Kanika Thakran (MMH’13) Conducts CHR-sponsored Study

A study of how social media affects hotel pricing is a logical combination of two interests of Kanika Thakran, who is part of the 2013 Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) class. With the support of the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, Thakran is working on the study with Professor Rohit Verma. Thakran came to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration to learn more about hotel pricing, but has also entered the world of social media, by creating a webpage on hotel industry trends.

Thakran’s webpage concept started with a classroom assignment, when Senior Lecturer Bill Carroll asked her to make a presentation on hotel industry trends. Thakran says that she realized that she did not have a handle on overall current hotel trends, despite several years of international hotel experience. As she conducted her research on industry trends, she realized that other students might be in the same situation.

“In addition to preparing myself for the in-class participation, I also realized that knowledge of current industry developments would give me talking points when I was interviewing for jobs and attending industry meetings,” she said. “As I found more and more material, I thought it would be good to create a site that would be helpful to other students by compiling industry trends.” Launched on Facebook, her page, “Online Distribution Space,” includes her own observations and input from several dozen followers in the class and the industry. “Each day I try to update the page with one new thing that I didn’t know before,” she added.

A native of Gurgaon, India, Thakran earned her bachelor’s degree at Oxford University in London, where she did a supervised training program at the Radisson Edwardian Group. “I expected to work at the front desk, but instead I ended up in revenue management (RM) at the corporate office. At the time, I knew little about RM, but I found it to be interesting,” she said, adding: “My mother still doesn’t understand what I do. When we discussed the hotel industry, she was hoping I’d be a chef.”

After her internship at the Edwardian, Thakran returned to India, where she went to work for Lemon Tree Hotels. She was hoping that this position would give her opportunities to learn more about RM, and that wish came true, in part because of the pace at which Lemon Tree hotels was growing in the Indian market. “Eventually, I was handling online distribution for seventeen hotels,” she recalled. “But I also wanted to learn more about how pricing works.” She soon found that it was hard to manage her demanding job and also have time to study and keep up with the industry trends.

One source of information about hotel distribution and pricing was the revenue management articles published by Cornell, many of which were distributed by the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR). “My manager kept giving me articles to read, and most of them were from professors at the School of Hotel Administration, such as Sheryl Kimes, Steve Carvell, and Chris Anderson,” she said. “It made sense to come to Cornell to study, although I wasn’t originally sure whether I wanted to study for an MBA or the MMH degree.” She discussed this question with people who had done both, and decided for the MMH program after connecting with Stowe Shoemaker (PhD ’95), who earned his doctorate while studying at the School of Hotel Administration and frequently returns to teach in the executive education programs.

At first, the move to Cornell was overwhelming, given the many cultures and backgrounds of students in her MMH program. Thakran turned that cultural melange into a learning experience. “I was learning both in class and outside of class,” she said. “I learned about many other cultures, and that gave me the opportunity to become more culturally sensitive.” Her new classmates also helped each other to learn more about the industry, in addition to classroom teaching. “This was a great learning opportunity for me personally,” she said.

Her desire to extend her knowledge of pricing by considering the effects of social media led Thakran to work on the social media study with Professor Verma. She notes that pricing strategies are changing due to social media, and revenue management is likewise responding to the web.

“We are studying India’s hotel industry, where the web and social media are relatively new phenomena. We want to see how social media influences shoppers there and whether posted comments reflect the guests’ experiences,” she explained. “We want to determine whether managers understand what customers are looking at and saying in their social media posts. To do this, we’ll compare the managers’ views and the consumers’ opinions. In the end, we hope to learn more about what’s the best way to feature a hotel.”

The extensive study involves a customer survey, an examination of managers’ perspectives, and a compilation of what has been said about the hotels on social media sites. She says that conducting the study is made easier by Professor Verma’s many contacts. ”I’ve wanted to do an industry study from the time I was an undergraduate,” she said.

Thakran says her time at Cornell has more than met her expectations. “Throughout this experience I have gotten excellent support at all times,” she said. “I can get personalized feedback from my professors both in terms of how I’m doing and how I can improve. This is far beyond book learning. So much of it is practical, with seminars and workshops.”

With graduation scheduled for May 2013, Thakran says she’s open in terms of geography, but she would be delighted to remain in the United States. She hopes to find a position that includes some combination of revenue management, online distribution, or social media. And she plans to continue with the webpage.