Interview: Michael de Jongh, Avvio

Michael de Jongh, Avvio’s chief commercial officer, talks to BHN about Avvio’s Allora booking engine and its use of technology to drive direct bookings.

  • Allora is the world’s first direct booking engine – who are your clients and how do you support them in driving bookings through that process?

“The Allora platform was founded 24 months ago and in that time, it’s evolved into many different things. We now have a total of 600 clients, 100 of which approximately are solely focused on digital marketing and so they are outside of the Allora platform. That gives you a sense of how we’re evolving and how we can support our clients.”

  • What does your role as chief commercial officer entail and what have you been doing since your appointment in July?

“There are a number of different things. First of all, Frank Reeves (Founder and CEO of Avvio) has got Avvio into a position where we are now moving from a lifestyle to a scale ups business so we are acting with a sense of maturity from a commercial perspective to look at everything we do and how that benefits our customers and partner hotels. Alongside that part of the remit, we have to ensure we are focused as a technology business to drive towards optimal results by bringing in new customers that fit that criteria and making sure that we service them in an incredible way that’s different to anyone else in the market.” 

“My role is to make sure customers are at the centre of every decision we make and the position that we’ve got ourselves into points towards scale growth. In the future, we are looking at where we are going to go in terms of new territory, adapting to new advancing technology and going into different areas of the hospitality business.”

  • What do you believe the importance is of including a personalised, customised digital experience?

“The world has changed significantly and if you look at the proliferation of the Internet and mobile devices, people are interacting with hotels in a very different way. I think hoteliers in particular are incredible at being hospitable and making sure that their guests are treated like kings and queens. That’s been the same since the beginning of time.” 

“However, what they’re now realising very quickly is that the guest experience starts long before they actually step into your physical property – that’s generally initiated through a Google search but then it can be bounced around OTAs through to your direct website. I think there’s confusion and a fragmented process for people to book directly with your hotel. There are hundreds and thousands of brands screaming at you and sometimes it’s a territory in which as a consumer you need some recommendations.” 

“Hoteliers also need to be technology experts. Where Avvio and our partners step in, however, is to make sure that that direct web booking piece, which is now often the most profitable part of your revenue chain with OTAs, is still your most profitable because it’s the most direct route. We need to enhance that and understood how our customers are going to be more pertinent to book with your hotel and your brand rather than through other sources.”

  • How is technology playing a part in the hospitality sector do you believe?

“Hoteliers now need to have an understanding about what’s going on in technology so they can keep abreast of the situation. I’m not from the hospitality space but part of my remit is to bring in experiences from the technology sector that we can utilise within the hospitality space. I think there’s a massive role to play for technology because if it’s providing a digital personal experience for your guest, it’s doing a great job. Equally from a hotel and revenue perspective, you’ll be able to optimise your revenue if you make sure that a big proportion of your guests book direct with you rather than book with other sources and OTAs.” 

“When I first joined this sector, there were two opposing camps of booking engines talking about killing off the OTAs as if they were overtaking our business but you need to embrace them and look at some of the incredible things they’re doing that you’re never going to be able to keep up with. For example, are the biggest advertisers on Google so they introduce new market entrants to your particular property and the OTAs also drive traffic. Once they are on your site, you must be able to convert them to your brand. There’s a really important role for technology in the channel mix to have a very capable optimal direct booking tool.”

  • How do you see the importance of technology evolving in the future?

“It is so fragmented that hotels have to buy into a lot of different technology sources and be involved with digital marketing. They also have to have an understanding how complex algorithms are for the likes of Google and Bing so there’s a lot for us to get our head around. I think the future will mean that this is a lot more streamlined. I think Google has every intent to be a very powerful player direct within the hospitality space because they already have the information and data in terms of the sites you go to and they have the ability to book direct to Google.” 

“I think the future will be consolidation as we’ve seen from the technology space where people are buying up more of these types of companies to consolidate together. Secondly, we’ll see what I call an open ecosystem where players like Avvio and Oracle will be much more interconnected. That means that when a hotel or customer buys that technology, they would confidently know it will integrate into their current systems without much fuss and additional expenditure.”

  • How do you ensure the Avvio digital team remain at the cutting edge of technology?

“The company was built on an incredible foundation by smart individuals like Frank (Reeves) but as the company evolves, having me in place now allows him to concentrate more on the product perspective. Frank was the one who had the foresight, strategy and initial platform and ideas around how this was going to work. It is also about putting people in the right place. What we’re seeing from an AI perspective allows our people to be much more focused on the things which allow us to be much more successful.” 

“If you look at Allora, it does something called a recommender engine so when a website visitor is visiting a particular property it will understand that rather than showing something generic, it should be showing things that are customised to their needs. We understand that generally through Allora you’re not going to book on your first time visiting that particular site but on your second site we’ve got an opportunity to add more information and push recommendations based on that to you. Based on previous transactions, we know it will be more suited to your needs and we’re seeing that in all the other verticals too.” 

“I think the evolution of Avvio of where we are and where we’re going to is in a very good place.”

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