Revenue management: Using data integration to move from tactics to strategy
By Cindy Heo, Assistant Professor of Reveneu Management at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne
Today, revenue management strategy goes beyond pricing and inventory management, and revenue managers should look for new ways to optimize revenue growth and profitability.
Although more advanced revenue management systems (RMS) have been developed over the years, with the aim of analyzing performance and forecasting demand, demand patterns have become much more unpredictable, while increasingly dependent on numerous external factors. Successful revenue management strategy starts with a clear understanding of the guests and market demand dynamics. Revenue managers should not just crunch RMS numbers but need to understand guests' selection behavior, consumer psychology and their competitors' strategies by analyzing various pieces of information.
RMS cannot, therefore, be the only toolkit for a revenue manager, because customer data reside in different hotel systems. RMS should be integrated first with the property management system (PMS) to take into account the entire booking information, analytics, and reporting functions, as well as with other internal systems such as the central reservation system (CRS), point of sale (POS), the customer relationship management (CRM) system, competitive rate shopping software, channel management tools, the hotel's own website, and various social media channels.
User-generated content is one way of learning about the guests' needs and wants. By analyzing such content, revenue managers can identify their competitive advantage from the guest's perspective and update their rate fence structure accordingly.
Moreover, external resources can help revenue managers in their decision-making. It is essential for revenue managers to broaden their view of their market by incorporating external market data in their planning to make sure their RM strategies correspond with market demand. Data supply services like STR and HotStats offer reports on hotel performance metrics and trends, as well as supply and demand analysis, market segmentation, and supply pipeline reports.
Some distribution partners also offer useful tools for revenue managers. For example, Expedia's Rev+ helps hotels gauge their rates against competitors over the course of 90 days and alerts hotels to changes to rates over the course of the last 24 hours. Hotels can keep track of up to 20 competitors operating in their area and averages for the lowest rates are displayed in calendar form. Further, a forecasting tool helps hotels view demand for markets based on data captured across the portfolio of Expedia brand. These external systems and resources provide valuable data analytics that offer visibility into a specific area of a hotel's positioning or market performance, relative to their competitors or even the entire market.
Effective revenue management strategy depends on integrated information to ensure revenue managers can react quickly when they need to. Thus, combining data from various systems and sources is an important issue, because RMS cannot exist as a standalone application. However, the different systems used by hotels do not always share all the transactional data because hotels typically acquire different systems at different times from different vendors.
Data integration is the process of identifying ways to bring data from disparate sources and combine them in a unified way to produce meaningful insights. This task, in itself, is not at all easy. It is the first challenge revenue managers face in connecting their different systems so that they work together and allow for seamless data transfer. Vivek Bhogaraju, director of global strategic alliances and initiatives at IDeaS Revenue Solutions, says "without better systems integration, companies may be missing opportunities to mine customer data for insights they can use to target guests with customized offers."
Another challenge is turning all data into valuable, new insights. Information is powerful only if you can access and analyze it properly. Competent revenue managers should be able to pose the right questions and find answers through the careful interpretation of data and by providing actionable recommendations to all departments. To this end, revenue managers should be capable of communicating their analysis and strategy to all stakeholders in their hotels and then adjust their strategy based on feedback from the stakeholders.
Without capable revenue management professionals, sophisticated systems and data are no longer useful. Organizational structures also need to be reformed to promote teamwork and collaboration across departments and the revenue management director should report directly to the hotel's general manager. Mike Chuma, vice president of product strategy for IDeaS, says too many revenue management teams still remain siloed and calls for RM teams to work closely with sales, marketing, F&B, and event teams.
From a revenue management perspective, not all guests are equal. Some guests may only make use of the hotel rooms but not the other facilities, while others may spend hundreds of dollars on F&B, leisure facilities, and spa treatments. Identifying those guests with a higher value to a hotel in the long run is extremely important in today's market. In order to maximize long-term profits, hotels need to increase guests' spending by satisfying their expectations and encouraging repeat visits. An increased amount of data does not automatically lead to better revenue management decisions but it should lead to more opportunities.