This week, Forrester’s European Digital Transformation Europe Forum 2016 kicks off in London at the Lancaster on June 8-9. Myself and Forum co-host Benjamin Ensor are very excited about the program that we have been able to put together across the two days. Our list of industry speakers is impressive, and includes Blake Cahill, Global Head of Digital and Social Marketing, at Philips, Toby Wright, Chief Technology Officer, at Telegraph Media Group, Nina Jones, Global Owner Experience Director, at Jaguar Landrover, and Dr. Horst J. Kayser, Chief Strategy Officer, at Siemens AG.

On day one, we will also be hearing from Fergus Boyd, Vice President, Digital and IT at Yotel. Fergus is responsible for this start-up affordable luxury hotel brand’s digital strategy and services (web, mobile, social), IT innovation, and all back-end and guest-facing technology. He is a serial digital entrepreneur and technology transformation agent and led award-winning IT, eCommerce, and innovation initiatives at Virgin Atlantic and British Airways (BA).  

In the run-up to the Forum, we asked Fergus to answer a number of questions on how Yotel uses digital to differentiate itself in the hospitality and accommodation market. His answers are a must-read for other tech management and digital business leaders facing similar challenges. I look forward to hearing Fergus’ presentation, “From Raw Fish To Moving Beds,” this Wednesday. Come and join us by registering today!

Q. How does Yotel use digital (web, mobile, social) to differentiate itself as a startup hotel brand?

A. Our strategy is to drive as much traffic as possible to our own responsive website so we have invested in a clean, new site that works well across all devices and we use industry-leading multi-variate tools to continually improve conversion. We have also invested in great content and will be using video and graphics as much as possible across our site. Unlike other hotel brands, we try to use OTAs tactically, i.e. use them as a filler to complement our direct sales. We have some very photogenic properties e.g. NYC, so the team there exploit social media very well and get local bloggers to stay and write about their experiences.

Q. What stage of Yotel's own digital transformation journey would you say your organization is at? What have been some of the main successes/milestones in this journey to date?

A. As a young brand, we don’t have much legacy to sweep away so we are pretty much there with Digital and IT and also hotel development, the guys who find new plots of land and deal with investors. They are very savvy with digital and use interactive tools like Slack to collaborate. We are now working with Finance and HR to help them leverage online tools for talent acquisition. The use of tools like Trello for online project collaboration has really helped our website development as all of our build resources are remote.

Q. What are some of the key challenges you are facing?

A. Rapid growth with limited resources. Our strategy is boot-strap ie fund new hotels with current hotels so we need to open a  few more big city hotels to get future investment revenue flowing. Talent acquisition can be hard as no one has heard of our brand; so, we work our own networks very well. We also have a “global niche” approach so we will be opening hotels from San Francisco to Singapore at the same time; so, we need to be smart with planning and set up structures and processes that our local GMs can pick up and use.

Q. In what ways (or areas, projects) do you collaborate with and/or advising your peers in Marketing (or other parts of the business) on running a digital business?

A. I own both Digital & IT (like a Chief Digital Officer role) and work closely with my colleague who heads up Brand/Comms/PR/Marketing; so, between us we get most things done over a coffee! We set strategic direction then work with our regional teams to support execution of the strategy eg our NYC team deliver local email and social media campaigns, but they work with our central digital marketing agency on paid search. SEO is handled centrally as it is so closely aligned to content.

Q. What would be your main piece of advice to those embarking on a similar digital transformation journey?

A. Small steps and prove value early. Eg before doing a full site revamp I showed the potential by delivering some low hanging fruit and saw 5% conversion improvement by patching up parts of our leaky booking funnel. That helped pay for the full site revamp. Also invest in industry leading, scalable products eg MVT, ESP. Avoid sector-specific solutions that you will outgrow.

Fergus will be speaking on day 1 of Forrester's DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION EUROPE 2016 at The Lancaster on June 8-9 in London.