Why did Booking.com dare delete your customers’ e-mail addresses?

Dear hoteliers,

It is often said that a company’s true value is represented by its customer database. Indeed, a company in existence for many years probably has a large customer file and, therefore, a very regular quantity of orders from its loyal customers.

In the hotel industry, this famous customer file is your Cardex system. A large part of your hotel’s value is based on the quality and relevance of your Cardex system.

You certainly know that the OTAs are doing everything they can to prevent you from owning a usable Cardex system. But are they the only ones practicing this diversion technique?

It is quite possible that a very close partner is in the process of doing exactly the same thing… and may even be doing so right now, behind your back.

Happy reading!

 

A little history

Before getting down to the heart of the matter, here is a past example that shocked me:

A hotel was represented by the XXX brand. After a few years with this brand, the finding was as follows: a phenomenal cost for very little returns.
The hotel therefore decides to cancel in order to either 1) select a new brand, or 2) become independent. But it had not noticed a line of fine print included in the contract that it had originally signed with the XXX brand:

The brand had access to the hotel’s Cardex system and was fully entitled to use it as it wished…

Result: if the hotel left XXX brand, the brand only had to establish a collaboration with another competing hotel and send an email to the entire customer base of the first hotel, indicating that from now on they had to book their stays in the second hotel. The first hotel could not do anything about it and found itself in the situation of having to stay with this brand to prevent all its loyal customers from being cleverly redirected to one of its competitors.

And that is how to make a hotel captive to a chain!

 

Hotel chain = OTA

What!

Isn’t claiming that OTAs are the same thing as hotel chains just a clickbait title to entice hoteliers to read my article?

Yes and no, because OTAs and chains indeed share a similar practice; and you absolutely need to be informed.

We all shouted “Sacrilege!” when Booking.com decided to stop communicating your customers’ e-mail addresses when they made reservations through its platform. Even today, this subject is contentious and provokes virulent reactions among hoteliers. But Booking.com at least had the courage to openly communicate on this subject, which is not the case for everyone.

The purpose of the OTA is to create loyalty to its own agency, to the detriment, of course, of your hotel. That is why they are doing everything possible to ensure that you will not have your customers’ e-mail addresses.

Some chains have a similar goal. They accomplish this in different ways: whether it’s simply not giving you email addresses or claiming technical difficulties that supposedly prevent them from providing them to you. But regardless, the result is the same.

Does this mean that you should leave this chain? No, not necessarily.

Take Booking.com for example! It has become indispensable to your marketing. And you continue to work with it despite the fact that it does not give you access to your customers’ e-mails.

The OTAs block your direct customer loyalty and oblige you to remain with them. It is exactly the same phenomenon with certain chains. However, the chains and OTAs have a real added value in terms of marketing. You must therefore deal with all of these factors when managing your hotel.

Booking.com operated openly and made it clear to you that they were going to take over your customer details.

 

Is your PMS also an OTA?

Is your PMS also involved in these diversion techniques that are so harmful to your hotel? It is quite possible, but very likely in an “involuntary” way.

If you control your current PMS and/or decide to choose a new one, I recommend that you check to what extent it allows you to use your own data.

For example, some PMS on the market do not allow you to export a file containing the e-mail addresses of your customers. You should check that yours does.

And do not just accept an verbal answer, regardless of who gives it to you. Go check for yourself. Go to your PMS and export your Cardex and then look to see if your customers’ e-mail addresses are present in the export.

If they are not present, immediately call your PMS to obtain a correction in their system. If they tell you that this is not possible: change your PMS.

If you want to obtain even more certainty as well as a solid estimate, you need to go a little further on the use of your data and test several types of exports:

  • Guests arriving soon to your hotel;
  • Guests currently staying in your hotel;
  • Guests who just left your hotel;
  • Complete list of customers present in your PMS.

To ensure the quality of the information, here is the minimum list of fields that should be present in your export:

  • Title
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • E-mail
  • Country
  • Language
  • Telephone
  • Type of room
  • Additional services
  • Total amount
  • Date the reservation was made
  • Your customer’s arrival date
  • Your customer’s departure date
  • Date of any modification to the reservation
  • Status of the reservation (confirmed / canceled / other status)
  • Cancellation date
  • Source channel (OTA, Direct, GDS, etc.)
  • Reservation number

If your PMS (or your Channel Manager) does not interfere, in one way or another, with the manual export of all this information, you can then conclude that this tool is good and that it helps you to effectively construct a good Cardex and to use it.

Please note, if this is not the case, I do not necessarily advise that you quit your PMS partner(s) immediately. Very often an open conversation will solve the problem. Sometimes, changing a few procedures internally (including retrieving information on the day of check-in) may also solve the problem.

But above all, do not put your head in the sand. If you do not resolve this situation, your hotel will lose much of its value and you will find your situation gradually worsening, as other competitors (who can exploit their Cardex customers) will gain an irretrievable lead over you.

 

By choosing this PMS, are you ultimately protected?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be invited by the PMS Apaleo in Munich for a day of lectures by CRM hoteliers. A number of international CRMs were present. For example:

After the presentations, hoteliers asked a few questions. The question most frequently raised was: “What is the biggest problem facing CRM today?” All the CRMs unanimously responded:

“The great complexity in retrieving the customer information contained in the PMS.”

Market giants like Cendyn and Revinate or other smaller companies marketing their CRM locally all had the same response.

Your PMS may allow you to have and to manually export your Cardex system. But what is the point if you have no way of exploiting it by connecting to other technological solutions on the market?

Without an automated connection with other known players in the market (or a simple way to connect to interesting new actors), you are slowly isolating yourself from new technologies. Your only option for managing effective customer communications will be to do everything manually. In other words … given how little time you usually have left over every day, you will quickly find yourself unable to advance.

Finally, one last point on the connectivity between your PMS and the other players in the market: even if it seems feasible, you have to look at the fees. Sometimes prices are so high that you will not be able to afford this investment. And you’re back to the starting point, when the PMS did not offer any connectivity system.

 

Conclusion

Far be it from me to play the rebel, but this information seemed to me to be vital for each of you. Every day I encounter hoteliers who are shocked to discover one of the following issues:

  1. Their Cardex is virtually empty;
  2. They do not have access to their customers’s e-mail addresses;
  3. They have access to the e-mail addresses but have no way to export them to use;
  4. They have all the info but the costs charged for connecting to other systems are exorbitant – they cannot do anything without paying a fortune.

With the rise of topics such as customer experience and loyalty, if you do not solve this problem now, your hotel will be very quickly overcome by its competitors; and your future profits will disappear!

I’m repeating myself, of course, but:

Do not put your head in the sand. And go check what is happening with your customer data right now. Make sure that you can use them.

Every customer staying with you, for whom you have not obtained an email address or the means to exploit it, leaves you in an unfavorable situation. Each day that passes is a day in which you will have lost valuable mail addresses and will therefore have decreased your ability to create a real portfolio of loyal customers.

Booking.Com did not do anything revolutionary when it stopped sharing your own customers’ e-mail addresses with you. It simply formalized what some actors have long been doing (involuntarily or not) behind your back.

This blog now has almost 20,000 regular readers; and I sincerely hope that this message will have a positive impact on the long-term future of your hotel.

Thank you,

Tony LOEB