For hotels, loading negotiated rates in a timely manner is key to successful corporate travel sales. Rate loading ensures that negotiated rates are available for corporate customers to book in the hotel’s reservation systems and third-party channels. Here’s how Choice Hotels worked with ZS to use robotics and intelligent process automation (IPA) to almost entirely automate its rate loading process, resulting in significantly shorter lead times, cost savings, improved customer satisfaction and higher revenue.
Achieving speed and accuracy in rate loading has always been a challenge for the hotel industry. Most hotel brands have a complex, manual rate loading process involving multiple touchpoints, teams and systems, which can lead to costly delays and errors. In addition, it often takes up to 30 days for brands to load rates, meaning that corporate customers can’t book a brand’s hotels during that time. Moreover, once rates are loaded, corporate customers and their travel management companies must conduct expensive rate audits to ensure that the loaded rates are accurate.
Choice, like many other hotel companies, wanted to improve its rate loading speed. “We wanted to upgrade our ability to load rates in a reasonable amount of time, with greater accuracy,” says Chad Fletcher, VP of global sales at Choice. “With feedback we received from customers, we saw firsthand the opportunity to quicken the rate loading process to help facilitate deals.”
Abhijit Patel, VP of marketing and distribution strategy at Choice, agrees. “We listened to hotels and corporate clients and determined that, through automation, we could improve accuracy and speed and seize additional revenue opportunities.”
Choice had already reinforced its commitment to corporate customers through marked investments in its brands, properties and technology. Choice saw improving rate loading as an opportunity to double down on this commitment to corporate customers and use quick, seamless and accurate rate loading as a competitive differentiator.
Working with ZS, Choice implemented IPA, which allows computer software, or a robot, to mimic the work that humans had previously done. Rate loading was a very good candidate for automation through IPA because it involves legacy systems, structured data and repetitive but rules-based tasks.
By automating significant portions of the rate loading process, IPA decreased manual effort so rates could be loaded faster, and with no errors. “Since everything with rate loading is a process, and you’re repeating the process hundreds of thousands of times a year, IPA was definitely the right thing to do,” Patel says. “It allows you to monitor performance in real time to show what’s working and what’s not, using a combination of automation and strong analytics.”
Choice’s history of working with ZS made the firm the ideal collaborator for this effort, Fletcher adds.
“With any project, they bring inherent knowledge about our people and our process that’s unparalleled,” he says. “That’s the value they bring at the very beginning, and the output is why we keep coming back.”
Through implementing IPA, Choice’s average rate loading time decreased from 14 days to two days. Moreover, because rates are available for booking much earlier than before, Choice expects to realize a significant increase in revenue in shifting manual staffing effort for rate loading to higher-value activities.
IPA has both increased customer satisfaction and helped the company get an edge over its competitors, Fletcher says. “Corporate travel managers are telling us that speed and accuracy for rate loading have improved, and there’s more clarity around the process. We follow up with them when it’s completed, in a more consistent way, and they’re not getting that with the competition.” Moreover, IPA has allowed Choice to be more flexible in serving corporate customers during the pandemic. Choice was one of the first hotel brands to roll over its rates from 2020 to 2021 automatically while allowing corporate customers to negotiate deeper discounts where it made sense.
Choice is also finding other opportunities to deploy IPA, including responding to RFPs on behalf of franchisees. “We’re combining IPA with AI for better pricing, and looking at using it in other areas of the company to shift away from manual processes to help improve efficiency by 10 to 20%,” Patel says.
Overall, IPA helped Choice reinforce its value proposition to corporate travel managers: to make their lives easier.
“Nothing shows our commitment to our customers more than solving one of their biggest pain points,” Patel says. “We went from a year where we often received comments on the rate loading process to, the very next year, zero complaints. It doesn’t get any better than that.”