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What's Needed for ABS to Become a Reality?

For most hoteliers, transitioning to an attribute-based sales model will require system upgrades, staff education, better customer data profiles and the conviction that it will all be worth it.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor, Hotels
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Attribute Based Selling: A Primer for Hotels

Dos and Don’ts for Attribute-Based Selling

For years, hoteliers have been talking about Attribute-Based Selling (ABS) and what’s required to move the industry toward this new way of selling hotel rooms. While no major brand has fully implemented ABS as of yet, IHG Hotels & Resorts seems to be getting the closest. In September 2023, it announced a new enhanced booking experience that would empower guests to “select individual room attributes such as a higher floor or a room with a view.”

At the time of this announcement, more than 5,000 IHG hotels were already “online” and allowing guests to choose the room attributes that mattered most to them at the time of booking. And while improving the guest booking experience is certainly important to IHG, it doesn’t hurt that the brand has seen on average an additional revenue increase of $22 per night (its luxury brands meanwhile are seeing up to $41 of additional revenue per night).

So why haven’t more hotel brands swapped to an ABS sales model? Because it’s not easy. Implementing an attributed-based selling strategy will require a significant commitment on the part of hoteliers and their IT leaders.

In its own press release, IHG admitted that the process was “extensive” and required a “comprehensive inventory of every room across its global portfolio.” The brand invested in “rebuilding each hotel website” as well as “extensive customer testing.”

“Making ABS a reality at a large-scale enterprise will take a combination of vision, strategy and creativity,” says Will Berrey, Sr. Director of Product Management, IBS Software. “This is not just a new paint job, it’s a fundamental redesign of the ‘engine.’”

So, what exactly needs to change under the hood? A lot.


 

Peter Waters, Executive Vice President, Hotel IT Solutions, Hospitality, Amadeus

Executive Insight from Amadeus' Peter Waters: Increase RevPAR and Guest Satisfaction with ABS

Offering tailored options serves to minimize friction in the booking process, maximize revenue for the hotel, and deliver great experiences to guests. Learn more here!


 

Upgrade All the Systems

First, hotel systems need to be able to integrate seamlessly with each other and be able to share data in real-time.

“The effective implementation of attribute-based selling requires interconnectivity between systems in the hospitality ecosystem,” explains Ryan Brough, Sales Engineer of Shiji Americas.  “Historically this has been difficult depending on the server framework and software architecture. For the best application of ABS, the industry will need to further accelerate the adoption of cloud-based systems that have disrupted legacy offerings in recent years. Inventory management systems, guest profiles data, revenue management systems, and guest-facing technologies must have real-time data sharing and dynamic content.”

Additionally, traditional hotel technology systems will need to change in some specific ways, says Max Rayner, partner, Hudson Crossing LLC. To begin with, “Property Management Systems (and associated Service Optimization modules or third-party systems) must change to take attributes into account rather than just room types. Central Reservation Systems must change to allow flexible booking based on attribute preferences or based on machine learning/AI defined bundles that present the highest and best attribute bundle in the search/book funnel. Revenue Management systems must evolve toward multi-dimensional optimization algorithms that go into much greater detail than today’s algorithms. And finally, machine learning/AI systems must continuously optimize tentative room assignments to satisfy all prior-made guest commitments and to optimize profitable growth. This is often referred to as ‘Dynamic Room Assignment’ and will require not only ML/AI systems but also near real-time ML/AI decisions.”

Another Option: Get Rid of Room Categories

Hotel branded websites may look beautiful, but the experience of booking a room is frustrating, says Markus Mueller, founder, Gauvendi. There is no personalization, the guest is overwhelmed with rate plans, and if the guest wants something specific – they have to call or email the brand. Even then, the guest is not really sure that the room they will get is the one they want.  Why is it so difficult? Because accommodation providers manage rooms in categories.

“Simplified categories are failing consumers and operators,” says Mueller. “There has been a lot of innovation around dynamic pricing, but very little innovation around inventory management.”

So, Gauvendi decided to redefine how guestroom inventory is managed.

“While the industry is thinking about ABS as a room shell plus attributes, we decided to decouple the physical unit from the virtual product being sold and add more data points to each unit (such as: south facing, high floor, king bed, etc.). This allows us to sell numerous different attribute combinations and then map it to a physical space.”

The company also employs machine learning, deep learning and other forms of AI to create a recommendation model that offers bookers “what we want to sell. The recommendation model considers actual booking pace, occupancy, and price point jumps. So, it can optimize the mix of room attributes and also total price points. It’s not always about showing the customer exactly what they want but what we want the consumer to want. Attributes and labelling are used as decoy prices to smartly upsell.”

The data indicates that this way of selling is working. One of Gauvendi’s clients, Harry’s Home Hotels & Apartments, is a small Austrian hotel chain that features 10 hotels (1500 beds) in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Since April of 2022, each property consistently sees 35% of all reservations book individualized room products with additional features above room categories. The average feature upsell revenue is €22.63 per room night or 22% higher average rates than the hotel average rate (YTD, not from 2022).

Educate the Staff

Upgrading software, however, won’t do much good if the staff members who are tasked with using it are hesitant to use it.

Most vendors are well aware that ABS is of significant interest to hoteliers and that “this is rife territory to help their clients increase revenue and promote the direct channel. While they are coding away to ease the transition to next-gen systems, on the ground there has to be a process change in terms of how hotel teams think about room categories and assign rooms or blocks,” says Adam Mogelonsky, partner, Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited.

For example, many hoteliers don’t want to lock up a room too far in advance in case they need it for a group room block, to upgrade a customer, or in case it needs maintenance/renovation.

“One of the primary challenges [to ABS implementation] is shifting the mindset of hoteliers accustomed to traditional room categorizations. It's crucial to help them understand that ABS can enhance the guest experience leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty. Education and training for hotel staff are key to overcoming this resistance,” says Hans Schmidtner, Managing Director, UpsellGuru.

Create Comprehensive Guest Profiles

Once the tech is in place, working properly and staff have bought into a new way of doing things, hoteliers will need access to a comprehensive guest profile.

“ABS relies wholly on knowing one’s guest,” Brough explains. “As such, having a global guest profile that leverages guest preferences across the organization and its various revenue centers is essential. With a secure, scalable, and globally accessible single profile, hospitality teams can deliver personalized enhancement upsells that allow guests to curate their own unique experience whilst allowing hotel revenue teams to actualize increased profitability.  A clear, accurate, and comprehensive guest profile is the lynchpin to ABS’ success, it is critical that guest facing technology is hardware agnostic, responsive, and frictionless so guests feel empowered to take an active role in communicating their changing preference.”

Knowing one’s guests will also help prevent decision fatigue from settling in and causing prospective guests to abandon the booking process. Guests should only see options (attributes) that “match” their profile, says Peter Waters, Executive Vice President, Hotel IT Solutions, Hospitality, Amadeus. For example, business travelers might be interested in having a desk in their room, but honeymooners likely would not. By hiding non-preferred attributes from the honeymooners, they’ll only see options that are of high value and of interest – “streamlining the experience and increasing the likelihood of purchasing extras.”

Hoteliers should specifically look to AI to help build and monitor these highly valuable guest profiles, Waters adds. AI will not only help hoteliers identify which attributes will drive revenue but also will inform which attributes should and shouldn’t be priced separately (pool access vs. in-room coffee facilities). As an added benefit, AI can also identify the best time to re-engage with a customer and identify their preferred attributes. This can help hotels better manage availability and pace their books.

“The power of AI in the context of ABS is that it accelerates testing and learning,” Berrey notes. “The ideas for what levers customers may be interested in will come from experienced hoteliers who know their product and know their guests. No amount of computing can replace this knowledge. But whereas in absence of AI sales and marketing may have been able to try two or three ideas in a quarter, and the response from customers may be vague or ambiguous; with AI the same organization could automate 10 or even 20 tests in the same period to determine what attributes customers really care about and what drives conversion, revenue, and differentiation in the market. AI won’t magically make us all better salespeople and better marketers, but it will supercharge our ideas and values in ways that are only starting to be explored.”

Will ABS Be a Reality Sooner than Later?

After reading this, you might be saying: “Who needs ABS?” But if hoteliers truly buy into the idea that personalization is king – and that consumers will pay for it – ABS is likely the best way to deliver on that promise while reaping incremental revenue gains.

“The future of the hotel industry lies in offering truly personalized experiences,” Schmidtner says. “With AI-powered attribute-based selling, hotels can not only meet but exceed customer expectations. As the industry embraces this shift, we'll see an increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and overall operational efficiency. The key is for hoteliers to recognize the potential and embrace the technological advancements that AI brings to the table.”

There’s also the possibility that legislation and regulations could force the industry to implement it faster than originally thought.

“While the internal initiative at many hospitality organizations is strong, we believe it is likely that external pressure will also drive ABS into the mainstream,” Berrey says. “With legislation and regulation already adopted in the EU (and possible similar measures being discussed in Washington DC) to create a more straightforward pricing display for travel and hospitality, hoteliers may need a model that replaces Resort Fees, Parking Charges, and similar ambiguous pricing. Once guests have a view, complete or incomplete, of the perceived cost for a stay in New York City, if that cost even appears to increase by 25%, it will be off putting. Less opaque up-front pricing could very well be replaced by a no-frills accommodation option with the opportunity to select the features of the property and rooms that customers value as a la carte options.”

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