All Tech Considered
11:54 am
Fri March 23, 2012

Wanted: Digital Bloodhounds For The Hotel Industry

Originally published on Mon March 26, 2012 4:35 pm

These days, hotels aren't just looking to hire bellhops, concierges and housekeepers. What the industry really needs are digital bloodhounds: people who understand how to use new technologies to track — and attract — potential guests.

One of those newfangled workers is Greg Bodenlos. At 24, he's just a couple of years out of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. His official title is digital marketing strategist at The Mark Hotel, a luxury hotel in New York City.

But this profession is so fluid and new that Bodenlos had to write his own job description. Other hotels call the same position e-commerce manager, revenue manager, social media coordinator and at least five other titles.

A New World Of Marketing

Bodenlos says he knew that if he wanted to land a marketing job in hospitality right out of school, "it had to be digital, it had to be analytical. The digital marketing space in hotels — or the technology-driven space — is completely wide open," he says. "We are just figuring out how to use the tools that Google and Facebook throw at us every day."

Bill Carroll, one of Bodenlos' professors at Cornell, agrees the field is changing rapidly. "I tear up my syllabus every year,"Carroll says.

A typical traveler today might make a reservation by calling a hotel or going online to compare prices, and many now use mobile apps or Facebook.

This means the role of hotel marketing managers has also changed from the days when they essentially guessed whether a particular magazine or newspaper ad brought in revenue. Now they're tracking behavior by analyzing "click streams" online.

In the future, Carroll says, hotel staff will know, "did you contact me through a call center, through my brand website, to a salesperson and, subsequently, did you execute a booking?"

By analyzing online behavior, an e-commerce manager will be able to figure out the steps by which a booking was made, and then decide where to spend advertising dollars to attract the most customers. "We're not there yet," Carroll says, "but I believe we will be there in five years."

Since the hospitality industry grows at about the same pace as the U.S. economy, typically around 2 percent a year, the main task for these companies is called "shifting share," or taking business away from somebody else.

The Mark Hotel's Bodenlos wants to know how many bookings the hotel is garnering from online travel agencies, "how many from a call center, how many from mobile, how many from social media, and how many bookings from what we really want: our direct website. And how can we shift that?"

One strategy e-commerce managers use is buying keywords on the paid portion of Google and other sites, to push their website to or near the top of a user's search results.

"We all want top page placement at Google," says Bodenlos, "because we know that 97 percent of consumers will look at the top 10 results and that's all."

Online Reviewers Help Drive Bookings

Oyster.com, a company launched in 2009, sends investigators to hotels. They take hundreds of pictures and send in their critiques.

Oyster publishes serious reviews with the material; the site lists some 4,000 properties in 188 cities. That's quite a change from 15 years ago, when glossy hotel brochures often left travelers with little idea of what a hotel really looked like.

Elie Seidman, the company's CEO and co-founder, says technology made Oyster possible: the ability to take lots of digital photos, often in low light, and send them back quickly.

Oyster gets paid because hotel bookings can be tracked back to its site. For example, an analyst can determine whether someone who ended up at a particular Marriott first came to Oyster.com.

Most of the people getting the tech jobs in the hotel industry are what might be called "knowledge workers." Cornell's Carroll describes them as "competent technically, competent digitally." But they're also able to be good collaborative managers, to get along with people and to have a good understanding of traditional marketing.

And Carroll has a name for those multiskilled workers."We call them 'geeks who speak,' " he says.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And another tech story today about an industry that is changing rapidly. Hotels still need bartenders and bellhops. But these days, they're in the market for digital bloodhounds: People who understand how to use technologies to lure potential customers.

NPR's Margot Adler introduces us to one hotel's tech expert.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Greg Bodenlos is 24 years old, just a couple of years out of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

GREG BODENLOS: So my official title is the digital marketing strategist or digital marketing specialist, specifically for this hotel.

ADLER: That's the Mark Hotel in New York City, a luxury property. But this profession is so fluid and new, Bodenlos had to write up his own job description. And at other hotels, he says the equivalent position might be called e-commerce manager, revenue manager, social media coordinator, he reeled off five other possible titles. He knew if he wanted a marketing job in hospitality right out of school...

BODENLOS: It had to be digital, it had to be analytical. I mean, quite honestly, the digital marketing space in hotels is completely wide open. We're just figuring out how to use the tools that Google and Facebook throw at us.

ADLER: And here's one of his professors, Bill Carroll, who teaches at Cornell.

BILL CARROLL: I tear up my syllabus every year.

ADLER: Now, you might make a reservation by calling a hotel, or going online to compare prices. You might use a mobile app on your phone.

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ADLER: Or use Facebook. This means the role of a hotel marketing manager has changed from a time when they pretty much guessed whether their ad in a magazine or newspaper worked, to a point where you can begin to track behavior by analyzing click streams.

Bill Carroll says in the future we will know...

CARROLL: Did you contact me through the call center, through my brand website, through a salesperson and, subsequently, did you execute a booking? And once I've got that click stream behavior...

ADLER: He can figure out the steps by which a booking was made.

CARROLL: We're not there yet, but I believe we will be in five years.

ADLER: Since the hospitality industry grows somewhat like the U.S. economy, maybe 2 percent a year, the main task of these companies is called shifting share, taking business away from somebody else.

Greg Bodenlos, at the Mark, wants to know how many bookings are we getting from online travel agencies.

BODENLOS: How many bookings are we getting from a call center? How many bookings from mobile? How many bookings from social? And how many bookings from really, what we want, again, is our direct website and how can we shift that?

ADLER: One thing these e-commerce managers do is to buy keywords on the paid part of Google and other sites, so that their website will come up at or near the top of a search. And there are companies to help you figure out the right words to buy.

BODENLOS: We all want top page placement at Google, because we know that 97 percent of consumers, they'll just look at the top 10 results and that's all they look.

ADLER: Now, take a company like Oyster.

ELIE SEIDMAN: So, yes, so this here is software engineering and design, and people are actually writing the code that makes the site work.

ADLER: Launched in 2009, Oyster sends investigators to hotels. They write serious reviews. The site lists some 4,000 properties in 188 cities. So consumers can figure out exactly what they want. Fifteen years ago, maybe you've got a brochure, but often you ended up at a hotel without knowing what it looked like.

Oyster CEO Elie Seidman says it was another leap in technology over the past few years that made Oyster possible - digital photos in low light.

SEIDMAN: We have to, A, be able to take those in the first place. You know, in the available light. And then we have to get those photos back to New York, get them processed.

ADLER: Oyster gets paid because, again, you can track the clicks and find out whether someone who ended up, let's say, at a particular Marriott first came to Oyster.

The people getting the tech jobs in the hotel industry are knowledge workers. Bill Carroll.

CARROLL: Competent technically, competent digitally; you also have to be a collaborative manager. You have to get other folks to get along with you.

ADLER: The people who get those jobs, he says, geeks who speak.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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