HEDNA - the Hotel Electronic Distribution Networking Association - describes itself as "the only global forum exclusively dedicated to the advancement of hospitality distribution through strategic collaboration and knowledge sharing". For a quarter of a century, the association has led the way forward in electronic distribution in the hospitality sector, especially through events such as the recently concluded HEDNA European Global Distribution Conference. Today, we catch up with Christine Updegraff, Director – Account Management, Hospitality Business at IBS Software who is a regular attendee and contributor at these events. Christine shares with us her unique views about the industry and the direction of progress in the hospitality business.
Tell us about the latest edition of HEDNA European Global Distribution Conference
The 2017 HEDNA European Global Distribution Conference in Dublin, Ireland focused on the future of eCommerce, in the midst of the many political situations that have emerged around the world. This includes Brexit, "fake news" cyber attacks and of course, the new consumer protection laws for eCommerce that will shortly go into effect in the European Union. The conversation today is very much focused on the complexity of conducting eCommerce while maintaining airtight security, and laser-sharp accuracy that prevents losses that might otherwise result when new laws come into effect.
How have these conferences, and the conversations evolved over time?
I remember attending my first HEDNA event in 2002. The association was young and full of energy, and the OTA (Open Travel Alliance) was in formative stage. Hotels were starting to move away from the fax machine as their primary communication tools, towards adopting methods of electronic distribution. I was at the first meeting where a decision was made to launch what is now known as HTNG (Hotel Technology Next Generation). I look at how much has changed since then.
The standards created by both OTA and HTNG are now baseline and assumed to be part of any electronic connectivity solution. The conversation moved on long ago, but I still feel and live the contrast between those early, small HEDNA meetings and today's much larger but yet still interactive events where almost all hotel organizations participate.
What were the interesting things that caught your eye at the event?
This time, we saw a demonstration of new a booking process that moved beyond the screen or even mobile paradigm. For instance, a transaction may start with:
- Customer: Alexa, book me a vacation in Cancun, for a week in June
- Alexa: Your wife hates Cancun. I suggest Punta Cana. There's a 1-week package special, available at the Punta Cana Grand Resort. Would you like me to book for you?
Click here to read a blog post from IBS exploring how machines are getting capable of checking and validating purchase/transaction decisions as opposed to merely enabling them!
How does the role of a technology and domain expert like IBS change in this new ecosystem?
Interacting with a consumer where there is no computer or mobile device screen seems a reversal back to the old days when a consumer spoke with a travel agent by phone to make arrangements. But artificial intelligence agents or bots are beginning to use electronic means to access and quickly process thousands of options, using individualized sets of rules to conform to the users' preferences. A human travel agent might take days to analyze what an AI system can do in seconds.
This means that we will also need to adapt and ensure that our systems support new concepts in what it means to distribute electronically. No longer can we consider screen design, shopping presentation, or booking flow in quite the same way. Today's screen experience guides the user through a workflow that is controlled. But how about in tomorrow's conversation between a bot and a human being? The workflow could go in a number of different directions.
Has the expectation levels of the customer changed?
Of course. The process of compiling and sorting thousands of options for potential travel experiences now diverges into a myriad of multiple funnels that are determined more by the user, less by the seller of travel. This means that criteria for searching and sorting must become more discreet, and methods for accessing travel options based upon these criteria become more complex. Hotels must take action to ensure they can be "found" and presented as the best fit option, even without the aid of photographs or other visual support. Verbal narrative that differentiates an offer becomes once again relevant, as "Alexa" describes a hotel property verbally to invoke the imagination of the buyer.
So what must a hotel do, with regard to their distribution systems, to prepare for the future? Stay tuned for insights and innovations from IBS Hospitality.
Christine Updegraff is a Hospitality industry veteran with 26 years of experience, focused on technology in hotel/airline global distribution, eCommerce, packaging/tour operations, and revenue management. She currently manages key relationships with IBS' customer base of hotels, resorts and distribution partners. Click here for more information about hospitality management solutions, products and services from IBS.