Hotel distribution was a recurring theme across the technology-focused sessions on the opening day of WTM London.
Startups, futurists, brands and technology suppliers alike presented their own perspectives on the current landscape for hotels and alternative accommodation, the demands being placed on the sector by post-pandemic travelers and how hotels can benefit from wider e-commerce and technology developments.
A bigger-picture trend which many hotels are part of relates to payments, which in turn is part of “fintech” – the technology-led re-invention of financial services. Many travel companies, including hotels, are thinking more strategically about how guests can pay, and also about the money flows up and down the supply chain.
Many properties were forced to adapt their systems and business relationships in order to allow guests to pay in their own currency, using their own credit card. For example, allowing Chinese guests to pay using their Chinese bank.
However, innovations in fintech have moved beyond accepting a wider range of currencies. Cryptocurrencies have the potential to reach scale in hospitality, according to Rohit Talwar, a futurist whose keynote opened this year’s WTM London. Talwar suggested that hotels need to treat cryptocurrencies in exactly the same way as traditional currencies. He told attendees that 350 million people in the world hold crypto, that 25% of US travelers would like to pay in crypto and there is a growing number of people who are paid in crypto. He added that Visa, Mastercard and most major financial institutions are now on board with crypto.
However, Talwar suggested that the audience should consider alternative payment methods beyond cryptocurrencies. He suggested that “everything we own is an asset”, from the parking space outside our house, to the clothes on our back. There are platforms, he said, which have the potential to convert these assets into “a means of payment which travel companies and hotels can accept”.
An innovation-led platform of potential interest to hoteliers made an appearance during a panel session hosted by media brand Travolution. Pinktada is a marketplace where travelers can “sell” their reservation to another traveler, independent of the hotel or original purchasing channel. Co-founder Ronald Homsy explained that the platform is a Web3.0 play, built using blockchain. Its benefit for hotels is that they can increase the volumes on non-refundable inventory sold, because travelers have an option to re-sell the room themselves if they have to cancel.
Pinktada is a new player in the hospitality space, founded in 2020. But as well as start-ups, some of the world’s biggest hotel brands also shared their innovation stories.
Media brand Phocuswire hosted a session in which attribute-based shopping (ABS) was revealed as one of its trends to watch. ABS allows hotels to set their prices based on the attributes of specific rooms and onsite amenities, leading to better revenues. However, to fully exploit the opportunities, hotels need to be able to not only index a property’s features but also embed that indexation into the search, shop and book flow, while ensuring operational systems are also aligned.
Sabre Hospitality Solutions, sponsor of the tech stage, is committed to ABS and has some hotel customers using it today. Its vice president Frank Trampert used the example of beach or poolside cabanas as an attribute which hotels can price differently per duration or at different times of the day, week or season. “This is just one example of how ABS can help hoteliers sell ‘beyond the room’ and think like a retailer.”
While many speakers were looking at medium-to-long term horizons, some hoteliers are very much focused on technology’s role today and how it will support the industry’s recovery. In a session towards the end of the day, Markus Keller from Accor told the audience that the work from home/work from anywhere trend, which emerged as a result of COVID lockdowns, was not only embedded into the industry but also represented an opportunity for hotel chains, travel management companies and technology partners.
“Mixed-use travel is here to stay,” he said, “and we’re excited about the new opportunities that are emerging in response to how hotels are changing, and how technology can be used to bridge these new needs.”