Hotel chain upgrades app to boost bookings

Choice Hotels International upgrades its customer data integration software

Choice Hotels International, the world's second-largest hotel franchiser, is upgrading its customer data integration (CDI) software as part of a drive to boost room bookings and revenue while offering better perks for loyal guests.

Choice, whose properties include Clarion Hotels, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, Quality Inn, Rodeway Inn and others, is in the midst of moving to Version 6.1 of Initiate Identity Hub software, from Initiate Software.

Identity Hub, which Choice first began using in mid-2004, helps the hotel chain match the 100,000 new guest bookings it receives daily from its nearly 6,000 properties to those in its existing customer database, said Choice CIO Gary Thompson.

With Version 6.1 and a new services-oriented property management system that its franchisees are deploying, Choice wants hotel guests to be linked to records in its Informix data warehouse as soon as they check in.

"We need to be able to do on-the-fly identification of our guests," said Thompson, a 15-year veteran of Choice.

That would allow Choice, which can now provide personalized offers and perks in real-time only to guests who check in with their loyalty program membership numbers, to tailor its marketing efforts better and help create what Thompson described as a yield management system equal in sophistication to what major airlines use today.

With 6,000 hotels and motels worldwide, Choice is second only to Wyndham Worldwide in the number of hotels it holds. Wyndham Worldwide operates Super 8, Days Inn, Ramada and others.

Though based in the U.S. state of Maryland, almost all of Choice's 170-strong IT staffers are based in Arizona.

Despite that lean team, Choice built its current all-in-one property management software, called Profit Manager, which it released 10 years ago for use by its franchise hotels. Choice added CRM software from Unica in 2002. Two years later, it began using Identity Hub.

"It's always a challenge to get enough information from our guests to uniquely identify them," Thompson said. "Identity Hub sits in the background and makes sure all of the info the CRM system is pulling is de-duped."

How do duplicates emerge? "You can transpose the first and middle names, you can have people giving nicknames, typo errors, people getting married, etc.," said Scott Schumacher, senior vice president and chief scientist at Initiate.

Initiate's CDI software evaluates multiple factors to calculate a statistical probability that a customer record is for the same person as another record. That, Schumacher said, is in contrast with the practices of competitors, who he claims generally use a more "deterministic" method that is "less tolerant of errors" and slows down quickly as more rules are added.

The software also lets companies fine-tune how aggressively Initiate should match customer records. Hotels such as Choice may set a lower level than health care companies, Schumacher said, where "merging two patients' records is a very bad thing. The typical false-positive ratio that is tolerated is 1 in 100,000 or 1 in a million."

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