Crystalbrook Vincent features 166 rooms nestled underneath Brisbane's Story Bridge.

Crystalbook Collection is taking inspiration from the booming e-commerce industry and applying similar tactics to drive direct bookings and claw back spend with online travel agents (OTAs).

Through a partnership with Salesforce, Crystalbrook is launching its digital transformation in August after six months in development.

Crystalbrook Collection CEO Geoff York told HM that it’s a major investment for the brand as it marks its fifth year in business.

“This is a seven-figure investment for us,” York said.

“We’re five years old, we’re a start-up. We’ve now got seven hotels, 1300 rooms across the group per night. It’s really elevating how we do business.”

During the pandemic, Crystalbrook sought to transition to direct bookings to improve profitability. This project will help the company understand its customers and use personalised, targeted marketing practices to drive these bookings.

“It’s about knowing who the customer is, treating them like an individual, like we know them, and personalising the experience for them,” he said.

“Retail does it so well. If you get to the shopping cart and decide for whatever reason to jump off without completing the transaction, that’s the end of the journey. With the really good online retailers, you’ll get a text three hours later [prompting you to complete the transaction].

“The next day, you’ll get another one offering another 5% discount if you proceed. They’re all automated; that’s where Salesforce is going to take us.”

While a common practice in retail, hospitality has been slow to embrace this approach.

“This is still a bit unique in the Australian hospitality space – not many have taken this on board,” York said.

“The hotel industry is always behind what’s happening in other industries, but this is going to push us to the forefront.”

Learnings from retail

The transformation will see the introduction of a Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud.

Crystalbrook Collection Group Director, Marketing, Katie Malone, is driving the project alongside the company’s Sales Director and IT Director.

“We’ve looked at e-commerce business models to provide us a single source of truth, in a single customer profile,” Malone told HM.

“We’ve got customers that have stayed at multiple hotels, but we don’t know that so we’re treating them and marketing to them as if they’re a first-time customer.

“It’s all about the importance of first party data. And it’s about using technology to automate our processes to give us more time with the customer.”

The transformation will allow Crystalbrook to identify its most valuable customers, how often they are visiting its hotels, bars and restaurants, and what their preferences are.

Malone said it’s about taking a holistic view of the group, rather than focusing primarily on hotels.

“We’re not just a hotel company – we’ve got 13 restaurants across the group. We’ve thought about how we are treating those customers and what we are learning about them. 70% of our restaurant business isn’t from hotel guests, it’s from people walking by, locals,” she said.

The hotel business stands to benefit from increased profitability in the long term, by shifting the spend from OTAs to internal marketing for a better return on investment.

“Yes, we’re spending more on marketing, but we’re saving a fortune on OTAs,” Malone said.

“That’s one thing I’ve always been fascinated by – that you would allow someone who isn’t part of your business to spend [continuously] and close off budget on the other side.”