Recently I participated in an industry panel event alongside fellow technology and travel industry experts, discussing the most prominent opportunities for hospitality businesses.
The consensus. Technology. Often thought of as intimidating for independent businesses, our industry conclusion was that instead – technology was levelling the playing field for small operators to compete on a world stage.
A key point of the discussion was the progressive shift from investment in legacy technology to a minimum viable product (MVP) model.
It’s fascinating that since Eric Ries published the MVP methodology in The Lean Startup, companies, big and small, seem determined to work out how to achieve the innovative manoeuvrability of start-ups.
Taking financial services, the most compliance-driven industry for example. The MVP way of innovation is already happening. We’ve already seen or perhaps have benefited from using P2P payment to split bills with friends or pay groceries with BPAY or Apple Pay. And now, banks in Australia are switching to real-time payments to cater consumers’ needs for instant settlement. Then, how about the hotel industry?
No ‘next big thing’
In my role working alongside hotel partners everyday, I’m often asked, ‘What’s the next big thing?’ ‘What’s the key technology we should spend our money on?’ My advice is that there isn’t one, and you shouldn’t.
That’s because the pace of innovation is changing how businesses deliver and meet ever-evolving consumer expectations. I would argue that with technology evolving at a rapid rate, there is more value in hoteliers solving problems quickly in order to satisfy the ever-demanding customer. Sometimes that even means sacrificing perfect for practical.
In terms of practising what I preach, at Expedia Group we have spent years improving our own methodology and in all likelihood, we will continue to adapt and evolve it again tomorrow.
When we talk about innovation, I’m a true advocate for attaching any effort to the question: “What do you need to to solve your problem?” It’s the problem-solving approach that allows us all to get a little bit better, every single day.
Where hotels can occasionally falter, is this desire to invent rather than re-invent. By that I mean, focusing a lot of time, effort and investment on new technology, instead of delivering the improvements that meet consumer demands of today and tomorrow.
As nowadays consumers spend more and more time online, doing everything faster and in real-time, the expectation for automatic and efficient processes continues to increase.
Flexibility is becoming increasingly important, and in turn, so too is the need for companies to innovate at speed. Faster and more frequent innovations have outpaced the need for something new and never-seen-before.
No matter your industry, the growing consumer expectation is that businesses become the personal concierge of the customer. Take travel for example.
A typical millennial will change their itinerary during the booking process by 20 per cent compared to the original travel idea. The travel industry has recognised these changes and has increased the pace of innovation in order to keep pace with customer needs.
What’s evolved as a result from industry leaders, is a constant development of new ideas, testing, observations, evaluations and improving the next version. Most imperatively, attitudes where we accept – and even embrace – the fact that not all processes are perfect at the beginning. But rather, that every change leads to new insights, which in turn have a decisive influence on the next step for our industry.
At the heart of this innovation process is solving a problem. Within the supplier side of our businesses, that’s partner feedback, for other operations it’s the consumers.
Either way – speed is everything. The problems our partners have today may not be relevant in two, three or four months’ time. So, we find out problems and develop the MVP so that our partners get to put those solutions into effect sooner rather than later.
Personally, I’d argue that there is no value in spending three years on one piece of technology that is already old tomorrow.
While our test and learn philosophy led us to carry out around 200 tests in 2011, this figure had risen to over 5,500 by 2017, which in turn led to more than 22,000 further product developments. This means that we get better every 24 minutes for our customers and travel partners.
I believe doing is better than discussing – and it’s a valuable approach that all hoteliers, no matter the size – can apply.
Ask yourself what problem you need to solve, then apply a test and learn approach. Make the shift from one big thing, to many great small ones.
Make observations, create a hypothesis, get your minimal viable product out there, and then analyse the data obtained. And of course, repeat this process. Repeat it time and time again.
By: Drew Bowering, Senior Director of Market Management, Expedia Group.
Drew has been with Expedia Group for more than a decade, mainly on the supplier side of the business. He has managed and spearheaded hotelier relationships of chain and independent hotels across the UK, Pacific Islands, USA and APAC/Oceanic regions. He is the most senior LPS executive in Australia, responsible for the strategic direction and execution of the company’s account management and sales approach in the region. A thought-leader on technology, distribution and booking trends, Drew and his team work with hotel partners to help maximise their Expedia Group relationship.