CHOICE HOTELS INTERNATIONAL this month morphed its central reservation system into a global distribution platform with super powers, a significant development for the company and the overall industry as well as a milestone achievement for its new CEO.
On Jan. 23, the hotel franchiser announced its transition to ChoiceEDGE, a proprietary reservation system expected to rev up business across its 11 brands. Choice Hotels said ChoiceEDGE is the first new global reservation system developed and launched by a hotel company in more than 30 years.
Patrick Pacious, president and CEO of Choice Hotels, said the digital engine does more than bring the company and its 6,500 hotels into the 21st century world of booking technology. It positions Choice to significantly increase business for owners for years and years ahead by increasing the “velocity, volume and variety of transactions,” he said in an exclusive interview with Asian Hospitality on the day ChoiceEDGE was announced during the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles.
“The hotel industry’s underlying infrastructure has been living off shopping, booking and data engines built in the 1980s and 1990s. “Obviously, the world has changed significantly since that time,” said Pacious, who during his upward climb at Choice over the past decade has overseen the company’s information-technology initiatives. He transitioned into the chief executive post in September.
Three years ago, he said, Choice observed “an explosion of shopping and booking transactions – these are in the billions. The exponential growth was starting to strain capacity on some of the systems that we had.”
Also, travelers have begun to use many ways to connect to a reservation center. “Used to be only one or two ways to connect to a booking engine, the call center or the website,” Pacious said. “Now with the Internet of Things, you have a multitude of channels that all want to talk to our central reservations system. The ability to handle all third-party and voice-based searches, people booking with their watches, people booking from their cars and the variety of tools with which people want to interact with our product sent us down the path three years ago to take a hard look at our old infrastructure and replace it.
“We need to be in the cloud because of the significant cost advantages. And the cloud provider keeps providing better and better feature functionality improvements.”
Pacious said the benefits from the CRS improvement have turned out to be a lot greater than Choice first anticipated. “When we started three years ago, we never expected the capacity this system can handle to be as high as it is. It is really significant. We didn’t expect to be able to ingest the amount of data that we can today; we didn’t expect to be able to move at the speed that we move at today. We’ve had some pretty interesting surprises on the upside with the volume, velocity and variety of transactions that are required to win not just today but in the future.”
Along with a hyper-fast booking engine, ChoiceEDGE gathers mountains of data on consumers, information its hotels can use to create more personalized service. So, it has created a data-analytic platform to help owners reach the zenith of customer service.
“Consumers are willing to share more and more information with us,” Pacious said. The trade off, however, is the guest wants something in return, and that’s where personalization or one-to-one interactions can increase guest satisfaction and build loyalty.
“The industry is trying to get to personalization, but the blocking factor is you don’t have the data analytics engine or the ability to capture that data and turn it into meaningful business decisions,” Pacious said. “Our data analytics platform will help us be at the forefront of personalization. It will make a difference for our guests because they want us to recognize who they are, and they want something in return for their business.”
A few years ago, Choice Hotels expanded its Choice Privileges loyalty program to include immediate rewards such as a gift cards for gasoline or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. “Our personalization platform will enable us to do more,” Pacious said.
As an example, he noted to a new partnership with Delivery.com that connects guests to local restaurants for takeout orders. Guests can also send clothing out to a dry cleaner. “All of that sits on our mobile app.”
Overall, Pacious said, ChoiceEDGE and the science of data analytics will enable the company and its franchisees to be “more predictive and less reactive” with their business strategies, including responding to market shifts and managing room pricing. “This is where artificial intelligence comes in,” he said. “AI is machine learning; and it can detect patterns. It will help our owners plan and respond in a manner that is more beneficial for them.”
In a news release, the company highlighted several ChoiceEDGE features, including:
- Faster-to-market new products, features and third-party connectivity.
- Cloud-based scalability, stability and performance delivered through a “reservation-as-a-service” model.
- Preconfigured, state-of-the-art connectivity with online travel agents, global distribution systems and property management systems, enabling rapid onboarding of hotels and instant value delivery.
- Capability to add selling disparate inventory types, including hotel rooms, meeting rooms, vacation rentals and package offerings – or any space for any duration.