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Wyndham Hotels’ Digital Director on the company’s technological re-imagining

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Photo credit:

Roderick Eime

Hot Topics sat down with Amy Clarke, Wyndham Hotels' Director of Digital, to discuss the way in which the world's largest hotel group has made digital enhancements to its offering.

When Wyndham Hotel Group completed a company-wide ‘re-imagining’ last year, it detected an interesting trend among consumers: digital pushback. The 18-month research study told them that, while hotel guests are keen on the convenience technology can bring, they definitely don’t want tech to get in the way of human contact.

This is an important insight for a company like Wyndham. Why? Because Wyndham is the biggest hotel group in the world (based on number of properties – 8,000), and is home to 16 different hotel brands. When a company of this scale makes group-wide decisions, they have to be right – and anticipate broad behavioral changes.

So Wyndham has been careful to make digital enhancements sit alongside old-school human service. A simple example concerns keys. Tech-savvy customers can use NFC phones to enter rooms, thereby avoiding the check-in desk. They can also use a smartphone barcode to retrieve a key card from a machine at reception. Or they can do it the old-fashioned way at the desk.

As well as maintaining choice, the key card example also illustrates a degree of personalization – another prevailing trend in hospitality right now. In the era of ‘mass customization’ visitors want and expect the ability to tailor their trips.

Again, an interesting challenge for a company with 679,100 rooms in 73 countries.

Amy Clarke, senior director of digital and distribution (EMEA) at Wyndham Hotel Group, says the best way to approach this is by making the Central Reservation System (CRS) as efficient as possible. “When you have a range of hotels from economy to luxury, diversity is a challenge,” she says.

“We want customers to have a frictionless experience, and to have some ability to tailor their visits. That’s why we invested in a CRS that lets them see all the rates and all the availability in real time. There’s no down time. Everything they do appears instantly on the system.”

Clarke is referring to the Sabre SynXis CRS. Wyndham started migrating all of its 8,000 hotels 400 distribution partners to this cloud-based system in 2015. She says the outsourcing of the project is as important as the CRS itself.

“We’re not a tech company, and I think some hotel groups have made the mistake of focusing attention of building their own systems when it’s a better idea to focus on running hotels.”

A hotel app strategy

Wyndham brings the same desire for simplicity to its hotel app strategy.

The company’s native hotel app lets people book directly, and they can do so using Visa checkout which reduces the clicks to a minimum. The hotel app also includes features such as an agent call back, should users want to discuss their options with a human being.

But what’s most striking is that the product is called the Wyndham Rewards App. After all, people love accruing points and redeeming freebies. In fact, the company recently re-designed the hotel app to make it even easier to use. It now features single-tier redemption, and an ‘elite’ program that offers discounts on local experiences for no additional points at its top destinations around the world.

“We simplified it,” says Clarke. “There can be danger of making these things too complicated as you add more features and options. Ultimately, people want to know three things: how many points they have, what they can do with them, and how they can get to the next milestone.”

Wyndham believes its ‘re-imagining’ project leaves it well-placed to capitalize on an overall boom in the travel sector. In fact, it believes the global market worth will rise from $7.2 trillion to $11 trillion over the next decade.

Another key insight it retrieved during the research phase was for ‘fluid living’. This describes the desire among travelers to take more frequent trips and also to combine business travel with leisure.

This may be a consequence of the Airbnb phenomenon, which has arguably made travel more democratic. Clarke thinks so. She says: “Airbnb has definitely changed attitudes. Its success shows that people are looking for new kinds of experiences. And actually, this has been good for us. We haven’t been hit financially by Airbnb at all. And because we have such a range of hotel types, we can cater for these new tastes.”

In fact, the company is tweaking some of its brands with these trends in mind. For example, it’s updating its business-centric Dolce hotels, which it acquired in early 2015, to support more leisure and adventure elements.

It also has big plans for its Super 8 chain. In the US, Super 8 is regarded as a cheap and somewhat old-fashioned motel brand. It’s also known for its kitschy art. The re-brand faced this head-on, giving people the chance to own cheesy Super 8 art works at a trendy pop-up gallery event in New York. The event also served as a showcase for the cool new re-fit of 1,800 Super 8 hotels across the US and Canada.

The ultimate aim of these changes is to give Wyndham the ability to address every type of traveler. But, to repeat, every hotel is still linked into the same back-end system. And because of this, all the brands can benefit from the data gathered.

Clarke says: “Anyone can access and interrogate the same data. They can look at which channels people are booking through, where there are repeat bookings, whether travelers are choosing the same hotel brand in different regions and so on. There’s so much we can do with the data and now that we have one CSR, we can really start to get the benefit of that.”