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The Road to Guest Satisfaction and Loyalty Lies in Data … But There is a Catch

In every industry, there is a push to best leverage customer data in ways that help best influence buying behavior. In the hospitality arena, many larger brands are now collecting data at every point in the guest stay cycle – with the desire to enhance bookings based on travelers’ past purchasing habits.

The reality is that it is very easy to collect data from every touch point in the stay cycle. However, hoteliers should consider creating goals before starting off on developing a large data repository of guest behaviors.

The reason? Collecting and storing data costs practically nothing, and requires a minimal lift for hotel brands. The catch is making sense of the data, which starts with creating the right foundation.

Here are some tips for creating the backbone that best leverages guest data:

  • Make sure everyone involved in gathering or providing the data knows how it will ultimately be used.
  • Align the data gathering effort to tangible business goals.
  • Generate a list of questions that you want the data to answer. The better the questions – from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives – the better outcomes.
  • Keep the overall effort very simple, and avoid complexities that will run up costs.
  • Continually iterate efforts to achieve better results faster.
  • Design your collection methods to be painless for the guest, and only use a form when absolutely necessary.
  • Always be willing to give the guest something and think about what’s in it them. Avoid gifts that have social consequences such as free drinks at the bar.

The most opportune way to gain guest long-term loyalty is to build a data foundation that can be used in the future. Once this ground work is in place, the next phase is developing strategies for generating meaningful and actionable results, which we will be covering in future blog posts.

The New Emerging Traveler Category: Generation Z

For many years, there has been plenty of hospitality industry media coverage about how to best cater to the Millennial traveler through innovation and more. We have learned that this demographic seeks out unique experiences, prefers a communal atmosphere in hotel lobbies, and wants to use technology to be best connected to brands.

But now, just as we have begun to fully understand the Millennial traveler, another emerging generation is beginning to capture the attention of larger hospitality providers. Generation Z, also known as Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, Plurals or the Homeland Generation, has come on the scene. But the good news is they are very similar to Millennials.

This demographic has completely grown up on technology, and many believe seek more security, since they grew up during the Great Recession.

According to a recent Hotel News Now article, these guests are looking for an authentic experience that “feels like it is high quality without feeling pretentious.” In addition, a 2015 study about Generation Z showed that 77 percent of them feel that it’s important for brands to reach out to them with offers, promotions, and messaging.

These insights show that hotels will need to continue building authenticity into the DNA of their brands. This will include everything from creative content marketing to appeal to this generation, as well as developing programs that are truly “experienced-based.”

In fact, Marriott’s Innovation Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina, was developed with Generation Z in mind.  Designed as a testing ground for new products and services, this program found that while baby boomers expected consistency at any Marriott hotel around the world, the next generations are more interested in unique, culturally specific experiences.

By taking a page from Marriott, hoteliers have the opportunity to gain long-term guest loyalty from this demographic. It will involve many of the same strategies for appealing to Millennials – just with more of a focus on innovation and experiences.

 

Hotel Brands Aim to Redefine the “Local” Experience

For many years, major hotel brands focused on catering only to the traveling guest. However, now there is a subtle shift, where hospitality providers are widening their approaches to cater to locals who live near their properties.

In addition to aiming to get locals to dine at their properties, they are offering a wide-range of services, such as holding packages and coordinating dry cleaning services – all with the intention of creating a closer bond with neighboring residents and businesses.

At the company’s recent analyst conference, AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin announced the launch of a new pilot program called “Accor Local,” which is looking to change how the brand operates on a localized level.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we have done for 50 years has been based on the guy coming from outside of town,” said Brazin in this recent Skift article. “A traveler, from a different city, from a different country, which I think is interesting, but not too smart. Because we missed a population which is 100 times greater and better and easier: The guy living next door. The local inhabitants. They live around the hotel, or they go to an office around the hotel, and 90 percent of them never dared coming into the property, because they’re fearful that we’re going to be asking, ‘What’s your room number?’ They don’t need a room, but they may need a service.”

According to the same Skift article, AccorHotels’ loyalty program, Le Club AccorHotels will most likely serve as the foundation for the Accor Local program.

For other brands that want to follow this trend, there are new guest recommendation applications that put a hotel’s local curated knowledge right at guests’ – and locals’ – fingertips. This means offering completely customized recommendations for local restaurants, attractions, concerts and other events.

In addition, these types of mobile apps allow hoteliers to compile relevant guest (or locals) data about on- and off-property preferences.

Going local seems to be an emerging trend for some of the most cutting-edge brands. Fortunately, there are ways for hoteliers to offer highly customized experiences and services that expand beyond catering to the traveling guest into an entirely new untapped market.

 

Disruptor Airbnb Becoming More Like Hotels?

There’s no shortage of press coverage about how Airbnb has becoming a formidable disruptor in the hospitality arena. From incredible business growth based on increased consumer demand to hotels acquiring short-term-rental startups to remain competitive, Airbnb has fundamentally changed travel.

Though, could Airbnb become like the sector that it disrupted? In December 2016, the company announced that it is going to help travelers also book their flights – this way it can become the hub for “all things travel” for guests.

What many may not realize is that hotels have been offering these types of full-service travel packages for many years – where hotel rooms and flights are all bundled and booked through a special hotel micro-site (often with a “vacation” theme).

With this move, we could ultimately see hotels and Airbnb meeting in the middle when it comes to competing against each other. Of course, the key for both the “disruptor” and the “disrupted” is to never lose sight of the traveler – with the idea of helping them throughout the entire trip.

This could also include the implementation of solutions that help travelers find customized amenities that meet their specific needs. Although hotels are now taking advantage of solutions that offer tailored recommendations for area restaurants, culture events, and much more.

The key is being able to continually please the traveler in ways that are highly personalized, and ultimately create long-term loyalty. While competing to ultimately become “the same,” both hospitality providers and Airbnb should always keep this concept top of mind.

In the end, the guest wins. However, it just remains to be seen which travel channel will win – hotels or Airbnb.

 

 

Finding Hotel Differentiation as Supply Surpasses Demand in 2017

According to a recent HotelNewsNow study, many major hotel brands will contend with a potential performance dip as supply surpasses demand in 2017.

In an era where price pressures occur, hoteliers need to consider new ways to differentiate themselves through innovation. This goes beyond the use of robotic butlers, and other more PR-savvy technologies, to implementing solutions that truly enhance the guest experience.

In fact, according to a recent study by Zebra Technologies, guests actually want innovations that will make them “want to come back.” What are these technologies? These guests are most interested in smartphone check-ins and digitally enabled loyalty programs. This study also found that guests are willing to divulge some personal information in exchange for tailored promotional offers.

One innovation that can provide enhanced differentiation are the new guest recommendation applications, which put a hotel’s local curated knowledge right at guests’ fingertips. On a localized level, hotel brands can completely customize recommendations for nearby restaurants, attractions, concerts and other events.

Since increasingly guests are willing to share personal information, these types of mobile apps allow hoteliers to compile relevant guest data about on- and off-property preferences. Ultimately, this data will evolve to where it is possible to predict the travelers wants and needs before they arrive – providing even more control.

While ups and downs occur in the hotel arena, it is always vital to continually seek new ways for pleasing the guest. While oversupply may be an issue in 2017, there will likely not be a slowdown on the amount of travel. Of course, there will be more competition, but the marketplace is still very viable.

This points to the need to implement the right innovations that enhance the guest experience and build long-term loyalty. Many people are still traveling in 2017 … major brands just need to find ways to keep them coming back for more.

 

An Alternative to Limited Websites for Individual Hotel Properties

There’s been a wide-range of articles highlighting the desire to design hotels that attract locals, as well as capture the attention of multiple generations. However, to do this, there is an enormous need to develop stronger websites for individual properties.

The challenge is that individual properties often have to conform to the web standards of the parent company brands. Unfortunately, this limits the ability to provide specialized information and offers to attract locals, new travelers and those from varying age groups.

However, there are new guest personalization mobile apps and web pages that can actually serve as the property’s own website – without breaking any branding policies. These solutions are originally aimed at providing personalized information about on- and off-property events and attractions.

But, they can be much more …

First of all, they are very easy to implement and use, and do not require massive IT budgets or build outs. They are essentially plug-and-play, and provide the right information to allow guests – and even locals – to have the insights they need to become loyal to an individual property.

In addition, these types of solutions allow the guests to completely disconnect by attending an event or an attraction that takes them away from the day-to-day use of technology, whether on- or off-property.

While many properties deal with the challenge of adhering to brand standards with their individual websites, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. With the right guest personalization app and web page, it is possible to achieve the mission of making your property a destination for everyone.

 

Enhancing Loyalty By Plugging Guests Into The Local Scene

Facebook IQ recently issued a study that surveyed loyalty in 14,700 U.S. adults regarding loyalty in five verticals, including the hospitality arena. While the results were somewhat surprising, it also pointed out some common insights, which are often overlooked by hotel brands.

In terms of the surprising outcomes, Millennials stated that they are more likely than Baby Boomers to be loyal to one brand – though they are challenged when it comes to wanting to communicate with hotels with speed and innovation.

However, the most interesting result from the survey was that travelers across all demographics are looking for unique and authentic experiences during their vacations. As highlighted by Travel Tipper, hotels should meet this need by positioning themselves as invaluable resources to help guests plug into the local scene.

Thankfully, there are new guest recommendation applications that put a hotel’s local curated knowledge right at guests’ fingertips. This means offering completely customized recommendations for local restaurants, attractions, concerts and other events. These solutions also help to minimize the friction that often comes with traveling.

In addition, these types of mobile apps allow hoteliers to compile relevant guest data about on- and off-property preferences. Ultimately, this data will evolve to where it is possible to predict the travelers wants and needs before they arrive – providing even more control.

Loyalty often comes down to sharing the right actionable information. Whether it is a local recommendation or simply remembering a guest’s room preferences, there is much that can be done to help establish loyalty in ways that translate into enhanced revenue. The best first step is to be the sound informational resource that plugs any guest into the local scene.

 

Alienating Guests: A Cautionary Warning About Beacon and Geolocation Technologies in Hotels

It seems that wherever we surf the Internet these days, we receive a customized advertisement or offer based on our browsing patterns. While it may seem that “Big Brother” is actually following us, this is the new shift in digital marketing, and hotels are next to embrace this frontier.

As highlighted by this recent HotelNewsNow article, hotels are adopting the use of beacon technologies, which can be used to direct and push notifications to guests about offerings on-property and in the area.

By using these types of technologies, hotels can track guests’ locations, and then tailor and map out their experiences based on their preferences. This could also include push notifications about a concert, a craft beer tasting at the hotel bar and much more.

Along these same lines, a recent study found that 74 percent of all hotels and resorts plan on implementing location-based technologies within the next year.

On the surface the rise of beacon and geolocation technologies seem like a logical next step in enhancing the stay for the guest, while also enhancing long-term loyalty. However, if overused, these new innovations could back fire, and ultimately turn a “friend into an enemy.” This could potentially occur when offers cross the line into becoming spam, which can potentially turn off guests. In addition, receiving an offer on your mobile device (such as a free dessert) when walking by a restaurant or bar could be perceived as being annoying or even “Big Brother”-like.

For hotels to effectively use these types of recommendation innovations, there needs to be more of a strategic plan that fully understands guests’ preferences. From booking to checking in and beyond, it is possible to provide the right recommendations – that extend well beyond an simple offer – but enhance a guest’s loyalty, versus making them feel “watched.” It’s a fine line.

For example, if you push an offer to a guest about a new vegan restaurant around the corner – knowing that they are vegetarian based on their previous room service orders – then you are offering a more personalized approach.

Gaining guest loyalty is possible with the right recommendation approach, while arbitrary spam could tremendously diminish the brand connection with a guest. Leveraging new technologies to ultimately lose guests and revenue is a strategy that no hotel brand wants to embrace.

 

Airfares Drop to Lowest Point – Potential Business Bump for Hoteliers

According to a recent Salon article, there is a major drop in overall airfares happening right now. The most significant driver for this is overcapacity, with too many seats being available and not enough demand from travelers.

Furthermore, the combination of airlines making seats smaller, the addition of new planes and low fuel prices, is creating regional prices as low as $20 for one-way fares from regional carriers like JetBlue and Frontier.

As a result, we are headed into a holiday season where virtually anyone who is willing to do a little research, and book immediately when they find a deal, can have a very low-cost travel experience.

For hoteliers, this could create a tremendous spike in demand coming into November and December. This demand will most likely create new revenue-generating opportunities, but also put stress on hoteliers when dealing with the challenge of pleasing guests – especially when properties are booked or near capacity. Not being able to meet all guest needs due to overcapacity, combined with an overwhelmed staff, can be a negative thing.

However, by embracing the right innovations for a guest, such as offering recommendations for the best local experiences, it is possible to establish long-term loyalty because the guest feels like their needs are being met,.

Too much of a good thing often comes with challenges. But by preparing for the soon-to-be-over-booked holiday travel season by developing the right innovation strategies, it is possible to come out with the ultimate win. By easily managing a dramatic increase in demand, it is possible to make every traveler feels like they had a positive experience with your brand.

 

Authenticity and Independent Hotels: General Managers Driving Force

While many hoteliers strive to offer truly authentic guest experiences, they tend to make the technology elements the driving force. Of course, technology can play a key role in providing enhanced guest services but, there’s much more to authenticity than innovation.

For example, for independent hoteliers, the key to truly providing authenticity comes down to the property’s General Manager (GM). The person in this role needs to consider expanding relationships with virtually every restaurant and attraction in the vicinity of the property.

By establishing these relationships, it is possible for GMs to develop co-opted offers that are specialized and can meet the needs of any guest. This coupled with the right innovation can help anticipate guests’ needs before during and after their stays, and help advance authentic experiences.

In addition, when it comes to larger brands with more resources, it is possible to hire a Local Experience Manager. This person plays a similar role as the GM at independent hotels – where they create the relationships and the platform for special offers throughout the region of their properties.

The combination of the Local Experience Manager, and a highly engaged GM, will help larger brands to provide the differentiated services that are required for achieving long-term guest loyalty.

Clearly, this is no small challenge. While most travelers want authentic experiences, they also enjoy predictability in their stays. This puts more of an onus on the brands to deliver the right experiences— it all comes down to GMs who are motivated and understand the true mission of authenticity.