Traveling and talking to interesting people can have a curious effect: you tend to know more and more interesting people. One of our interviewees (hello Kevin! We hope to finish your video soon) introduced us to Rishi Randhawa, who is trying to solve a problem all travelers have suffered: being treated in a non-personalized way in hotels.
Why are not hotels taking advantage of the vast data available? I don’t know, but Rishi is an expert and… You should read his opinion about the future of the industry, chat interfaces, AI and other topics.
Who are you?
My name is Rishi Randhawa and I’m the founder of GuestSense. I’m a Malaysian born, kiwi raised brand and marketing specialist who has spent the last decade studying people and how better to communicate to them across different industries. My love for travel together with my career formed the perfect intersection this year leading me to help solve one of hotels biggest problems with their data, bringing it to life.
Take a look to the rest of the team:
What is GuestSense?
GuestSense is an intelligent CRM system for hotels.
Through machine learning and predictive analysis we solve two major painpoints for hotels:
- The resource draining task of running a modern day CRM system in the hotel space;
- Bringing their data to fruition where it can be used to benefit the hotel from a strategic and guest experience point of view. A lot of hotels have a lot of data but the majority of it simply goes unused.
Our system looks at evolving the hotel CRM process by alleviating these problems and having the system run automatically without the need for hotel staff to continuously engage the system to retrieve insights. Our system has the capability of learning deep insights about guests and then automating those insights to drive additional revenue and experiences for guests.
We believe that small moments and interactions can have long lasting effects on guests.
Why did you start it?
I was doing A LOT of traveling in 2015 and while I was seeing every other industry evolve with technology (largely led by the on-demand economy), I was simply not witnessing this in any of the hotels I stayed in. Information was still manually processed and worst of all the majority of hotels were running legacy systems that halted their own innovation desires. I began to get curious about why hotels couldn’t recognise me, or my habits and why I was still part of a larger macro targeting strategy instead of personalising my entire guest experience from discovery to departure. Not only are today’s systems expensive, but they are just tedious to use and it’s sad to say that marketing automation is still very much a manually activated tool.
I wanted to create a system that would not just identify who the guest is, but tailor-make their entire experience so that guests would not be treated like strangers and the hotels could curate a more personal experience for each guest.
From your point of view, what is the state of of the startup ecosystem in Singapore?
We have the best of both worlds here in Singapore, plenty of startups and plenty of investors.
From having gone through my own journey there are a ton of brilliant problems that first-time entrepreneurs are trying to solve. Sadly tons fade away due to the current investor mentality. Every investor is looking for the next big thing (can’t blame them) and with bank-type safety attached to them.
They want amazing traction and an amazing team at the very start which not everyone can deliver.
While most consumer facing startups have been able to convince investors to join them due to the low tech/high traction MVP route, B2B/enterprise startups face a much tougher road. We can take up to a year to develop a system that is market ready and some others have taken 2-3 years. MVPs simply aren’t desirable when selling to businesses as their reputation might be on the line and in order to compete with the larger players you need to have a range of hygiene features developed along with the innovative features. This causes lengthy development time and resource.
At the same time investors typically don’t have the industry expertise to understand B2B companies. This results in maybe 1 in 25 investors who might have some experience and are typically more excited than anyone else in the room to talk to you. It can be lonely road to get funded as a B2B startup.
Having said that it is improving and with more government support B2B startups will be able to tap onto more government grants to help them survive the initial hardships. But I do hear about a lot of startups looking elsewhere for funding in more mature markets that might have the right kind of investors who are willing to take a higher risk for stronger returns at an early stage. For example with hospitality we are looking at countries like Switzerland for investors who come from a strong hospitality background.
Which are the key trends behind travel industry digital transformation?
- Mobile is pushing for a more connected and information rich journey. Traveler habits are changing as we are now doing everything via mobile and experiencing every part of our life improving with technology. The on-demand economy is causing a huge evolution in how data is crunched to produce real-time individualised results. While the bulk of innovation has happened on the booking end, we are now starting to see hotels finally take the plunge. But due to past investments in technology, legacy systems that aren’t easy integrated to new technology and lack of skilled operational staff and you can already see how hard it is to evolve.
- Millennial will be the biggest travel spenders most likely by 2018 (some say 2017). This changes the entire game as millennials have extremely different tastes and expectations when it comes to travel. W Hotel is probably more relatable to a GenY then the St.Regis. How these traditional brands evolve will be instrumental to their longevity.
- Shortage of time and manpower. From speaking to hotels, there is a large resource drain resulting in less qualified and skilled people working in hotels. How do you get these people to run technology systems? It’s either very tedious or you simply can’t or don’t bother trying. This has resulted in companies like us coming to life where we look at creating systems that require very little interaction with staff but still provides them with a wealth of information in a purposeful manner. Imagine if you had to get your restaurant staff in the hotel to manually search for a person’s name or room number to find out if they are allergic to any food or have any specific dietary requirements. This would just be impossible. But if you could take the data, and provide it to them automatically on a screen just prior to the guest walking in with only the information they need to know or to inform staff of specific dishes they can’t have and prompt the restaurant if that is what they ordered then that is something amazing. Not only does the hotel stop itself from potentially unknowingly harm a guest but they stop a bad review from happening which sadly has a big effect on hotels (guests choose hotels based on (1) price, (2) reviews, (3) past experiences). But if they could predict and inform the guest, then that moment something special happens. Not only do they show the guest how data is transformed into something positive, but they showed they care and are being proactive in the relationship.
What will be the relations between travel startups and traditional travel companies?
Win or die trying.Both sides have the same mantra and will fight for the same clients. One offers security and tried and tested methods, the other is the cowboy who needs a bit of faith in order to prove their new model. The startups that survive usually merge with other startups to become bigger and stronger or simply get acquired or form a partnership with the traditional travel companies. Some of these traditional travel companies have also gone into the startup game by forming incubators and accelerators to get better access to startups that might potentially disrupt the industry.
What is your value proposition?
We turn data into experiences for hotels to increase guest satisfaction and revenue.
Will be chat or conversation the next interface?
Definitely. It already is. We are delivery agnostic which means we look at the point of interaction and what the best medium is. Right now it’s mobile that provide the rich user experience that guests look for, but for other parts of the journey it’s a rich web based experience. Throughout the entire journey there is a conversation happening between the hotel and the guest and there is a chat feature to enable a dialogue to happen at any point without interference. Today, I’m still struggling to inform my hotel of my flight change after booking through Agoda. I might sound spoilt but 15 clicks online to find that number is just too much versus 2-3 that I experience in other industries.
How do you plan to use bots or AI in the context of travel / tourism conversations?
AI will help us create a more intelligent system that automates the thinking and planning. It will take away the operational pain that requires manual human input and execution through our systems.
What are your challenges in the coming years?
I’d by lying if I didn’t say funding. It’s hard finding investors in this niche area. Once we can settle that the next hurdle will be to create stronger machine learning and AI capabilities to perform deeper analysis and richer insights on a guest by guest basis. The age of macro-targeting is over.