How Travelers View a Hotel’s Digital Experience

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We have discussed the role technology plays in the hospitality at length on the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog, but the digital customer experience agency MCD Partners has taken this examination a step further.  They surveyed 1,000 American travelers about their views on the average hotel digital experience.

In particular, the agency breaks down digital experiences across three demographics:  Family, Leisure and Business travelers.

MCD presents four findings in their white paper, which is available to download here.  We will be discussing each finding in detail over the course of the next few days and let you know how you can incorporate these findings into your digital campaign.

Finding Number One:  Quality is King

For 70% of travelers surveyed, a hotel’s website and app influenced their decision to book a stay. Travelers often feel that a hotel’s digital offerings reflect what the experience will be like at the hotel itself.

Travelers were asked, “How much of an impact does the quality of the hotel’s website, app or other digital tools have on your decision to stay?”  These were the results:

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As you can see, quality digital tools play a moderate to strong role in the decision making process, regardless of demographic.  Family travelers in particular indicate that digital tools affect their hotel choice. One such traveler said, “If they take the time to have a great website, it tells me they will take the time to make sure I have a great travel experience.”

How This Applies to Your Website

You do not have to break your marketing budget trying to create a state-of-the-art website that is more confusing than effective.  At the same time, you do not want a website to look like it was constructed in the 1990’s.

Here are three things to keep in mind with your brand.com website, apps and other digital tools:

1) Functionality is the key – Make sure your website is easily navigable and that travelers can get to your booking platform with the least number of clicks possible.  Make sure your images look professional, or that you have a nice blend of guest submissions with your professional photos.

2) Mobile responsiveness across all devices  - Your standard website may not appear the same way on a mobile device as it does on a standard desktop or laptop computer.  Make sure your site is coded to be responsive to fit a wide variety of screens including tablets and smartphones.  That way travelers on-the-go will be able to use your site wherever they are.

3) Mobile apps are great…BUT – They are useless if the app does not work.  Many companies release their applications without beta testing them, leading to mixed results.  If you have to make a decision between releasing your app early, or ensuring it is the best tool possible, delay the release and get the bugs out.

Gartner Releases 2013 Tablet Sales Numbers

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Mobile devices are the wave of the future, but these are not limited to just smartphones.  Analysts at Gartner recently released their tablet sales numbers for 2013, and property managers across the hospitality industry should consider these statistics when building mobile sites moving forward.

According to Gartner, 195 million tablets were sold in 2013 with Android officially grabbing the top spot from iPad with 62% of the market share.  There were 121 million Android tablets sold during the calendar year, while Apple sold only 70 million iPad tablets for a 36% share.

This is a drastic change from the 2012 numbers where Apple led the tablet category with nearly 53% of sales on 61 million units, compared to Android at nearly 46% with 53 million tablets sold.

Although Gartner analysts believe that “Low-end, smaller screen” devices are fueling tablet sales these days, along with a large number of first-time buyers, that will not be the answer in the future.

“In 2013, tables became a mainstream phenomenon, with a vast choice of Android-based tablets being within the budget of mainstream consumers while still offering adequate specifications,” writes Gartner’s research director Roberta Cozza.  “As the Android Tablet market becomes highly commoditized, in 2014, it will be critical for vendors to focus on device experience and meaningful technology and ecosystem value – beyond just hardware and cost – to ensure brand loyalty and improved margins.”

The chart below shows the individual brand leaders among tablet sales.  As you can see from the figure, Apple still leads the way with 36% of all sales on its 70 million tablets sold.

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What All of This Means for You

Despite companies continuing to produce smaller screens and higher specifications, tablets will not overtake smartphones as the mobile device of choice anytime soon.  However, it is important to make sure your mobile website is responsive to a variety of screen sizes, so that it can be accessed across a wide variety of platforms.

How Social Media Affects Revenue Management

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Well-informed hotel revenue managers have always used a variety of factors to determine pricing for available rooms.  These factors include the competitive landscape, market trends as well as long-term business plans.  However, a new factor that must be considered is the role social media plays in making more informed pricing decisions.

In the hospitality industry, cultivating and nurturing your online reputation is critical for success.  This is something we talked about in a previous blog post titled “The Importance of Online Reputation Management”. 

What once may have been viewed as a minor factor in pricing decisions has quickly become an increasingly important indicator for revenue managers.  The global trend of reputation management has prompted several studies over the past couple of years exploring the link between online consumer behaviors and pricing decisions.

Kelly McGuire of SAS, went so far as to uncover a strong relationship between user-generated content (ratings and reviews) and the quality of value perceptions of hotel room purchases.  Her research ranks positive or negative review valence as having the most significant impact on purchase decisions, followed by price and then aggregate rating.

What Does This Mean For You?

Social media should be used as a two-way communication forum.  When guests post a positive or negative comment on Facebook or Twitter, your social media department should respond as soon as possible.  This lets the individual traveler know that their comments are appreciated and lets the rest of your social media following know that you care about the needs of all guests.

When you are proactive and appropriately reactive with your social media channels, your online reputation will improve.  This can be a great way to build loyalty with a new generation of travelers, the Millennials, and can in turn change the way you manage your revenue strategies.

Reviews sites should be seen in the same light.  When you receive a negative review on one of the major OTAs or meta-search engines, whether it is about the rooms, food or service, a quick and well thought out response is the best way to ease a customer’s troubles.  Make sure you remedy this issue soon so that additional guests do not leave the same feedback on these review sites.

10 Do’s and Don’ts When Using Crowdsourcing

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Social media has become a vital channel for hoteliers to use when highlighting all of the unique aspects of your property.  Taking that idea a step further, some properties are now using crowdsourcing to create a visual-rich website experience with the help of these channels.

For those of you who are digging through the depths of your vocabulary attempting to put a definition to the word crowdsourcing, it means accomplishing a task with the help of a crowd of people on the internet.  Collectively working together and putting their ideas together online with hundreds or thousands of other people allows for an optimized result.

You have worked hard to cultivate a steady following across a variety of social media channels, and now it is time for that effort to pay off.  Use your online community to obtain endless amounts of unique and inspiring guest photos and videos by encouraging guests to tag your property in their social media posts, especially on Instagram.

Before you start posting pictures from each and every one of your social media followers to your brand.com website, here are a few helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” that will keep your visual content fresh and attractive to potential travelers.

Five Things You Should Do For a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign

-Keep photos fresh and up-to-date by curating crowd-sourced images on a regular basis in addition to your professional content.  Choosing photos from a traveler’s trip three years ago likely will not help you tell a current visual story.

-Use crowdsourcing to monitor how customers view your hotel, and what they find interesting enough to share online.  It is important to find out what travelers find unique and important about your property.  What you find important and what customers find important may be two very separate things.

-Check the social media site’s terms of use and consult a lawyer before publishing your guest’s photos on your website in order to avoid any risk of copyright liability.  Just because these photos were taken at your property does not mean you own them.  Make sure you have rights to publish them on your site.

-Select the best and most compelling guest photos to host on your website to ensure a consistent story and message.  Take a look at one of our previous blog post that talked about the importance of quality images on your site.

-Encourage guests to post the photos on social media using a predetermined hashtag to make finding and selecting photos as easy as possible, and not to mention publicly available.  Hashtag campaigns are a great way to grow your social media following across a variety of channels.

Five Don’ts to Keep in Mind with Your Crowdsourcing Campaign

-Do not completely let go of your professional photography.  Travel shoppers do enjoy seeing amateur pictures from their peers, friends and family, but there still must be a mix of authentic and professional photos.

-Do not ignore the free feedback that guest photos are providing your hotel.  Use this feedback to make changes and leverage these social media channels as a two-way communication avenue.

-Do not confuse travel shoppers by using absolutely every photo that gets posted about your hotel.  There is such a thing as overloading potential buyers with information, and crowd-sourced images should be used proportionally with professional images.

-Do not use photos from a guest’s personal copyrighted website.  Make sure you have permission to use every photo that goes on your website.

-Do not leave guests without a reason to take photos of your property during their stay.  Be creative with designing visually compelling amenities and decorations in your hotel.  This encourages guests to take a photo and share it online.

Keep these 10 “Do’s and Don’ts” in mind, and you will easily be able to utilize crowdsourcing as a way to incorporate new images onto your brand.com website.

Your Brand.com Focus: Bookings and Data

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The growth of third-party intermediaries, including OTAs and meta-search sites, has cluttered the booking landscape in recent years, making it difficult for branded hotels and their websites to keep pace.

During the Hospitality Technology Europe show in London, a panel of experts discussed ways to increase conversion rates from brand.com websites by capturing not only bookings, but consumer data as well.

Capturing Bookings

RJ Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of ReviewPro, and online analytics and reputation management firm, explained that one of the best ways to increase bookings from your brand.com website is by providing quality content.  Friedlander’s example included relevant user-generate content, including social media postings and reviews from sites like TripAdvisor.

“Once you get people there (brand.com website) you need to provide the social content to help facilitate the decision-making process,” said Friedlander.

These are great content additions to make to your personally branded website, but without addressing the basics, the changes will be meaningless.  With many small- and medium-sized hotels, the path is inefficient or the information is incomplete.  “It is important to start with the basics to communicate the information I need to convince me this is where I want to go,” Friedlander adds.

Online channels are not the only place from which you should be driving bookings.  Hoteliers should aim to win guests over during their stays by getting the basics right on-site as well.  If a customer enjoys their experience, they are much more likely to book a brand.com in the future.

Capturing Data

Bookings are obviously important to hoteliers and property managers because they drive the revenue process.  However, acquiring accurate guest data is equally important for future marketing and promotions, as well as efforts to personalize the hotel stay.

Gathering information from intermediaries is difficult because the third party through which the transaction is made owns the information.

Companies like the Louvre Hotels Group are now trying to gather as much information as possible during the check-in process, but this has some drawbacks as well.  During peak periods, efficiency is the key, and there is not a lot of time for “data grabbing”.  With more companies moving towards check-in kiosks or mobile check-ins, the opportunities to obtain this information are dwindling.

Another way to acquire guest data utilized by Louvre is enticing travelers to sign up for its loyalty program as a means to collect information and stimulate future repeat bookings.  Chinmai Sharma, the company’s VP of revenue and distribution management, explained that the success of this measure is “hit or miss”.

Key Points

-Quality content, including review site and social media posts, is important for guests looking to book directly from your brand.com website.

-Acquiring guest data is important for a variety of reasons including providing a personalized travel experience and stimulating future repeat bookings.  However, third-party intermediaries make it difficult to get this information because once a booking is made through them, they own the data.

Emerging Trends: Mobile Concierge Service

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Mobile devices have become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives, so it only seems natural that hotels would integrate mobile technology into their day-to-day operations.  Our last blog post discussed an emerging trend in the hospitality industry dealing with mobile technology: keyless room keys.

The next industry trend to follow may be using texting to request for room service, housekeeping and other services instead of picking up a room phone.

According to a recent Travel Weekly article, Loews Hotels & Resorts and Four Seasons are two companies that are trying out a new service created by Zingle.  This five-year-old firm based in San Diego is looking to expand its text-to-order functionality within the hospitality industry.

This mobile concierge service will look to capitalize on the ubiquity of smartphone use among travelers and the growing propensity to communicate via text as a way to boost revenue while improving service.

This is another example of hotels moving towards efficiency while taking the intimate form of personalization (face-to-face interaction) out of the equation.  However, there is personalization to the point that guests will be able to use their own cellphone to communicate directly with the hotel concierge service.

Positives Aspects of a Mobile Concierge Service

-“Texting is typically much faster than a phone call as it allows both parties to be more direct, but still in a friendly and personal way,” according to Zingle CEO Ford Blakely.

-This system can also be used to send text messages to guests for information such as airport delays or incoming weather changes.

-Mobile growth necessitates integration into day-to-day operations.

Negative Aspects of a Mobile Concierge Service

-Receiving service requests via text adds an additional stream of communication to monitor on the part of hoteliers.

-Properties lose the initial face-to-face encounter with guests during the traditional check-in process.

I think that as we move forward in this smartphone-driven world (and they are driving us), it is important to incorporate mobile whenever and wherever possible.  The “On-the-Go, Always On” market segment captures a broad section of the millennial generation, a group that will be a major player in the hospitality industry going forward.  These tech-savvy travelers expect properties to keep with the latest technological advancements to provide a customized experience that cannot be found anywhere else.

This is a trend that will be embraced by the “Silent Traveler”, a travelers who prefer to communicate through electronic means and social media channels that we talked about in a previous blog post.

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.