Bukit Vista on applying Data Science to Hospitality

Unanswered Questions from BV E-talk#11 at ITB

Jing answers your questions about Data Science & Bukit Vista

Thanks for your excellent questions ITB. All of them are so good, that I thought it would be a good chance to put them permanently on our company blog. Hope you’ll enjoy my answers.

Questions regarding Data Science (DS)

  • How do you see the the data science application in the hospitality industries in the next 5 years? (from Tia)
    • My answer: I think hospitality will probably adopt slowly and then quickly to the application of Data Science. Very few hospitality organizations are started by engineers – so the application of engineering principles to their business will not happen organically. The chief motivation happens when one hospitality organization notices that competitors are getting more business & able to navigate more successfully through uncertain markets, that’s when I think there will be a stronger adoption of DS. I’m basing this on how I saw SEO & Social Media become adopted by the hotel industry. 
  • How do you use DS to spot new opportunities, e.g. new locations? (from Anggi)
    • My answer: It’s pretty simple, we watch what ranks on Airbnb. When Airbnb starts ranking a location on the first page of search results, we know that their algorithm has identified that location as being valuable. Usually it’s pretty simple, you know the review you give, as a guest, at the end of your trip? There’s a review component about your location – when Airbnb’s search algorithm sees a high density of positive reviews in a certain location, then it will upgrade properties listed in that region on search results. This drives a positive feedback cycle around growing neighborhoods. 
  • What is your strategy to further implement DS in BukitVista? Do you collaborate a lot with specialists, or rely more on employees’ self-learning?
    • My answer: We try to build in-house talent & seek advice from experts. We then share our experts and learnings to students coming from quality talent programs. We think this is a sustainable and hospitable cycle for our education partners & local communities. 
  • Do you find difficulties in implementing DS within your employees’ work, and if so how do you overcome them?
    • My answer: Yes. From the side of employees who are passionate about DS, it can be a process to get them to focus on projects with business-side benefits. Many times, I’ve been surprised by how simple DS algorithms are enough. Hardcore Data Science requires a strong data culture & infrastructure and this can be expensive to maintain and build. Sometimes we learn a lot of exotic things in college and what ends up being practically useful is much 
  • With machine learning used frequently to support a decision here, how many data can the machine feed upon for the machine to be able to give a good decision? (from Jeritt Noahren Mulia)
    • My answer: This really depends on the problem you’re trying to solve, the model, and the variance in the data. From what I understand (as a DS user, not a data scientist), it’s a cycle. Past data feeds models, models come up with predictions, predictions are then compared with future data. Your error is what you’ve predicted vs what actually happened. When your error function approaches a tolerance you can accept, then you have enough data. 

Business Related Questions

  • I wonder how did you start your business from zero? I’m asking this because I do want to start my own business too as well. Thank you
    • My answer: If you think about it, you’re starting everything from 0. How much software programming did you know before you started? How much calculus did you know before you started? Starting a business is the same. It’s a choice – you can choose to start a business or start working as a data scientist, on both days, you’re probably starting from the bottom. I think the key question to ask yourself is, do you believe enough in your own ideas to make it into reality? The hardest part of starting a business, especially if you’re doing something new, is that nobody knows if it will work. You’ll need to believe in it the most if you want it to work and that kind of faith can be challenging. 
  • How do you stay ahead of the competition? (threat and opportunity in the future) and how do you see the sustainability in terms of business model?
    • My answer: I prefer not to focus on competition – I choose to focus on my customers instead, there’s a subtle difference. If you spend your whole time, looking at what your competitor does – I think you’re pulling focus from your key business relationship, your customer. If you want to keep your competitors behind you, keep your customers (and their customers) at the front of your focus. Listen to your customers, think about new ways to serve them, and ask for feedback. When you do that well, you’ll find a stable economic base & you’ll be able to keep ahead. 
  • What is your journey to find product-market fit? How long? And what mistakes do you make while searching for that? (from James Christopher)
    • My answer: Since we developed mostly on the Airbnb platform, we had a round-about journey for product market fit. 
  • What’s the key strategy in keeping your company alives during this pandemic? Because i think your company took critical hits from COVID-19.
    • My answer: The key financial strategy was to save money during good times. We’ve built up a good amount of savings & we’re working our way to profitability slowly. During COVID-19, there’s two ways to die as a company: when you’re out of money or when you’re out of faith. Oftentimes, in our business, the second has been more of a problem than the first. If the people you lead don’t believe that their work will impact much anymore, the business is done. So one of the key strategies is to return to the core reason why we have Bukit Vista. We return to the mission of the company – We inspire delight through hospitality innovations that positively transform our guests, partners, and employees. Like right now, by writing this blogpost, I’m hopefully transforming somebody’s mind in a positive way. As a leader, I think that’s my most important job. I tie everything back to the purpose. Once we have purpose, we have trust & commitment. Then as the situation gets worse, you double down on your faith in the purpose and that actually makes your company stronger. 
  • I am really interested in your management as a service business model. Since you have pay per commission scheme, how do you manage the risk? (from Nanda Aulia)
    • My answer: We use DS to manage our risk. It’s important to know that we get paid only when we sell a room, since we’re commission based. So we need to get really good at being able to keep selling room-nights. We use data science to forecast a property’s revenue so that owners will allow us to dynamically price. Most owners are less confidant to let us sell at our pricing choices unless we can forecast how much we’re likely to make for that month. 
  • I see SLA on your presentation. Have you ever hear ‘XLA (Xperience Level Agreement)’? And have you consider to implement XLA in your business?
    • My answer: I think that’s a great new idea, and I’m curious to learn more. I’ll google search it.
  • I’ve explored your website and you have an ecosystem of products now. But what product did you started with? why that? and do you “talk to the customer” a lot? (from James Christopher)
    • My answer: The very first property we had was a beautiful cliffside villa with a private beach in Nusa Dua. The first production properties we started on: there were two kinds. Budget cliffside resorts along the west coast of Bali. Medium value villas in Bingin. We knew guests wanted it, since we would always sell out and guests would still want to book, so we ‘expanded’ by going down the coastline and moving our ‘overbooked’ guest to the next cliffside property. 
  • What do you think about SEO tools in internet? How much important is SEO to reach potential guest for you?
    • My answer: It depends on what you’re selling. For certain products, it’s a bit too late to think you’ll be able to compete against a major platform. Will you ever buy a plane ticket on the first website you search for? Or do you just go to traveloka? Would you use SEO to order bakso or nasi goreng, or would you just transact on GoJek? We get about 100 visits a month to our website and close to 500,000 visits from Airbnb. There’s not a lot of reasons to improve SEO, since at best, it would get us maybe 1% more guests. We are better thinking about how to put that same time to get 1% improvement on Airbnb performance. But on the other hand, we want to acquire property partners. Since there’s not as much competition on that level, SEO strategies are more potentially useful. 

Personal Questions

  • Despite of working in hospitality industry, you are proud to say that you’re still an engineer. What’s your most “Engineer things” rules to live by? (from Manekung)
    • My answer: They’re coded into the culture & core values of the company. As an engineer, I always approach situations with a curious mind and a belief that all problems can be solved systematically. 
      • Be Transparent: as an engineer, I think we can solve most issues as long we get good information. We encourage our employees to have an open & transparent culture to enable problems to be solved easily and with trust. 
      • Don’t assume, Use Data: as an engineer,  I like to make decisions based on facts & evidence. Especially as nowadays, there’s quite a lot of data to prove/disprove any point. 
      • Fail Fast:  Growing up, my heroes were scientists & philosophers who were able to overcome uncertainties through experimentation. We offer our employees the opportunities to make quality mistakes in the mission of hospitality innovation. 

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