Something exciting (finally) at Hi-Tec via @Tnooz

My thoughts about big data in hospitality:

First, I read this tweet yesterday, after having titled this “Big Data”, and it gave me pause:

“As a technology descriptor, Big Data is about as caveman as it gets — so broad and ambigous that it is better grunted than spoken.”

This is true. But “Big Data” will still be used, and it’s a commentary on the stage we are it…. labeling things something ambiguous because we haven’t even begun to understand it. Yet vendors rush to monetize it, for a number of industries that don’t yet have the capacity to truly understand it.  I question whether those who peddle big data are truly understanding of it, themselves.  What’s more, I would love to ask each individual consumer data group that uses data to monetize end users one simple question: “Do you have a corporate standard of ethics in regards to how you leverage or extapolate datas?” (click for more)


As a consumer, it’s wholly unacceptable how data is being used to manipulate us, but as a business man it’s just the same market demographics we have been using to identify guest segments for decades. It’s just that it is so much smarter and more invasive now. The real problem is the assumptions data will make…. like that you really went with your wife, and not a mistress, to your last upgraded luxury hotel (a fairly severe example, but guests expect their hosts to be unobtrusive and discreet). A lesser example is the complexity of organizing human beings into relevant segments or buckets.  The more targeted we get, the more important the mistakes, and the more it will reflect on your brand.  The road blocks, complexity, and privacy issues are all important…. but in a world where marketing compels the consumer, one might hope for relatively topical, or targeted, ads that don’t waste our time with worthless products that do not interest us – *WITHOUT* a subjugation or exploitation of our personally equitable data.

Data ethics, in all businesses, will be vital.

Targeting and personalization is nothing new. There’s been customer segmentation in many industries for years. Readers of magazines have always been broken down by socio-economic status, by zip/postal code.

However, the technology is making it very efficient, and with that comes the unbridled urge to exploit the data as best a company can. The entire inflated online economy is panicking about the ad-model, so the customer data is the new revenue stream. It is wise to remember blue_beetle’s comment on MetaFilter: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Beyond the fact that “transparency is out of the box”, I just can’t imagine a modern consumer to allow this. It seems really disingenuous. As a businessperson, I absolutely understand the value of knowing who is invested in your brand. But as a modern consumer, I can’t imagine standing for this divisive, cynical practice. It seems to obscure the real value of a service or product, as well.

The consumer is always somewhat behind the marketing tools that data mine them.  Conversations about personalization and it’s impacts, coupled with people’s reaction, will certainly lead to a more equitable, transparent, model of selling things. But it will absolutely be the responsibility of data interpretation companies to draw ethical boundaries around extrapolation techniques, and identify problematic data analysis methods as they arise.  There is a history, in the tech sector, to put the head down and ignore red flags or potential problems.

Privacy is, by far and wide, over…. the issue now is civil liberties, and we need to start talking about the intersection of automated, algorithmic personalisation, and how that will impact our rights. I have zero expectation of privacy in regards to my personal data online, but I do have the expectation that people’s interpretation of that data will not infringe on my liberties. Whether that’s something as amoral and inappropriate as cheating on a loved one is not my point… but the hallmark of hospitality is guest privacy, and unlike those committed to societal marketing horrid products, we should look very deep into the way we interact and engage our guests. If our industry is falling apart such that we need to leverage any and all guest info to exploit them into buying our services, then by all means – flip the switch and let hospitality marketing become the same as infomercial marketing – learning how to manipulate, confuse, or misdirect. But I think we desperately need the tech people to understand this isn’t traditional business…. that this is hospitality, and we have a modicum of respect for the guest’s ability to decide how and when he wants to be interrupted  This may be an ideological notion of the hotel industry, but as we move into the big data world, we need to actively explore ethics that help us to not exploit guest data, and sort of acts as guardians against ourselves.

The whole business world needs to address this, but the pace of business is such that it won’t likely happen.

So does big data scare me? No.  I think data analysis and interpretation could save our economy, reform our government, and save lives. However, it’s the humans I might worry about….

Do I think we need to remind ourselves that the way hospitality should be respectful and noble in how we manipulate, interpret, extrapolate, and use all this data, in lieu of guest privacy and respecting them? Yes. Yes I do.  I am going to ask our travel professionals an hoteliers to think deeply about how they want to treat a guest – and to understand their is a difference between understanding their datas, and using it to manipulate them.  The pace of business is too fast for people to have gotten to this last sentence, but those that did might proactively walk forward into the world of big data with respect to the people that choose to keep our hotels in business. The hotel business is conservative for a reason – we don’t have the money to get burned on trying new ideas. If you exploit your guest’s data in a way that burns bridges, no amount of data analysis will ever fill your hotel again.

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