Thursday, June 20, 2024

How DMPs Could Help Transform Personalisation In The Hotel Industry

Hotel Speak interviews Relay42 CEO, Tomas Salfischberger

At a recent conference, EyeforTravel Europe in London, Hotel Speak had the chance to catch up with one of the headline speakers, CEO of Relay42, Tomas Salfischberger on how DMPs (Data Management Platforms) help improve personalisation within both the travel and hospitality industries.

Tomas discussed the role of DMPs in ‘owning the customer relationship’, their use in personalising traveller’s experiences, the challenges for the hotel industry in implementing a single customer view and what the future holds for DMPs use within hospitality and travel.

Read on for some expert insight and top tips for hoteliers considering better management of their data to help improve the guest experience.

Please tell us a little more about Relay42, what you do and the clients you work with?

Relay42 is a Data Management Platform, we develop technology that helps large brands in the travel, finance, banking and telecom utilities industries to capture all the data across their customer interaction channels. Anything from banners, emails, web platforms, CRM, call centres, basically anything where they interact with the consumer. We plug into their existing systems, take the data, group it and use it to understand who the customer is. In industry terms, we build a single customer view. This is a term that comes more from the CRM world, but we do this for every consumer, so even someone who isn’t a customer yet.

Once we have all that information available we decide where everyone is in their customer journey, we understand ‘are you orienting to book an airline ticket’, we figure out ‘is this for leisure or business’ and then we change the messaging accordingly. We personalise the messaging and that feeds into anything; videos, banners, emails, any interaction.

Once you continue that journey you may get to the client’s website, when traditionally you’re greeted with their ‘top 10 offers’, completely unrelated to what you were actually looking for. What we do is we make sure that homepage fits with the interaction and reason for being there that we’ve already tracked. Once you book, for example, a plane ticket, we figure out that we shouldn’t keep shouting “£99 to Barcelona!” because you just paid £300 and you’re already booked your ticket. Instead we make sure you receive, depending on where you go, what makes sense for you, we figure out do you need an extra suitcase, do you need seat upgrade, a car, a hotel etc.

Finally, closer to travel, we could be helping you find the checkin/service counter and when you return we figure out, ‘what is the best moment to inspire you to travel again?’.

One of the biggest debates at EyeforTravel this year, has been around who is best placed to ‘own’ the customer relationship. DMP’s amalgamation of data gives independents the opportunity to ‘own’ their customer, but also, it’s very valuable for the OTAs and third parties. Where do you think DMP’s fit in terms of owning the customer?

That was actually a part of my vision in starting Relay42 six years ago… we saw digitisation go really quickly into different markets. This is why we work with travel, finance and banking a lot, because in those industries we saw that digitisation means being open to your customer using many channels; they’re interacting with you in many places.

It used to be easy right? They’d walk into your travel agent, shake hands, you tell them where they should go and that was that. Nowadays they go on a price comparison website, your social media page, on YouTube watching videos, they see your ads. They have so many interactions and they even go on competitor’s website to compare and shop around.

As a brand you want to build a personal relationship with that customer and also understand that you have the right product for them. Our vision at Relay42 was making sure that our technology is designed for enterprise brands, hotel groups, OTAs, airlines etc. to own that direction and data across all those platforms but, most of all, to be able to use it across all of them too. Owning the data, but not being able to activate that data into actually sending a message to the place where your customer actually is, means there’s no value.

Of course, some customers don’t want to be ‘owned’. How do you manage the expectations of guests who are presented with offers/messaging targeted at them and might not necessarily want to see them, because they know they’re being tracked?

People don’t want to be marketed to. They don’t want to see a banner ad for a pair of shoes they looked at 30 days ago. They do want a personal dialogue, because they want to communicate with a brand, they want to understand ‘is this right for me’, ‘can you help me in some way’. You have to be super relevant. If you get the message right it doesn’t feel like being marketed to, it feels like having a dialogue.

An maybe customers don’t want to be owned, but customers do want to be approached like a human instead of being targeted like a cookie. That means that, if you do it in the right way, you may not necessarily call it ‘owning that relationship’, rather it’s building that relationship and having a dialogue with your customer. The brand that has the best and most relevant dialogue will, in business terms, own the customer because that’s the brand the customer will buy from.

What do you believe the main challenges are for the hospitality and travel industries in achieving a single customer view?

I think it’s important to split the travel industry into different groups here. For the airlines, it’s not such a big challenge anymore. They just need to focus on this and as you hear at conferences like this, they’re all doing that pretty well.

For the hotel industry, one of the biggest challenges is that, as of this moment, they completely don’t own any of the digital interaction with their customer. They do own the actual customer journey and they’re really good at that. They’re personal and service oriented, but whereas the airlines at least tend to be part of customer’s digital journey, with hotel groups the digital journey is often completely done by, expedia and the other OTAs. The digitisation is quite far behind where it is in the airline industry and there needs to be a catch up in actually going digital and starting that communication with the customer.

If you look at digital marketing, not mentioning any names, but with many of the hotel groups it’s really clumsy; it’s terrible. That’s because that interaction isn’t there and if you don’t have that interaction, you can’t have the data, you can’t be as relevant because have all the information on what’s happening. You can’t target in the right way.

At the same time, the hotel groups aren’t stupid, they know this. Their big challenge at the moment is ramping up on digital to make sure that hospitality gets on par as consumers have certain expectations. Consumers interact with Amazon, Facebook and Google everyday, so they expect that level of sophistication. The airlines get this; they’ve built really good mobile apps and great digital experiences. That’s what the hotel groups need to do as well and from that perspective, as soon as they build a good digital journey the consumer isn’t married to – they’ll take whichever experience is the easiest.

Do you think there is an onus on (and the other OTAs) to share guest data?

No, that’s never going to happen. Not at all. The onus is on the hotel groups building a good digital experience and investing in their digital customer relationships, digitising their own business instead of letting someone else take care of it.

In reality, hoteliers should be really happy with (and the other OTAs), because the customer expects this level and they should be benchmarking themselves against them.

It’s surprising that the hospitality industry, so focused on listening to the customer very well, understanding them in the right way is like this. In the offline world they’re masters at doing this, but in digital they’ve missed the boat and someone else has done it for them.

However, does it quite well, but they’re not the absolute end game, it could still be done better and hotel groups have an amazing opportunity to make that digital journey and the offline customer journey come together.

This is something that, for example, KLM does brilliantly – their famous case is the onboard iPad so that the staff knows who you are as you board, they greet you by name. They build that journey, not as a ‘buy ticket, then fly’ but as a ‘you’re going somewhere, KLM is there for you, all the way, 24/7, the whole experience, one journey’. can’t deliver that, yet, whereas the hotel groups have this opportunity to be there all the way for their guests, especially for frequent travellers.

Absolutely. It was brilliantly put by Richard Lewis (of what3words) recently that the standard traveller will never actually meet an OTA, but they will always meet the hotelier…

Exactly, that is the opportunity; to combine and make the digital come together with the offline part of the journey.

In the hospitality industry, where there’s so many touch points before purchase, cross channel and cross device, how does a DMP like yourselves help bridge those gaps?

The key part of what we do in the first instance is identity management to first understand who is our customer in all of those technologies – websites identify people by cookies, digital media has third party cookies, Facebook thinks people don’t exist if they don’t have an account (!), CRM platforms have names and addresses… a key part of what Relay42 does is actually help our clients understand, in all of the data that they already have, who is actually the same person? How are they interacting with us? Where are they in their customer journey? We’re not generating new data, we’re bringing together, and making use of, all the existing data our clients have.

When you do that in the right way, you get to understand ‘ah, this person who is staying with us quite often is not in our loyalty programme, but is in our email database and he’s now browsing these websites, he’s interacting with us on social media, he’s seen these videos… from that you can decide, what is the right next message.

The luxury hospitality and travel industries, with a large focus on face-to-face customer service, can often have a slight resistance to automation. How does having this data and automating certain aspects best complement good hospitality?

Well I think, and this may be surprising, hospitality is right in having a resistance to having a lot of types of automation. If the automation is ‘you touched this web page, I’m going to annoy you’ then you’re getting it wrong. The key topic of my talk with KLM (at EyeforTravel) is actually how to scale human interaction in a digital journey with millions of customers; because you always want human interaction but cannot be personally interacting with millions of customers online. The starting point should actually be, what is the dialogue we want to have? How do we approach the customer as a human? Then use automation to do that efficiently, but from a perspective of having the right, personal, experience on a human level, not from a ‘this is what my tool can do, so this is what I’ll do’ approach. A lot of that is limited by broken technology in these spaces.

Finally, what does the future hold for the use of DMPs within hospitality and travel?

Well, especially in the hotel industry, the future holds actually just getting started. The airlines, the banks, they have paved the way. With KLM we pioneered four years ago in an industry that wasn’t even called ‘DMP’ yet.

For the hotel industry, I think the next thing is the first step… not taking it all the way to fully automated chatbots, and machine learning as we can now do with the airlines and the banks, but just in getting those first steps ready and starting to build that digital journey. From there, learn from how other industries are doing it.

In closing, Tomas notes;

“In the end, the interest of the brand and the customer are actually aligned. The misunderstanding is often that a brand wants to push as many messages in a customers face as they can. They don’t, they’re paying per message! They want their message to be relevant and they want you to be genuinely interested. As soon as you find it frustrating and you’re not interested, they’re simply spending money to annoy.”

More about Relay42:

Relay42, a leading European data management platform company, allows its customer to bring their marketing communications into the 21st century through real-time activation of customer data and personalised outreach. Relay42 was founded in 2011 by two computer science graduates, Tomas Salfischberger and Koen Bos, and three ex-Google employees, all of whom share an ambition to empower marketers to engage in real, human conversations with their customers — something that has been lost as the number of online platforms and channels continue to grow. By choosing Relay42’s solutions, businesses are able to create more valuable and engaging marketing communications that can be specifically tailored to individual customer profiles. For more information, visit

Hotel Speak
Hotel Speak
Hotel Speak provides actionable hotel marketing and revenue management strategies from hospitality industry experts.

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