• Expedia brings Alice to the party

Expedia, Inc has invested USD26m in guest-request software group Alice, giving it a majority stake.

The deal deepens Expedia, Inc’s involvement in guest relations, at a time when competition for customer ownership grows.

Expedia, Inc’s participation in the Series B funding round was not the first for the online travel agent, which last year closed a USD9.5m Series A funding round led by Expedia with participation from Laconia, 645 Ventures, and Neuehouse founders. At that point the company had raised USD13m, with Expedia, Inc having initially invested a reported USD3m in the company in 2015.

Alice, which stands for A Life-Improving Customer Experience, is an operations platform, which connects all the departments of a hotel for, it says, improved staff communication and task management.

Alice’s three main products are: Alice Staff, a request management tool for hospitality staff; Alice Concierge, a task tracking tool for concierge teams; and Alice Guest, a communication tool for guests to correspond with hotel staff. The products plug directly into property management systems such as IQware, Opera, SMS, Agilysys, and WebRezPro.

Earlier this year Alice launched a new Guest Text Messaging product, which allows for text messaging between hotels and guests without requiring an app download, as well as Logbooks, which can be used by hoteliers to track any physical item belonging to or loaned to a guest, including packages and lost and found.

The group said that in the past six months it had doubled its customer base. Alice’s partners include independent and managed hotels, hotel groups, residential groups, serviced apartments, holiday rental companies and concierge companies, including One&Only resorts, Viceroy Hotels Group, Dream Hotel Group and Leading Hotels of the World.

Tom Bell, head concierge at Sixty Soho, was quoted as saying that Alice was “visually engaging, easy to use, and lets us track things we couldn’t keep a record of before. It’s reducing inefficiencies, increasing transparency, and improving the guest experience. When we can iron out the kinks, there’s more synergy and flow, and the better the guest stay is”.

Justin Effron, CEO, Alice, said: “Our mission is to give hoteliers the ability to provide the best guest service and experience they can around the clock, and this latest round is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved. With this additional capital, we’ll be better equipped to help hoteliers reach their goals of improved guest service.”

Cyril Ranque, president, Lodging Partner Services, Expedia, Inc, added: “It is time for the internet to expand beyond revolutionising how our hotel partners market and distribute their products into how they service and interact with their guests. Alice is developing smart mobile and cloud technology to fundamentally improve the hotelier and guest experience at scale. That’s a revolution worth investing in.”

The group is not alone is targeting the guest. Earlier this year Triptease launched a guest conversation feature called Front Desk which allows live interaction between hotels and consumers in the pre-booking process, helping to aid conversion.

Charlie Osmond, chief tease, Triptease, told us: “It’s a certainly an indicator of a changing era. Alice is admittedly a little different to us: their app links up conversations between guests and staff during stay as well as in advance, but on the other hand doesn’t have the smart triggered messages or live rate comparisons that Front Desk shows.

“Yet the message to the industry is clear: it’s time to bring a human voice to the digital experience. To recreate all the character of the lobby (the front desk, one might say), online. You don’t need me to lecture you on the rise of messenger apps across all sorts of industries – but there’s something lovely about the fact it’s hotels, so often steeped in tradition, who are quick to embrace the voice of a new era. Why? Paradoxically, this time technology is all about being a little bit more human – which is at the core of hospitality. We’re excited to see where this relationship leads – anything that brings hotels and guests closer together is a good thing.”

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: And embracing the relationship between hotels and guests, why not? So often the interaction between the two is fraught and littered with blame and hurt feelings. Where’s my reservation? Where’s my suitcase? Why did someone come into my room  in the middle of the night and steal my phone?

Attempts at communication between hotel and guest have been trialled by others, with varying degrees of success and varying levels of focus on how pressing it really is for the customer to be able to choose between pillow types on their mobile – only for the message to sent to a forgotten back office. Let’s get the club sandwich into the room before it goes cold and then worry about pillow type, eh?

And if the concierge at Sixty Soho is happy with it, then we’re in. But before hotels start dancing in the street, who is facilitating this evolution in service? An OTA. There are no plans, reportedly, for Alice to be integrated into Expedia’s Partner Central, but it can surely only be a matter of time and then the OTA will be even deeper into the consumer’s funnel than ever before.

Groups such as AccorHotels are wise to the closer relationship between the OTAs and their guests and are addressing it as part of the three pillars strategy, offering service outside the norm and leveraging its own John Paul digital concierge service, acquired last year.

We may have mentioned this before, but for hotels to build that loyalty they crave – and need to survive – service is

 

 

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