In the past decade or so, booking platforms and aggregators have become a staple within the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. After all, these platforms offer a much more efficient way to browse and ultimately find the right trip, package or hotel for your exact needs.
However, what we don’t know as consumers is that there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes to bring us these all-encompassing aggregators.
When it comes to hotels, customers expect to find a lot of useful details when browsing and before they finally settle on a choice: the number of beds in a room, cuisines on offer, amenities and services available, and much much more. However, given this large body of data that hotels need to share with these online platforms, and the existing complex distribution networks and hundreds of booking channels, dissonance has been growing.
If, for example, a hotel has had to commit emergency repairs to an entire floor, they would need to update their listings immediately to reflect the unavailability of an entire floor’s worth of rooms. In the current landscape, this remains a challenge, as it would take an extended period of time for this information to reach aggregators so that they can update their listing for that particular hotel to highlight the maintenance work being performed.
Hotel Data Cloud (HDC), a Dubai-based travel tech startup, has dedicated its technology to solving this exact problem. According to HDC, the content currently available on aggregators is in most cases incomplete and even inaccurate, misleading, and/or obsolete.
Essentially, as a content distribution platform, HDC enables hotels to easily share detailed content and comprehensive information in a standardised, globally consistent format. HDC captures over 600 attributes per property, multilingual descriptions, images with corresponding metadata and also temporary changes, such as ongoing renovations. This reduces manual workload and lets hotels efficiently control the narrative of their listing across all booking channels, improving their discoverability and leading to increased bookings and revenue.
The Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with Gregor Amon, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Hotel Data Cloud, to learn more about his company and entrepreneurial journey so far.
Gregor Amon, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Hotel Data Cloud (on-screen)
You were a pilot previously. What pushed you to leave your job and create Hotel Data Cloud?
Yes, I was a pilot by profession, but I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship, so I decided to follow my calling and started a hotel room wholesale company, selling reservations to travel agencies and tour operators. I realized very early on that end customers were not receiving the latest hotel descriptions, updates on amenities or other features. In turn, 9 out of 10 travelers blame the hotel for wrong or missing information, not only hurting the hotel's reputation, but also affecting its bottom line.
How would you pitch Hotel Data Cloud in one sentence?
Hotel Data Cloud gives back control; control to the traveler to quickly find the desired hotel, but also control to the hotels to be in charge of their descriptions and therefore ultimately their reputation.
Since launching HDC, did you notice an improvement in the issue of inaccurate hotel descriptions regionally, or has the issue been receiving more awareness?
When we started HDC in 2016 our aim was to set a new standard in global hotel content distribution. 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.
Over the last 2 years of the pandemic, we noticed that awareness regarding the problem we are solving increased dramatically - in fact the travel industry too, has undergone “forced digitisation” like many other industries. Ultimately this is a much-needed innovation boost for what has historically been a relatively traditional industry and not the quickest to embrace innovation.
Why did you decide to set up in the UAE?
HDC has been a global product from the start and we are already servicing hotels in 153 countries to date. Our evolution is to focus on key markets where we see potential for exponential growth. Particularly in the UAE, we are working with Dubai Tourism and dnata through participation in their incubator.
The pandemic was severely impactful on the travel and tourism industry. Yet, you were able to raise a Seed round in Q2 of 2020. How did HDC adapt during this time to stay afloat?
Making sure that the hotels’ information and pictures are updated across all travel websites and travel agent databases doesn’t really work as a business model if no one is traveling. So we knew we needed a quick solution.
To ensure our business survived the crippling effects of COVID-19, we did something that many companies shy away from or take too long to implement: Pivoting. The ability to accept that market realities have completely changed, seeing where the most traction is and shifting to a new strategy. Essentially, it’s a business reboot when your original business assumptions change drastically.
In your opinion, what are the top trends in the post-COVID world that are shaping the future of the travel and tourism industry regionally?
After COVID-19, hotels had to find creative ways to attract customers back once the world starts traveling again. To come out stronger than ever, they needed to integrate new technologies - that’s why we fast-tracked our latest artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) enabled platform. The new AI and ML engine enabled hotels to showcase tailor-made offers, amenities and other important factors, according to each traveler’s specific requirements and needs.
By building customer profiles based on analytics, psychographics and other meta-data, hotel websites will be able to show different offers and images according to the client’s personal preference. In close cooperation with different tech companies, we are now in the final stages of offering our clients the most advanced artificial intelligence-based machine learning personalization recommendation engine.
We anticipate that with this technology, the CTR (click-through rate) across online bookings will increase by over 35%.
Have you received any support from ecosystem entities such as incubators, accelerators, or angel investors?
Yes, the local programs in the UAE have been very beneficial to us. We graduated from Intelak (accelerator and incubator), [which is supported] by Emirates Airlines, dnata, and Dubai Tourism, and have been supported by Sheraa in Sharjah, with their Series A program. Moreover, just last year we graduated from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund Accelerator. All those programs have opened doors for us that would have been closed otherwise.
Our investors are all private investors who hail from technology and entrepreneurial backgrounds, and are based in the UAE, as well as Europe and Asia. They bring a wealth of knowledge and in addition to the funding, support us actively by sharing advice and best business practices to help us operate more efficiently and scale up. They understand that startups operate differently from traditional SMEs and we can count on their support throughout the different stages of growth.
What's next for Hotel Data Cloud now that travel and tourism figures are finally returning to healthy levels?
Yes, our vision is to set a new standard in global hotel content distribution. Eventually, our aim is that every hotel globally will partner with HDC to ensure their content distribution is seamless, up to date and accurate.