Jason Bryant, CEO
Founded in 2004, Nor1 provides data-driven pricing and
merchandising products used by hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries. The
company is headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices around the world.
Prior to Nor1, Bryant founded DRCI, which provided high-volume transaction systems and internet technologies to the travel industry. Nor1 has raised more than $29 million in funding from
investors such as Concur Technologies, Goldman Sachs and Accel Partners.
It’s been almost 15 years now since you founded Nor1. How
have upselling and merchandising in hospitality evolved over these years?
These days hoteliers know there’s money to be made in
upselling, although they still don’t realize just how much demand there is. Our
data scientists can quantify demand for inventory upgrades at about $25 per
reservation. That’s a lot of money on the table that very few organizations are
recognizing. Over the years, we have
organized an approach to optimize and realize as much of that demand as
possible while enhancing guest experiences.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that guests still want
offers that specifically cater to their individual needs and preferences.
When Nor1 started out, we were only engaging the guest at
one touch point in the booking cycle, which was during online booking. Now our
system “touches the guest” with intelligent offers throughout the reservation
life cycle including booking, pre-arrival, arrival and throughout the guest’s
stay at the property.
Nowadays we hear so much about artificial intelligence and machine learning. How
do these capabilities factor into your product?
AI is not just factored into our product, but it is our
product. Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, is the heart of
our value proposition and how we are able to determine the optimal offer set,
including pricing that will drive real-time revenue for each guest transaction.
We cut our teeth on machine learning long before anybody else in this industry, and this technology continues to be a defining differentiator for Nor1.
Nor1’s decision platform, Prime, is based on two patents
related to the unique process of simultaneous pricing and merchandising.
Machine learning is the only way to generate real-time offer sets in this
fashion. Along with operational efficiency and the ability to communicate with
guests when and how they demand, AI is at the heart of our products.
Additionally, we believe the path to truly leveraging AI or
machine learning is by recognizing that in order to engage guests at the
highest level, a combination of both AI and human interaction is required. We
focus AI on what machines are very good at and empower the ability of humans to
efficiently do what they are good at.
How has being in Silicon Valley helped and/or hindered
Nor1's growth in the travel industry?
Being located in Silicon Valley enabled us to do what we do,
and we would have struggled to have done it anywhere else. Especially in the
early days, this is where the necessary talent was. All of these platforms and
open-source languages were invented by industry leaders such as Yahoo, Google
and Facebook. They created the code to build their platforms and then they made
it available on an open-source basis.
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Silicon Valley is largely where machine learning tools and
competencies have been forged and perfected in the consumer world. No place
else in the world has the sheer volume of talent in this specific engineering
area. Being located in Silicon Valley has been fundamental in our ability to
harness machine learning and state of the art technology.
One of the things Amadeus has created as part of its new
guest reservation system launching with IHG is attribute-based selling. What
are your thoughts on this model that eliminates room types and uses a more à la
carte shopping system?
That goes right to who we are. Nor1 products are based on
upselling by attribute. Guests want to customize their stay by being able to
select a room that matches their reason for travel—a view, an extra room, a
bigger desk, access to a lounge, pre-paid parking—so their trip will be exactly
what they want. Right now, Amadeus and IHG are creating that attribute-based
reservation system, and an even more significant challenge will be building the
pricing mechanism for attributes.
We have already built the mechanism to price by attribute.
We give values to different amenities and different components of a room,
whether it's the view or a high floor or something else. It allows hotels to
drive incremental revenue while creating that perfect stay.
We know consumers are looking for personalization at every
step of the journey - from research and booking, through their stay and at check
out. What’s your advice to brands on how to be effective with personalization?
“Personalization” has become a buzzword with many definitions,
some positive and some negative. In my
mind the first step is for the brand to clearly define what they are trying to
achieve and to recognize that the necessary starting point may be segmentation
or customization. What we do - which we don’t see anyone else doing - is to
follow the guest through the reservation life cycle and make decisions of what
to offer them based on their past actions.
For instance, we may make an offer to a guest at booking. Then later, we may have the opportunity to
make a pre-arrival or arrival offer to that same guest. Part of our decisioning
for the current offer is based on a host of data points, including the actions
from the guest at the first interaction or offer. We use each successive
interaction to increase and build our intelligence of that guest’s interest and
Regarding ancillary services, would you say that hotels
either have a lack of knowledge about the opportunity or have a lack of impetus
to go all-in?
It’s not a problem with impetus. Everybody wants to generate
more money. The big issue is coordinating across the enterprise. There must be
a single strategy regarding ancillary services that is clearly communicated
between the revenue management, sales, operations and e-commerce teams.
Everybody needs to be rowing in the same direction.
We use each successive interaction to increase and build our intelligence of that guest’s interest and intent.
What we sometimes see is that these different departments
actually contradict each other with their strategies and approaches, which just
confuses the guest. When your strategy isn’t applied and communicated
consistently, you bring in less money, and your guest satisfaction is lower.
That is something we work hard on at Nor1 - not only our services and products,
but also communicating their value to the organizations we serve and helping
them get their internal groups aligned.
Imagine you're a property manager running a hotel, what do
you suspect would be your number-one digital challenge right now?
For most property managers the number-one digital challenge
is, and always will be, revenue optimization via guest acquisition. But beyond
that, it’s understanding your guests, their needs and what drives their
satisfaction resulting in strong online reviews and return guests.
Who is that
guest, how should you service that guest and what offers should you make that
will drive revenue and guest satisfaction before they even arrive at the
property? That, to me, is the number-one digital challenge.
In April, Nor1 acquired Stay Delightful, a guest messaging
service and ancillary revenue generation platform. Do you have more
acquisitions in the works?
The Stay Delightful acquisition was compelling because it
gave us the ability to add an SMS-based feature to all our products. That was
the missing piece in our platform - we didn’t have a text-based service that our
clients could leverage and control. Now we offer omnichannel guest engagement.
It allows them to send out specific and personalized offers, one-to-one
communications, real time between the property and the guest.
Right now we have our heads down and are focusing on
delivering value from this acquisition. Future acquisitions that drive
additional value are always a possibility.
What is the biggest challenge for Nor1 right now?
Our biggest challenge is staying on top of technology
advancements that evolve at a rapid pace and then converting them into
hospitality industry benefits. The technology moves fast, and we are always
working on harnessing it for the value of our customers.
If we talk again in five years, what do you envision you’ll
be telling us about Nor1?
I hope that in five years we will have matured and evolved
merchandising and ancillary revenue creation into its own enterprise discipline
and platform. This would be an intersection of hospitality systems, guest
engagement and decision science technologies forming the backbone of
quantifiable and sustainable guest intelligence.
What are you personally wanting to learn more about in 2018?
At Nor1, we encourage lifelong learning. We offer an
education allowance that employees can use however they want, on any type of
learning. I’m using mine for an online MasterClass with Malcolm Gladwell. It’s
about how to articulate your thoughts more clearly in writing.
Last year, I
completed five online Coursera classes on data science management. I find it
interesting how often the book I’m reading or course I’m taking unexpectedly
intersects with other things in my personal and professional life. I am a firm
believer in lifelong learning.
If we could talk to your employees, how would they describe
you as a leader?
I hope the Nor1 team would describe me as passionate,
intense and visionary. I love what I do and am incredibly grateful for the
opportunity to lead Nor1’s strategy and team.
Thinking back on what you’ve learned since founding Nor1,
what advice do you have for travel industry entrepreneurs?
It all starts with the entrepreneur who says, “There must be
a better, cheaper, faster way to do this."
The advice I’d give to those individuals considering
becoming an entrepreneur in the travel industry, is if you truly believe there
is a better, cheaper, faster way, then go start it now! There will never be the
perfect time, the right market conditions or the right number of contacts.
never be smart enough or have all the answers - the right time is now. The
process of starting something creates an momentum that will carry you and your
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