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What is Big Data?

News publications everywhere are talking about Big Data. But in order to take full advantage of this information age revolution, it’s important to have an understanding of the basics. What is Big Data for hotels? Here it is, in laymen’s terms:

Big Data refers to data sets so large, complex, and unstructured that it becomes difficult to process them using traditional data management tools. 

The term can also refer to the tools and methods used to analyze unstructured data and multi-structured data.

What’s so revolutionary about Big Data? Data is now available like never before in terms of volume, variety, and velocity, So,

1. Volume: Data is bigger than ever before. It is estimated that 2.2 million exabytes of new data are created each day. That’s enough to fill over 5 million DVDs.

2. Variety: It comes from multiple touchpoints, meaning data is coming from many different sources and points of interaction.

3. Velocity: The data changes quickly, because new data is constantly being created and consumed.

Big Data sources include things like social media posts, online reviews and transactional information. Useful Big Data for hotels can be a large amount of information about each guest, made actionable.

For example, say a guest named Chuck stayed at your hotel. When he arrived, Chuck Tweeted about your hotel, ordered a favorite beer at the bar, and requested hypoallergenic pillows upon checkin. Imagine being able to collect all of that information in one place. Then, imagine the next time Chuck stays with your hotel, his room is prepped with the correct pillows before he even asks.

Now imagine hoteliers could collect information like that on every guest that checks in AND analyze the data in real time. Hoteliers could start to see trends, and potentially develop the ability to predict what guests want, before they even know they want it.

What’s the problem?

The challenge with Big Data is, because there’s so much of it coming from so many different places, it becomes very difficult to capture and analyze it.

In our example, your hotel could find out quite a bit about Chuck based on his online behavior and interactions with staff. But, the data is coming from Twitter, from a bar transaction, and from a face-to-face interaction with the front desk. And maybe next time Chuck stays with you, he decides he needs extra towels. So, your data on Chuck is coming from multiple touchpoints (variety), it’s changing quickly (velocity), and, if you want this kind of data on every guest that stays at your hotel, that’s a huge amount of data (volume).

To complicate things further, internal hotel data often lives on separate software platforms. Guest feedback, reservation, and marketing data are not yet integrated. Traditionally, it’s the job of IT to help store and access data, and the job of data analysts to find actionable insights. But, with the unstructured nature of data today, putting data to use can be difficult without the proper tools.

Big Data also creates a challenge for consumer facing brands in terms of consumer expectations. Consumers, especially Millennials, are increasingly expecting an ultra-personalized experience. Traditional methods of data analysis and implementation are quickly falling behind.

The good news?

The proper tools, like sentiment analysis, are rapidly becoming available. And it’s not just the availability of the proper tools. These tools are also easier for the average person to use. So, as time goes by larger amounts of data are increasingly available without the help of IT or data analytics professionals.

Big Data also presents exciting opportunities to revolutionize the consumer experience. For example, Kimpton and Marriott are already updating their loyalty programs to keep up with consumer expectations. With Kimpton’s program, face-to-face interactions with staff members are captured and recorded. Over time, the guest profile develops Custom Stay Preferences. Eventually, Kimpton will learn to anticipate its loyal guests’ needs and tastes, creating the opportunity for targeted surprise and delight, like a favorite snack automatically delivered to the guest’s room upon checkin.

The programs at Kimpton and Marriott are a good start. But ideally, all guest data will one day be integrated on one easy platform so hoteliers can make the most from big data.


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