Category Archives: Mobile Marketing

Is the Keyless Key the End of Hospitality?

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If you own a smartphone, the next time you travel you may not need a key for your hotel room. In fact, you may be able to bypass the registration desk altogether.

This is not a new concept to the ResortsandLodges.com blog.  In a recent post, we discussed the merits of streamlining the check-in process with mobile options or check-in kiosks, which both allow travelers to avoid the waiting game involved with traditional check-in options.

Brandon Ambrosino recently wrote an article for Quartz, a global online news briefing service, discussing how the disappearance of the room key marks the end of hospitality as we know it.

A virtual key is the latest innovation for an industry that prizes efficiency of service.  However, the move is also a departure from what guests really want in a hotel stay: personalization.

Research shows that travelers are looking for a more personalized experience.  The millennial generation is looking for a unique travel experience, and views personalization as a way to build loyalty with a given property.

In a recent Forbes article, Micah Solomon argues that what customers are looking for is humanity and personalization, not just more efficiency.  Such experiences are predicated upon human interaction.

Ambrosino notes that a keyless key is a reversal from this customized interaction and a return to standardized automation.  He also recognizes that the hotel industry has always had to navigate the fine line between these two poles.

A Brief History of Hotel Room Keys

The forms of hotel room keys have varied greatly since the Le Grand Hotel, the world’s first hotel, was constructed in 1862.  At that time, metal keys were the standard and were kept at the front desk on an oversized key ring.  This was a time when keys were not allowed the leave the property.

A lawsuit in the 1970’s placed hotel security under scrutiny while forcing hoteliers to turn to the keycard.  Electronic keycards were created in 1978 and initially sold to Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Even though keycards were a step toward practical efficiency, guests still had to interact with the hotel staff in order to check-in and pick up their card.  Although these conversations typically brief and predictable, they set the tone for the remainder of the stay.  To this day, hotels like the Ritz in London continue to use metal keys, in part to ensure friendly interaction between hotel guests and staff.

Three Key Points

-Acquiring room keys from a hotel front desk during the check-in process creates an initial contact point between the traveler and the hotel guest.  The advent of keyless keys takes away this potential contact and takes some personalization away from the experience.

-Modern travelers trending away from the traditional hotel experience, and are looking for a unique and personalized experience.  To millennial travelers, personalization equals loyalty.

-It will be important for hoteliers to balance personalization with efficiency to meet guest expectations in the future.

Optimizing Your Hotel Distribution Strategy

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2013 was a year full of tremendous growth within online distribution in the travel industry with meta-search engines, mobile bookings and social media all taking significant steps forward.  However, hoteliers expecting similarly massive changes in 2014 may be in for a surprise.

While new technology and platforms of distribution may emerge suddenly, the overall distribution strategies should still be based on the channels that offer measurable ROI.  Understanding the intricacies of each of the following channels is essential in developing a strategy that will be unique to your hotel.

Mobile and Same-Day Bookings

In the multi-channel travel space, mobile has become a major player.  Mobile bookings doubled from 2012 ($6 billion) to 2013 ($12.3 billion), and that trend is expected to continue in 2014 with experts at PhoCusWright forecasting $24.3 billion in bookings made from these devices.  In all, about $1 out of every $12 in travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

A rise in mobile users appears to be influencing business strategy and changing customer behavior.  A recent Hotel Business Review infographic showed that 65% of travelers choose their mobile phone for same day hotel bookings.

Mobile applications will allow you to engage a greater number of potential customers and may allow you to increase your same day booking potential without falling pretty to heavy discounting in an attempt to garner these “spur of the moment” travelers.

OTAs

Whether you hate them, or love them, Online Travel Agencies appear to be here to stay.  These oversized companies have seemingly limitless resources that make them effective in reaching out to customers, often times in markets that hoteliers may find difficult to penetrate.  Along with these positives, third party channels and other travel intermediaries are quick to adopt emerging opportunities to stay ahead of the market.

Although these channels may be among your least profitable thanks to outrageous commission fees (market averages range from 15 to 25%), they offer visibility and exposure like no other platform.  The key in using OTAs is maximizing your revenue potential with room rates (i.e. selling lower rates to OTAs with lower commission rates, thus making these rooms more desirable).

Meta-Search Engines

On the surface, meta-search engines appear to be the perfect channel for distribution of your available rooms.  The concept is simple – meta-search sites neutrally compare various travel sites and other sources to give travelers the best overview results of their requested search.

However, meta-search engines add an additional level of complexity to the system with a keyword bidding system.  Essentially, these sites control the ranking of OTA and hotel websites within the hotel search results based on the value of bids each website has paid for the search keywords.

Larger OTAs have an advantage in this particular arena thanks to larger marketing budgets that allow them to outbid independent hotels and other properties.  If you want to go the meta-search path, it will be important to invest time and resources in understanding the bid management process, or finding an intermediary that can do the keyword bidding for you.

Because of this modified pay-per-click model, you must evaluate the strength of meta-search sites as a traffic source and monitor the click-to-book ratio generated from it.  If not used properly, these meta-search engines could be more costly than helpful to your site.

Direct Online Booking

In a perfect world, you would be generating all of your bookings and filling all of your availability through your brand.com website.  Flashing back to reality, there is only one way to increase bookings on your own site: driving traffic to (YourBrandHere).com.

How do you drive traffic to your website?  Try the following techniques.

1) Make sure your site layout is simple and user-friendly with logical navigation that allows guests to make bookings in just a few clicks.

2) Visual content is always a plus.  Highlight your unique accommodations and use images to share a story of what a traveler can experience when they stay with you.

3) SEO management is a key to showing up on results pages for major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing!  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but keyword-heavy content is king when gaining customers on the internet.

4) Using Google Analytics, or other analytics software, allows you to see where your site traffic is coming from.  This will help you to develop customized marketing plans to attract these guests.

By effectively using some combination of these distribution channels, or all four of them if your property can afford it, you can optimize your online distribution strategy and fill your availability in 2014.

Travelers Use Mobile for Inspiration and Booking

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Mobile technology will not experience a decrease in relevance any time in the near future according to recent studies conducted by PhoCusWright.  The travel market research later forecasts that by 2015, $39.5 billion bookings will be made on mobile devices, as compared to just $6.15 billion in 2012.

However, bookings are not the only area where mobile devices are experiencing growth.  Now, mobile is also soaring in the planning portion of your trip, used as inspiration to help you plan the ideal getaway.

Instead of using them to buy while on the go, travelers use mobile devices to dream up destinations and hammer out logistics while commuting, or in the middle of office meetings.  According to a Q3 2013 report by PhoCusWright, more than a quarter of U.S. travelers said they turned to their phones for destination selection and shopping, compared with less than 20% on tablets.  This gives some indication of major smartphone travel opportunities in 2014.

What is Holding Travelers Back?

Although these numbers are staggering, there is still some hesitation among consumers to use mobile technology in the booking and trip planning process.  Airlines, hotel chains and OTAs have been slow to beef up their mobile offerings, and U.S. travelers studied by PhoCusWright were often too frustrated by a variety of issues including:

-Limited offerings by these major travel industry players

-Limited capabilities of the mobile devices themselves

These two issues, specifically, are preventing mobile from fully taking hold as an indispensable instrument for purchase.  Frustration was most often caused by small screen sizes (51% of those surveyed) and poor user configurations for websites and mobile apps compared with those on their computers (36%).

What Changes Must the Travel Industry Make?

In order to stay on top of the mobile and multi-device boom, travel companies need to be ready to do the following:

1) Make sure your mobile site is responsive, and will fit to any screen.  Make sure your website looks good and is usable across a variety of devices to ensure guest satisfaction throughout the planning and shopping process.

2) Do not release a mobile application until it is bug-free.  This may seem like a simple concept, but many companies are so eager to release an additional source for travelers, and are willing to troubleshoot on the fly.  This is leading to applications that are not effective for consumers, and could turn them off to your brand all together.

3) Tracking across multiple channels will consistently be a challenge going forward.  People using multiple devices (desktop, laptop, mobile, etc.) may not have a cohesive shopping experience because of inconsistent tracking information from device-to-device.  Because cookies are not useful for tracking on mobile platforms, it will be imperative that companies have a strong customer relationship management (CRM) system in place to provide a seamless travel planning experience.

Guest Acquisition: E-mail vs. Social Media

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I cannot go a day without seeing a social media-driven article on many of the top hospitality and travel marketing websites.  Social media is everywhere and plays an important role in your marketing campaign, helping you connect with potential travelers.

With that being said, is social media the most effective marketing tool available, or should you stick with more traditional options like e-mail?

A recent study by predictive analytics firm Custora discovered that customer acquisition via e-mail has quadrupled in the last four years and now accounts for almost seven percent of customer acquisitions.  The study also found that organic search is the most powerful acquisition channel, accounting for 16 percent of customers acquired.  Despite substantial recent growth in social media channels, Facebook and Twitter lag far behind in customer acquisition.

Custora’s data also gave some insight into Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which refers to the future profit a company expects to earn from a customer throughout his or her relationship with the business.  Similar to the customer acquisition model, organic search lead the way with a CLV of 54% higher than average.  Twitter ranked dead last in this category with the lowest-value customers (23% less than average).

E-mail may not have some of the flash and pizzazz of social media, but it’s a medium that generates revenue.  Whereas Facebook, the highest-ranking social media platform in CLV, ranks at 1% above average, e-mail has a level of 11%.  Simply put, customers who come to businesses through e-mail tend to shop more and spend more.

Social media is at its most effective when it is used as a customer engagement tool.  It can be a two-way communication line between a company and potential customers.  Twitter is typically used to relate breaking news and deals, while Facebook users usually want to increase their contact with a brand.

Mobile Plays a Role

One reason why e-mail is so effective is the fact that it is permission-based.  Customers typically have to opt-in to start receiving e-mails.  Moreover, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, they are always listening.  In fact, e-mail is the top activity for most people on their phones.

People check e-mail constantly, wherever they are, and that enables you to stay connected with them.  However, people who read their e-mail on a mobile device do so quickly, meaning your messages must be powerful enough to grab their attention.

For all of its positive aspects, mobile also offers some drawbacks for marketers.  Forty percent of all e-mails are now viewed on smartphones, which means they must be coded to be attractive on a phone screen.  If your message looks bad on a mobile device, 70% of customers will unsubscribe from your e-mails.

The Rise of Mainstream Mobile Analytics

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Google Analytics are a great resource for finding out how consumers are using your website.  The next step in the analytics field is attempting to unearth some valuable information regarding a user’s mobile interaction with an application or a mobile website.

EyeForTravel’s Ritesh Gupta conducted an interview with Seshadri Krishnan, co-found of Trip38, a location aware mobile app, about the role mobile analytics plays in an emerging, yet critical, business area.

Krishnan explains that 2014 is the right time for mobile analytics to take off because of major technology players starting to offer this as part of their overall analytics value proposition.  Because of all the recent front-end growth of the mobile platform, it makes sense that it would take time for backend aspects to gain traction and scale.

Areas that continue to gain traction or tools that are not quite on par with traditional web analytics tools include:

1. Conversion – mobile conversion is still lower than the web conversion models.

2. Tracking Mechanisms – these are still rudimentary given the limitations on the app footprint and limited fallback options unlike on the web where cookies and other behavior targeting aspects have been perfected over the years.

3. Brand Names – bigger players focused on mobile analytics are set to emerge as leaders in this space.

Google Analytics in the Mobile Channel

The same Google Analytics that are used in the traditional web model are still valid in the mobile platform including statistics such as app usage time, time spent per session, time spent on various paces and user activity.  Trip38 is able to track these analytics because they have built a tracking code into their app that allows greater insight into user behavior.

Despite how far the market has come in the past few years, there are still strides to be made in this arena.  Aspects like a single dashboard across all devices, enterprise-wide access for analytics in the corporate setting and lightweight built-in mobile analytics are a few of the innovations Krishnan expects to see going forward.

Key Criteria for User Engagement

Trip38 currently measures user engagement in terms of time spent on the mobile app, features they use such as reviews, ratings, or social likes that they do using the platform.  Krishnan emphasizes the importance of the social and search aspects of the app in creating a network effect to get more users.

The read the complete EyeForTravel interview, and to learn more about mobile analytics, click here.

Getting the Most Out of Multi-Channel Marketing

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A problem for hoteliers in today’s multi-channel world is having a database full of guests with which you cannot effectively communicate.  Whether this includes linking data from your mobile platform to your customer relationship management system, effectively using social data or combining online and offline information, a clear marketing plan starts with having all this vital information centralized.

No hotel company wants to base their marketing strategies on unsound data, but to overcome these challenges, hotel companies need a way to pull all of the data related to their guests into one system.

Why is integrating data from online and offline channels a challenge?

1) Understanding the emerging channels that comprise online data, bringing together that data and making sense of it all is no small feat.

2) Even traditional channels, such as guest profiles and loyalty program data, can produce problems because of missing or duplicate data.  Consider every time a brand new profile is created for an existing guest who makes a reservation through a new channel.

In a recent SASBlog post, Natalie Osborn, examines how using data integration and data quality capabilities can help pull your data into one system.  Osborn explains that data integration helps you consume the online data you have coming in, while data quality helps you match the online data with your offline customer profiles.

What are the benefits of a solid data management system?

Once you have your system in place, you can add to it with new sources of data and analytics.  Combining offline profile information with social media data may give you a clearer understanding of your guests’ needs.  The key is to have the data quality and data matching in place to maintain an accurate profile of your guests.

From here, you have the opportunity to take this data a step further with a preference center.  This allows you to manage interactions with your guests across a variety of platforms.  Preference centers can help you understand important information about your guests, such as email addresses and social media profiles.  You can learn ways in which communicating with customers is appealing to both sides.

To learn more about integration of data from online and offline sources, click here.

Just How Big a Deal are Same-Day Hotel Bookings?

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Mobile devices have taken the travel and hospitality industries by storm in recent years with companies focusing their efforts on creating mobile websites, applications and more to help attract a new generation of travelers:  millennials.

Mobile and same-day booking trends are transforming the user experience in hotel bookings, but the travel research and booking experience is still very much a multi-device phenomenon.  Desktops, phones, tablets and even walk-ins all still play an important role in the booking process.

A recent Skift travel article looked at the user behavior from partners of Sojern, including major brands like Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton.  Sojern’s data showed that in Q4 of 2013, 29% of U.S. hotel bookings were done on the same day – defined as within 24 hours – of their stay.

These numbers clearly demonstrate a shift in the timing of hotel bookings, as well as the way rooms are booked.  Brad King, Sojern’s vice president of sales and marketing, says his company’s numbers do not necessarily portray the U.S. hotel-booking sector as a whole.  They are, however, worth considering for the directional trends they depict.

Why is this Important?

Although same-day and last-minute bookings, especially on mobile devices, area a resounding trend, it is still a multi-device environment.  Consumer behavior varies widely with some individuals and groups preferring to book much further out.  The accommodation type also typically has an effect on consumer behavior with travelers looking to book at luxury and all-inclusive resorts typically planning their getaways over a longer period.

Hotel marketing that focuses overwhelmingly on last minute and mobile would likely bypass a majority of bookers.  This is why travel marketers and revenue managers need to craft their campaigns to take this diversity of booking patterns into account.

To read the full Skift article and to learn more about what major players in the OTA industry had to say about the Sojern report, click here.

The State of the Online Travel Industry in 2014

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State of Digital recently released a Travel 360 report after collating the viewpoints and analysis of experts, thought leaders and key commercial players of both the hospitality and travel industries.  The report aims to act as a marker of the level of integration between travel brands and the various online channels within digital marketing.

The key trend throughout this report is the idea that companies must be able to adapt their business and marketing models in an attempt to future-proof their businesses.  Facilitating ongoing relationships and interactions with travel consumers has now become critical to survival.

The following are seven key points highlighted in this report that you should keep in mind going forward.  They address challenges facing businesses today, and the holistic approaches and angles that will provide real value, strategy and insight to your brand.

1) Communicating a holistic brand message, consistently across all channels, is now very important to a brand’s long-term prospects.  Consistency is crucial when planning your marketing strategy.  It is important that your message is the same whether consumers see it on your website, in e-mail blasts, on a mobile site or from a third party site (OTAs, vertical marketing sites, metasearch engines, etc.)

2) Brands need to install a startup culture and nurture a digital experience that runs through the business.  Word of mouth is a great way of advertising to dozens of people, but those numbers will not sustain your business over the long haul.  “Rewriting the rule book” should not be seen as a negative experience, but rather as growing with the always-changing digital landscape.

3) Storytelling helps the digital travel industry to get the right customers in the right way.  Honest, authoritative and local content, infused with quality storytelling is the future of travel content.  The millennial generation is looking for a unique experience when planning a getaway.  Capturing that audience by telling your own unique story will be an important marketing tool going forward.

4) Storytelling, marketing, PR and outstanding content will inspire loyalty and provide long-term success to a brand.    Brand loyalty has recently taken a step back to deals when consumers are planning to travel.  Re-establishing brand loyalty with quality content and marketing is a key to survival in the future.

5) There is going to be an increasing trend towards personalization and the creation of more unique experiences.  As noted earlier, this is precisely what a new generation of traveler is looking for.  Millennials are willing to spend the money if they believe their experience will be unique

6) Mobile is the biggest growth area in terms of sales.   Recent projections by PhoCusWright predict that U.S. mobile bookings will almost double in 2014 to $24.3 billion, up from $12.3 billion in 2013.

7) Mobile has led to the rise of the ‘always connected traveler’ and the possibility of in-experience interactions with brands.  Social media allows guests to provide feedback and interact with a company in a way that has nearly usurped the role of the on-site concierge.  Travelers use their mobile devices for everything from getting directions to their accommodations, to finding a restaurant or tourist attraction during their stay.

To download and read the full State of Digital Travel 360 report, click here.