Breaking Travel News interview: Duane Hepditch, chief executive, Guestfolio

Guestfolio - a new type of guest relationship management system - has been nominated as the World’s Leading Hotel CRM Technology Provider by the prestigious World Travel Technology Awards ahead of that organisation’s Grand Final in Morocco in November.

As the build up to the event continues Breaking Travel News here sits down with Guestfolio’s chief executive, Duane Hepditch, to discuss the brand, its key strengths and aspirations for the future.

Breaking Travel News: Perhaps we could begin with a brief overview of Guestfolio? Would you be so kind as to tell our readers what it is you are bringing to the marketplace?

Duane Hepditch: Guestfolio falls into many service categories.

Technically we’re a full featured hospitality CRM but we call it a guest relationship management system, as we like to think of patrons of a hotel as guests rather than customers.

To our clients, guests are friends, or people you’d like to get to know better and invite back again and again.

Guestfolio plugs into most property management systems and then automates all of our clients’ digital communications including confirmation emails, pre-arrivals, guest satisfaction surveys, a customised mobile concierge as well as a robust email marketing platform with beautifully designed responsive content.

This enables us to deliver and measure the effectiveness while presenting real-time conversion data to our clients.

With this information, they’re making more informed business decisions which allows them to focus on their guests, not systems. 

We find opportunities and patterns in the data so that they can make future offers and stays more personal for their guests.

BTN: The brand is already well established in your home markets in North America, with a number of properties also signed up here in Europe. What are your plans for expansion in the coming months?

DH: We’re still seeing strong growth with hotel groups and luxury properties in North America.

In this market alone we’re signing up one new client each business day.

We have a great client list in the UK that has helped us grow to other European countries, notably Holland, Portugal, France and Malta.

Our next step is to expand our sales and support team in the UK to service these growing markets.

In the Middle East and Asia, we are partnering with PMS vendors who know the market and its intricacies best and we’re starting to see some real growth here too.

Our product supports multiple languages for guest-facing communications, which gives us an advantage with new regions.

BTN: Guestfolio has some glamorous clients, from Four Seasons to Shangri-La. Do you feel your brand helps these luxury properties stand out in what is a very competitive market place?

DH: One senior vice president of a luxury chain said to me that in today’s hospitality marketplace we can all buy bedding and stemware from the same suppliers, however, the only way to differentiate your luxury experience is to communicate and engage with guests pre-arrival.

Guests are looking for genuine engagement and are not interested in voyeur investigation into what they tweet about or when their birthday is.

They just want to start a conversation with the hotel in order to ensure their stay is comfortable and memorable.

By building that relationship pre-arrival, it greatly reduces the risk of cancellations and builds lasting brand awareness.

For hotels that just want to compete on price via the various channels, our product is not right for them.

We’ve found that our clients really do set themselves apart by focusing on guest relations and satisfaction before, during, and after their stay.

BTN: How do guests respond to your communications; do you feel your work enhances their stay in a particular location?

DH: As we all know, we’re now in an environment where customers speak out about their experiences, whether they’re positive or negative. And they don’t hold back!

We’ve also seen that currently TripAdvisor is the second most popular source for direct hotel bookings – with the first being family and friends.

We’ve embraced this at Guestfolio and earlier this year we partnered with TripAdvisor, allowing our clients to seamlessly link their post-stay surveys with TripAdvisor.

This partnership has proven to be one of the most positive features added for our clients.

A huge number have not only seen an increase in reviews on TripAdvisor but also an increase in ranking within their cities/regions.

Through this, clients can see first hand how much guests appreciate ongoing engagement with the guest from booking to well after check-out.

As an example, we’ve seen guests post about their ‘Guestfolio’ experience through TripAdvisor and it’s clearly a winner with them!

BTN: The team recently launched ‘Lasso’, a new product designed to allow hotels to record more information about their guests. Could you talk us through what the ambitions are there?

DH: The idea for Lasso came from a pattern we were seeing in support emails.

It was then echoed to our sales people when they were speaking with prospects around the globe.

All of them were looking for creative ways to capture guests email addresses if it wasn’t provided via the OTA reservation.

We took three developers aside for three months and let them focus entirely on this project.

In the spirit of open source collaboration, we decided to offer the service for free to all hoteliers – not just Guestfolio clients.

We’re really happy with the adoption of Lasso so far - it’s a win for guests and the hotel.

BTN: Guestfolio has been nominated as the World’s Leading Hotel CRM Technology Provider by the prestigious World Travel Technology Awards ahead of that organisation’s Grand Final in Morocco in November. How does it feel to have been nominated there, and what benefits would any victory bring to your organisation?

DH: It’s a tremendous honour – especially knowing that it is an industry nomination rather than a self nomination process.

We’ve had this great technology for years, but we’re focused on building better software rather than media attention so it’s taken a while to get the word out.

Adoption of any product or service has a greater chance of success if it is recommend by a peer or endorsed by a membership organization.

The World Travel Awards is the premier accolade that any hospitality company can achieve so the impact will be substantial to us.

If we win, I’ll be knocking on the doors of every property in the Medina quarter to personally introduce our company to them. -  أتمنى لنا الحظ