Dubai-Based Travel Tech Startup Hotel Data Cloud Selected As A SemiFinalist In The United Nations World Tourism Organization's Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge
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Launched in 2016 by Gregor Amon (left) and Kevin Czok, Hotel Data Cloud (HDC) is a centralized global database for descriptive hotel content that disseminates hotels’ information and pictures across all major travel websites, travel agent databases, and points of sale. “Our business model caters to a two-sided market, where hotels are charged a nominal yearly fee to distribute their descriptive content and booking partners or travel agents can use it for free,” Amon explains. “We have a lean management team with high expertise.”
HDC currently has a portfolio of over 11,400 hotels in 153 countries. But the COVID-19 crisis wreaked unprecedented havoc on the travel industry, which subsequently meant that the hotel industry was adversely affected too. “When we realized the global scale and impact of the crisis, and the fact that the travel industry is expected to have an estimated loss of 60 to 80% of international tourist arrivals, equaling 850 million to 1.1 billion fewer tourists, we thought travel is the worst industry to be associated with,” Amon notes.
This led to two major changes being made at HDC: a COVID-19 preparedness program, and speeding up the introduction of HDC’s artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) based recommendation engine. While the latter was built specifically to help hotels overcome a range of pain points and reach a wider customer base, it was the first change that led to HDC being officially recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as a semi-finalist in its Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge, beating out over 1,000 contestants from over 100 countries.
The preparedness program was built to address the need to assure travelers of their safety and well-being, and regain customer confidence. “Hotels can now easily communicate their health and safety measures by creating a profile on HDC and filling in the COVID-19 preparedness section, which will then be automatically shared and freely accessible by any travel company, tourism board, government agency and other institutions, and in turn be accessible to potential travelers,” Amon says. But the second change brought in at HDC addressed (and highlighted) a very glaring problem in the hotel industry that had been overlooked and ignored until now.
The Hotel Data Cloud team at work. Source: Hotel Data Cloud.
“Hotels have traditionally been slow to adapt new technologies, but COVID-19 has been a wakeup call to try new technological solutions to recoup some of their losses during the shutdowns, but more importantly to reestablish trust amongst travelers,” says Amon. HDC’s AI and ML engine was, therefore, created to enable hotels to promote their tailor-made offers, amenities and other important factors, as per individual travelers’ specific and personal preferences. “By building and constantly updating customer profiles that are based on analytics, psychographics and other meta-data, customers are not inundated with irrelevant information,” explains Amon. “Instead, the engine filters information that allows travelers to make informed decisions quickly. It is estimated that with this technology, the click through rate (CTR) across online bookings will increase by over 35%.”
Amon also advises hotels to take charge of the information distribution process and communicate changes quickly, efficiently and in a structured manner. “In order to successfully rise from the coronavirus crisis, they need to get the word out,” he explains. “Not only work with bigger online travel agencies or pray for direct bookings. Being accurately showcased on as many booking channels as possible, with as much information as possible, is key to their future success.” On the company’s internal operations, Amon notes that the newly implemented rules of social distancing did not produce any potential difficulties to HDC’s day-to-day work– a lot of its team members work remotely, its customer support team is located in the Philippines, and its in-house developers work from Vietnam.
While the apparent shortcomings have been identified, there are still a lot of technological changes that will be required for the hotel and travel industry to be rebuilt, notes Amon. “We are certain that the future will be dictated by a combination of technology and AI-driven solutions, combined with a deeper understanding of what travelers need and want,” he says. “We look forward to helping rebuild the industry, and will continue to offer creative and easily implementable solutions.”