • Encourage guests to review your hotel on Trivago and always respond to reviews as they come in
  • Always ensure your listing is up to date
  • Make sure you have uploaded a main photo and match it to the season if you can!

As this was the first webinar, it has been great to receive such positive feedback and I’m really looking forward to hosting our next one next month. Our next webinar will take place on Wednesday 12th December at 11am GMT and the topic will be “Managing Your Online Reputation”. Anyone wishing to attend can register free by clicking here “.

If you missed the session, the full presentation can be found by clicking the image below.

I think this is a really good initiative from Trivago to help hoteliers improve their online profile.  There is still a huge amount of confusion around this topic and how you can improve what’s being displayed about your hotel.  Many of these points are transparent to other OTA’s and serve as a good baseline to consider when you want to control how your being represented online.

If any hoteliers reading would like to contact Trivago, they should email:  hotelier-uk@trivago.com   – if anyone attended the webinar, please leave a comment on this post and tell us what you thought.  Did it help?  What did you learn?  Do share your thoughts with us.

Worried about how to optimse your hotel on OTA websites? Trivago offer a helping hand

I was interested to hear that Trivago, the  largest hotel price comparison and information website, will be holding a webinar for hoteliers to introduce the ‘Trivago Hotel Gateway’ and give an insight into how a hotelier can optimise their online presence.  I found this particularly interesting as I’m often asked how a hotel can control, change and  improve their reputation and increase bookings on OTA websites such as Trivago.  Hoteliers often feel powerless to change content that OTA’s are displaying and are desperate for a way to do so more easily, so I think it’s a great idea for Trivago to start such an initiative.

Put simply, the premise of this webinar is to invite hoteliers , both from small independent properties and hotel chains, to attend an online seminar to equip them with the knowledge needed to optimise their hotel’s listing on the Trivago, covering the main functions of the ‘Hotel Gateway’ portal, such as uploading new photos, writing a description of the hotel and responding to a customer review.

Trivago attract over 18 million unique visitors to per month so you can see just how important it is for a hotel to ensure that they’re giving the best representation and perception of their property as possible.  The webinar will also include information on the importance of having a comprehensive and up-to-date listing in order to attract customers and the importance of online reputation and how a hotelier can monitor and improve it on Trivago.

Of course, this may be a Trivago initiative, but much of the information that will be given I am sure will apply to multiple OTA’s so this is a real opportunity for you to gain a greater understanding of how this part of hotel distribution works and what you can actively do to help your property shine amongst so many hotel results.

This event takes place on the morning of the 7th November and you can register for free by clicking here.

Over the last few years, Trivago have really grown and become one of Europe’s most well-known online travel brands.  You may have seen their recent TV campaigns (show below) as the company really try and grow their name against the established names of Booking.com and Expedia.

Trivago is a pure search engine – they don’t actually sell anything – in my view, they aggregate hotel content from different sources, combine the result sin a powerful search tool and they direct you to the best place to make the booking.  They only show prices that hotels offer on the own websites or third part booking websites are already charging if you visited them directly, Trivago purely bring all of this together.  Trivago make their money with a kind of advertising fee, and are proud to say that they do not offer any promotional space – they stay independent (a real key selling point for the travel shopper, if you ask me).  Clearly the technology strategy that Trivago have in place has to be highly sophisticated – with prices changing every minute and room rates and availability varying from day to day its a tough business to be in, so I’m hoping that this webinar enlightens us a little more on how they are doing this effectively.  What we do know is that Trivago’s live search tools scans over a hundred different hotel booking sites for information (prices, availability, images, reviews etc.) within seconds.  Here’s the impressive stats – With close to a million searches a day, Trivago classifies, structures and compares roughly 5 billion hotel deals a day.

For those who can’t attend but are interested in this initiative, Hotel Insight will be in attendance and will report the key takeaways on this blog.

Pegasus evolves Utell into Pegasus Connect

Some hotel distribution news for you – Pegasus Solutions has evolved Utell into Pegasus Connect. The new offering combines Pegasus’ powerful distribution, booking and business intelligence solutions with Utell marketing-related services.

“In the time that I’ve led Pegasus, I’ve had many meetings with hotels and brands around the world,” said David Millili, chief executive officer of Pegasus Solutions. “One consistent theme I’ve heard from independents, groups, and chains alike is that they all need help driving guest room demand and sales. Aligning our impressive range of hospitality solutions as logical tiered packages under Pegasus Connect benefits hotels, allowing them to identify and use only the services they need without being expected to keep track of an encyclopedia of sales solutions.”

Pegasus Connect is being offered at three levels.  Pegasus Connect delivers affordable connectivity to the global distribution systems (GDSs). Pegasus Connect Gold combines this foundational distribution with connection to TravelSky in China and more than a thousand online channels.  It also includes PegasusView Market Performance business intelligence, a new monthly reporting product augmenting global data provided quarterly in The Pegasus View.  At this level, hotels will also tap into the OpenView booking engine, a customised tool to engage guests on the hotel’s website, as well as sales consulting and improved access to and representation with the travel consortia.  Finally, Pegasus Connect Premium builds on Pegasus Connect Gold with the addition of a mobile site developed using Open Hospitality’s OpenFlex with responsive design, along with additional sales support targeting three sources of demand business from corporate buyers or Travel Management Companies (TMCs).

“Pegasus Connect allows hotels to simply make a property available on the GDS and through online channels at an affordable price if that is all that is needed, or to upgrade to another level to create new ways to drive business,” added Millili. “This extends from identifying sales opportunities in the local market and making the brand website work harder, to delivering access to corporate buyers around the world to fill the gaps in the sales channel.”

Pegasus currently provides connectivity to nearly 100,000 hotels globally.