Title image for article Hotels need to get on board with digitalisation
INTERVIEW Jürgen Baltes

Hotels need to get on board with digitalisation

Corporate customers have very different expectations of hotels compared with private guests. Along with the location, price and service, they consider efficient processes to be particularly important, from booking to invoicing and payment. HRS manager Martina Eggler has spent many years booking hotels on behalf of companies and knows what they look for.

Ms Eggler, you spent a long time at Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) advising companies on how to optimise their travel programmes, before becoming responsible for HRS's biggest global customers in 2018. What do corporate customers expect from their hotel partners, and how can the hotel industry support them?
In my 15 years at CWT I gained some experience in this area. And at HRS we also advise companies on purchasing and optimising their hotel programmes. Now that companies have optimised the flight segment, which is generally the biggest cost block in the travel budget, they are increasingly focusing on the hotel sector, which is usually the second-largest block. 

What does that mean for the hotel industry?
It means that it will have to adapt more to companies' needs. For example, one key issue in travel management is digitalisation. Companies and their business travel partners, which include booking providers and travel agencies, are working on "end-to-end processes" that will make it possible to organise travel seamlessly, from booking to travel expenses invoicing, with no disruptions in the media used and no manual intervention.

How might this work in practice?
For example, a company might book a hotel using its in-house booking system and pay for it using a company credit card, which increasingly often is virtual. The traveller no longer has to pay on site; instead, the invoice amount is guaranteed to the hotel in advance. The invoice details are transferred automatically to the travel expenses invoicing system. That means the traveller no longer has to do this work, and potential errors are avoided.

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Martina Eggler: Digitalisation needn't be expensive

It sounds like an ideal world.
That's right. And in practice it often looks completely different. While airlines have closely linked their booking systems with company systems and acceptance of credit cards or data transfer work smoothly, the hotel world is extremely fragmented. Travel managers are confronted with a wide range of different technical systems. Often there are no interfaces that would enable seamless, "end-to-end" processes to be created.

Where is the main snag?
One major issue is invoices. We recently looked into this for a large corporate customer of HRS and we found that over ten per cent of all invoices contained errors such as an incorrect company name, parts of the address that were missing or similar. However, we need to be aware that it's of vital importance for companies to have the correct details – not least for the tax office. As a frequent traveller, I'm regularly surprised myself at how much data is not stored correctly by hotels and how often I have to spell my name or correct address details. It's important here to make employees aware that they should be wide awake even when checking out at five in the morning. If data were stored automatically, such errors would become a thing of the past.

Don't errors also occur because travellers repeatedly book using other methods than those stipulated by their company?
Yes, that's an ongoing issue in companies. If the traveller rings the hotel and books over the telephone, the booking will fall through the cracks. It won't appear in the booking system and related analyses and won't go through the central payment process. In cases of doubt, the company won't even know where an employee is currently spending the night. Companies are therefore constantly working to minimise so-called out-of-policy bookings. In practice, however, it's still relatively normal for up to forty per cent of hotel expenses not to be properly recorded. That's too much for truly strategic hotel procurement.

What do corporate customers expect from their hotel partners?
In times when businesses have to compete for good staff, employees' welfare on business trips plays an important part in determining how attractive an employer is. If business travellers can check in and out online instead of queueing at the counter, for example, and no longer have to check their invoice to ensure it is correct, that takes a lot of pressure off them when they have a tight schedule. 

Not every private hotel is likely to be able to afford these kinds of systems.
These services may not necessarily require a large investment. There are ready-made solutions available on the market that anyone can implement. With the hotel app Conichi, for example, HRS is offering a smart hotel solution covering everything from check-in to payment, which does not require hoteliers to invest in technology themselves.

When it comes to corporate customers' needs, are chains or private hotels better?
Although chains might generally be expected to be better, I wouldn't make such a sweeping statement. Newer, well-run individual hotels with innovative technology often offer more interfaces and services than some chains with an outdated system. 

To make sure their employees have a pleasant trip, companies are increasingly asking them about their satisfaction levels. What impact does this have on cooperation with the hotel trade? 
Location and price are by no means the only criteria that apply when choosing hotels. When we're helping corporate customers to optimise their hotel programmes, we use a long list of assessment criteria, which always includes traveller satisfaction. Hotels that don't perform well in this assessment matrix will slide down the rankings – or, in extreme cases, will be dropped completely.