The Big Issue Facing Hotel Marketing DirectorsA few large owners of online demand for hotel accommodation, commanding and securing the currently -topical rate parity, also ask for product parity, sometimes outperforming many hotels' own websites in selling the products. Whilst many hotels are experienced in regaining customers from their competitive set over time, winning back travellers from third party online suppliers requires perhaps a different set of skills and tactics when faced with the reality that the guest who checked out does and will use other properties and brands in other locations where we have no product for them to purchase.What happens if, as hoteliers, in addressing the latest way our customers wish to interact with our brand to the point of purchase, we uncover a need for significant change in processes, skills and the associated systems we have spent the last five years installing, understanding, mastering and operating if we are to preserve, improve or recover margin? Because we canWe live in a world of "e-duction", tempted and lured through educative marketing into wanting and subscribing to increasingly free access to more and more technology, applications and storage to digitally manage and enjoy our lives. Many of us repeatedly convince ourselves and our friends that we need to replace the way we perform simple tasks as a result of being showered with alternatives that can conveniently reside in our personal digital space; smartphone, tablet or desktop, maybe all three.. Having so much capability in a wallet - sized device can be as practical as it is consuming. All Features Great and Small ..... We now have smartphones where the monthly line rental for unlimited calls globally can be less than the cost of one transatlantic landline call we would have made several years ago. SMS was seen by many as a cost -saving alternative to the initially prohibitive cost of cell phone usage. Yet despite the improved financial economics of mobile phone usage, we too-often choose to silence ourselves with SMS and social media, increasingly "talking" without sound. On a device originally designed to transfer sound. Why? Because we can. We alter, improve, and distort the reality of our photos with Instagram and other enhancement apps. Why?.... because we can. We have stretched our HD TVs to cinema size, and then sought the same experience on a 5cm screen... because we can. Five years ago, a major cruise company announced at a European travel technology conference that the "real" launch of the latest addition to their fleet would happen simultaneously in Second Life. Yes, Second Life. Why? Narcissistic marketing? Customer retention or acquisition, buyer channel shift or the quest for an innovative marketing award? Or because it was possible? Maybe all of these..? It was indeed possible, and the brand gained significant media coverage, through first - mover status within its industry. Was it practical or profitable? Doubtful. How many people in a typical lift /elevator going more than ten floors make the journey without quickly checking their "phone"? At train stations, on trains, buses, lobbies, restaurants, we are constantly "checking out" (something or someone) or "checking in" somewhere. Is our growing addiction to Display taking over from Content as king? We are surrounded by sensationalism; a serial obsession with the new. I recently passed by the Renault showroom on the Champs Elysees, noticing two distinct, 100 per cent electric cars on display from the same manufacturer. One, the sporty Dezir had a crowd around it, most of whom were using smartphones to take photos of themselves to immediately onward share with friends the news of their proximity to the future-present. The adjacent vehicle, the Zoe, a more mundane urban car, had not one person admiring it; ...both vehicles feature zero carbon emissions and have exactly the same distance range of 160km.Breakthrough technology but without the sporty glamour. Buzz Lightyear had taken over from Woody as the public moved on from the reality of fully electric vehicles in search of the next thrill level of what kind of car can be designed adopting 100 per cent electrical power, even though it may be neither practical nor profitable to produce or use. As I write this Mr Zuckerberg, a founder of a company that has made so much more possible and practical in our personalised digital user interface with the world, agreed to hold on to his stock as it hovered around 50 pct of its launch price (partly due to the analysts' view that the increasing trend towards accessing the service through mobile devices thwarts the size and revenue from ad - screen real estate), we ask ourselves how hotels and hotel companies can balance the possible, the practical and the profitable to best satisfy shareholders. Where is the tipping point?Where is that tipping point at which "Alternative Life" , or whichever of today's online travel "digital environments or indirect channels " offer our previous and potential guests a superior ( read as "more enjoyable and satisfying, resulting in a purchase) interaction with our brand alongside those of our competitors, so often that it begins to show negative impact on our profitability, delivering a higher percentage contribution to rooms revenue than we generate through our direct channels? Evidence is growing that the way in which hotels have configured and operate current tools for channel management, revenue management, front office and branded reservation systems and marketing could be compounding this challenge. You can only put so much lipstick on a bulldog and hope it will still win the beauty pageant. A few large owners of online demand for hotel accommodation, commanding and securing the currently -topical rate parity, also ask for product parity, sometimes outperforming many hotels' own websites in selling the products. We know that travellers within the transient leisure segment wishing to shop and purchase accommodation online often favour third party sites and apps over hotel branded site; breadth of inventory, full range of product for all budgets, up to 240,000 hotels in over 40,000 destinations, displayed in a way many travellers prefer to view pricing ; soft search, flexible dates, calendared, full transparency displays for one - way and return flight and rail prices enabling them to clearly and quickly make an informed choice based on a convenience vs. fare matrix. They expect the same from hotels; a smooth and effortless blend, just the way they like it. The irony and the stingSo here is the irony of the reality; some third party online (hotel) marketers and booking engine providers can and do display their hotelier customers' contracted daily price and product parity in such a way that when combined with these providers' guerrilla expertise in regional markets and mammoth budget and resource in terms of search and content faceting, the customer is not only more likely to access the brand earlier on one of these sites but also find the shopping and purchase experience more palatable. And the sting? Such successful merchandisers, even without full inventory or product, can represent a clear brand admirably by insisting on good descriptive content, using quality images and featuring guest reviews and blogs from multiple sources, meaning that the brand promise up to the point of purchase has been met in a retail environment rather than direct purchase, despite the merchandiser not offering 100 per cent of the content found on the hotelier site. How much of what hotels spend in this area is "digital insurance" - making us visible everywhere in the SoLoMo world we believe our guests live in? Mobile is emerging as the dominant gene of the media confluence of Social, Local and Mobile marketing DNA. The Smartphone is perhaps the body. Attractive navigation between apps and mobile web offerings is as smart as the apps themselves. Finance is now beginning to ask the question of impact on profit rather than revenue as revenue flows from reliable third party taps whilst the monthly agency commission cheque covers a growing percentage of arrived reservations. So where does the solution sit if one is required?The ascendency of Revenue Management in hotels and hotel companies deservedly reflects the need to successfully manage the complexity resulting from marketing or sales decisions to work with certain online partners and balancing that distribution with direct to brand sources. Pricing, profitability and marketing often sit elsewhere in the organisation, as does the IT that governs the systems used to manage the hotel or hotel company. As IT, Marketing, and Revenue have taken turns on front stage in recent years, Finance, having listened to these functions and understood their roles, capabilities, environments and impact on the business more in recent years than ever before, will perhaps be next to take the floor. Who in the organisation will suggest, design and deliver the much - needed graduation from connectivity and supposed integration to congruency; a congruency built around the business objectives of the hotel or hotel company, pulling together all pillars of discipline- a meeting of minds, technologies, processes and competencies. An environment that includes goals based on the net revenue achieved per available room, once the true costs in marketing, channel management, and other distribution technology have been taken from the room rate sold, as much as it also looks at overall revenue. An environment where Revenue shares more accountability with Sales, Marketing, Finance and General Management for the profitability of the property or properties' room sales. As an industry, other than the guest service delivered, our systems, our data, our digital assets, and much of our brand direction is increasingly in the Cloud (s) in the hands of system providers, business partners and past and future guests.Strategies to evaluate the possible, convert today's impractical into tomorrow's practical and focused on profit.Successful hotel companies know when to challenge and call time on the way things are being done, spending more time down from the cloud and at the Leadership table challenging the impact of all distribution, revenue, IT and marketing decisions on profitability. For example, they wish to challenge revenue and marketing on when to seek better margin as much as total revenue. They question not only the technologies being used to deliver business objectives but how those technologies are being used, in relation to today and tomorrow's objectives rather than those of three to five years ago. Should there be a "second life" for all technology vendors or solution providers. Perhaps the discussions held at these tables and the execution of the strategy is best led by those who have worked with systems that were regarded as best of breed for the time, but can see how to improve the experience for those who "check out" the brand online, such that more of them "check in" online with the brand directly, whilst bringing positive impact on profit and loyalty from the steps taken to achieve this. A strong understanding and experience of distribution, sales, marketing, e-commerce, third party vendor relations, revenue, IT and finance is ideal. Resulting strategies evaluate the possible, pragmatically convert some of today's impractical into tomorrow's practical and are driven at all times by a focus on profit. Hotel Solutions Partnership is very comfortable at such meetings.