It shouldn’t be the hotel brands, management companies or owners. Guest data belongs with the guest.
In his address to the European Parliament, Apple CEO Tim Cook reaffirmed his stance the United States should adopt a nation-wide data privacy law similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
“Our own information—from the everyday to the deeply personal—is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Today, that trade has exploded into a data-industrial complex.”
Go to any hotel industry conference and you’ll hear during at least one panel discussion hoteliers talking about guests’ data: how to mine it, how to understand it, how to monetize it and, in perhaps what will be an ongoing battle, who owns it? Hoteliers see guest data as the key to unlocking what they perceive to be better service and offerings for guests because they’ll understand the guests better, which in turn will create greater loyalty. Greater loyalty means more stays, which of course means more revenue.
When hoteliers talk about trying to settle who will ultimately own the guests’ data, they go over the arguments each party would make. The brands are what guests are actually loyal to, so they should own the guests’ data. The management companies are the ones who interact with the guests directly, so they should own the data. The hotel owners are the ones who own the hotels the guests are staying in, so they should own it. One thing they all agree on is the online travel agencies shouldn’t own it.
No one makes the argument that the guests should own their own data.
That’s the approach the GDPR takes in order to help protect the personal information of consumers. Because of all of the travelers who come to the U.S. from Europe, it’s something hoteliers have essentially already had to at least adopt in practice if not in spirit.
I realize this mindset is not the one that would make hotel companies the most revenue, but I think it’s the most ethical one. Guest data is personal information. It’s names, ages, places of residence, credit card numbers, preferences, behaviors—anything that a company can glean about a person to build a better profile. That guest data is information people share with hotel companies, both deliberately and without realizing depending on the data point, because they have some degree of trust in the company.
If the guest is the one that owns the data that should mean hotel companies would treat it more carefully. While you could argue hotel companies already do, the mindset that the hotel industry at large is slow to adopt new technology and practices as well as the data breaches in recent years serves as a decent counterargument. Regardless, when you handle something that doesn’t belong to you, something that someone else is entrusting you to use with care, you do your best not to betray that trust.
That guest data would still be available to hoteliers, but perhaps not at the same scale. Allow guests to opt into sharing data with you. The information they would normally share in the booking process would be fair game, but if you want to know more about their preferences on room types, different amenities, different F&B offerings or whatever else you want to know, ask them. It likely won’t get you the same amount of data as other practices would when you consider how many people actually do answer surveys, but it at least directly involves them in the decision and gives them the choice to share information with you.
Does anyone else believe the guest data belongs to the guest? Is there any chance of the industry adopting this mindset? Let me know in the comments below, or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @HNN_Bryan.
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