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Flo Lugli, EVP of Marketing for Wyndham Hotel Group Discusses Hotel Software Developments
By Larry Mogelonsky
With over 6,000 people in attendance representing 15 brands from the world's largest hotel company, the second Wyndham Hotel Group conference in Las Vegas revealed two very exciting technological developments - WynReview and MyRequest - that I yearned to know more about. That was April and since that time, I've had the pleasure of interviewing Flo Lugli, their Executive Vice President of Marketing, to discuss these two products in depth.
Originally I had gone into this interview expecting a straight talk about how WynReview and MyRequest were part of a larger overall strategy to combat the advances of the OTAs. But what I got was much more comprehensive and satisfying.
"Ultimately," Flo said, "The OTAs only sell what hotels give them to sell." And this could not be truer. There are challenges with any channel, and, although it would be ideal to have 100% of bookings completed directly with the hotel, it's our job as hoteliers to find a balance that works. Achieving a proper channel mix is the best and quite possibly the only way to maximize revenues in this economy. As such, WynReview and MyRequest - both offered free to franchisees - are part of a much larger strategy: to provide owners with the right tools to understand this balancing act and subsequently drive more bookings through their own channels.
This is a strategic plan over three years in the making with impacts beyond online bookings. And indeed, Wyndham is no stranger to being bold when it comes to the internet. They were one of six founders of Room Key - a new hotel search engine, owned and operated by the hotels themselves. They've also recently launched www.WyndhamHotelGroup.com, a website designed with the express purpose of familiarizing consumers with the Wyndham brands.
The first step of implementing WynReview and MyRequest was to re-launch all the brand websites in conjunction with new mobile sites, which, as Flo remarked, is the foundation for everything that's to come. So, let's get down to the nuts and bolts of both of these new management tools and see how they will work to bolster Wyndham's brands.
The chief motivation for WynReview came about after Wyndham observed that roughly half of all potential customers wanted to read reviews before making a reservation. That's 50% of all online viewers leaving a hotel's website to check out what the OTAs are saying before putting their money on the table. In order to have customers stay on a given hotel site, the brand should post reviews. That is, a brand's homepage should feed in reviews from prominent OTAs such as TripAdvisor, incentivizing people to stay with them and not go a third-party website where commission-based reservations are also possible.
This was the inception for WynReview, which evolved into a tool to help owners manage the online reviews that are pushed onto their website. WynReview has a custom-built alert system to notify the operator when a new review is posted on an OTA. The software also facilitates the response efforts by managers.
Importantly, WynReview is an aggregate system for different properties and competitors. Thus, it is also a tool to help owners figure out how to better train managers. By aggregating reviews amongst different hotels within a given Wyndham brand and from amongst local competitors, the software allows owners to make more decisions based on the data as opposed to relying primarily on gut decisions.
The example Flo mentioned for this had to do with bed sheets - something in every room and so common it's often overlooked. When a manager checks this item, they are more often highly nitpicky about whether the color of the bed sheets conforms to the brand. However, that's not what customers really care about. Based on data gathered from online reviews, the color isn't nearly as important as cleanliness. It's these little discrepancies that WynReview aims to correct.
Hoping to fully roll out WynReview next year, an overarching issue will be to encourage a profound sense of trust amongst consumers, helping differentiate the brand in the process. For this, every hotel needs validated reviews, and those will come in the form of customer satisfaction surveys. WynReview will act to automate the posting of all the surveys that are attained by emailing guests after their most recent stay. Wyndham is currently in the process of uploading their past surveys accumulated over the years, all of which are verified as legitimate, helping to eliminate any stigma associated with fake online reviews.
Trust also builds internal confidence. By ensuring that posted reviews are accurate, WynReview assures managers and sales team members that they are selling the right product. With validated surveys, the Wyndham team can reach out to new clientele and talk about customer satisfaction with ease and confidence.
Covering a completely different set of objectives, but still working within the same comprehensive plan, is MyRequest, a rate and inventory management tool. It's only direct connection to the OTAs is that its primary purpose is to streamline the distribution of rooms across all channels, which includes online mediums. By consolidating these tasks into a faster and more accurate practice, MyRequest allows revenue managers to better facilitate rate updates across channels. It's a business process steeped in modern day automation, freeing up managers' time for the big picture.
That's the idea, but implementation is a whole other issue and a good case study in change management. Wyndham has acquired numerous brands over the years, resulting in a hodgepodge of overlap both in manual processes and software usage. Thus, part of installing MyRequest also meant consolidating departments across brands and eliminating technical redundancies.
One of the key tasks of MyRequest is providing consistency, through which comes a higher level of customer satisfaction. Firstly, the software helps assure rate parity across Wyndham brands; what a consumer gets at one place, they get at the other as well. This conceit extends to other finer aspects - the contingencies - of the booking process. For example, if a company that frequently books groups has an ancillary agreement that guarantees a king bed in each room, then this software will help see that this is consistently met without any hassle.
MyRequest is coded around a set of business rules to ensure that rates are loaded correctly, but as a result, this provides more flexibility to groups, business and FIT clientele as well as Wyndham operators. With a streamlining of inventory, managers know exactly what contingencies and perks they can offer to sweeten the deal and improve sales.
As Flo notes, "Like other big companies, Wyndham has more opportunities than resources." And this is what I believe will be the biggest success of these new technological ventures. They are not part of a direct phalanx assault on the OTAs, but rather, a way of keeping pace in an efficiency-driven market.
Both WynReview and MyRequest automate processes, thereby eliminating multiple points of failure and potential human error. This in effect frees up time for managers to make better, and more analytically-based, decisions. Kudos to Wyndham for teaching us all a profound lesson in modern practices.
About Larry Mogelonsky
Larry Mogelonsky (email@example.com) is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991). Larry is also the developer of Inn at a Glance hospitality software. As a recognized expert in marketing services, his experience encompasses Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, as well as numerous independent properties throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Larry is a registered professional engineer, and received his MBA from McMaster University.
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