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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.


Advancing Hotel Guest Loyalty for Soft and Independent Brands

At the recent Hotel Data Conference, a number of lodging leaders discussed the challenges and opportunities that both independent and soft brands have when it comes to innovation.

For independents, there is often more creative freedom, while the soft brands have a mix of brand standards combined with the ability to experiment more with technology.

For soft brands, there will always be corporate-driven solutions like uniform PMS systems, which have become very mature and somewhat commoditized. Conversely, we will see the application of some newer technologies like keyless entry become standard, which will continue to push all brands to find some differentiation.

Every brand needs to advance their identity through the creative use of innovation, which can be challenging in today’s commoditized technology arena. However, by focusing on new innovations that please the guest – both on and off property – it is possible to strengthen the overall brand.

For example, by leveraging systems that provide customized guest recommendations for restaurants and other events, it’s possible to standout and create lasting guest loyalty. For independent brands, these systems are very important, because guests have come to expect a high-touch experience during their stays.

In addition, for soft brands, these types of recommendation systems allow them to offer a customizable solution that will please the guest – and will not be considered a risky tech investment that offers minimal ROI.

Of course, pleasing the guest – whether face-to-face or through innovation – should always be considered a priority. By taking advantage of solutions that build out customized restaurant and attraction recommendations, it is possible to build long-term loyalty that will keep guests coming back, whether it’s an independent or soft brand.


Providing Additional Value for Hotel Guests in a Commoditized Era

The recent annual J.D. Power study for North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction found that maintaining satisfied guests will become even more difficult in the future, mostly because complimentary amenities like breakfast, Wi-Fi and other upgrades have become commonplace. As is the case with any highly competitive market, offerings that initially differentiate a provider but are easily replicated by their competitors eventually become commodities.

For hospitality providers, the result is that guests are starting to take a “what have you done for me lately” attitude, pressuring hoteliers to find ways beyond commoditized perks that might differentiate them from competitors. According to the J.D. Power study, this is the current reality for most hotels, with the exception of the luxury segment.

Here’s what we can expect from most hospitality providers:
1) They will take the same approach as in the past of providing guests with new amenities in an attempt to differentiate their brand.
2) The majority of the new amenities they choose to offer will be quickly replicated by peers within their competitive segment and guests will come to expect them as standard offerings (e.g., commodities), thereby eroding any short-lived advantage.

Hoteliers are right to continue providing the kinds of new offerings that most guests will inevitably want, especially if they are technology-driven innovations made available to all by outside vendors and relatively easy to implement, albeit sometimes at a significant cost (keyless room entry is one example.) The reason is that it’s only a matter of time before competitors offer it and guests expect it, which is a sure indication that they are on the path toward eventual commoditization.

With so many newer amenities evolving into commodities, how is a hotelier able to differentiate their brand or property? The answer is likely to be in the way they apply and integrate newer technologies to create a seamless and memorable experience for their guests. The enablers for accomplishing this are software applications, guest-specific data, and a vision for tying them together to better understand guest preferences. As we have suggested before, hoteliers need to focus on guests and go well beyond rewards programs that simply offer deals and discounts.

The core challenge is that there’s no obvious approach for how to accomplish this – if it exists it would be easy to implement yet become commoditized, like some of the amenities previously mentioned. Adding to this is the fact that executing the strategy will take a long-term investment of time and money, yet won’t initially be obvious to the bottom line. The danger is that providers will either fail to commit to a strategy or alternatively choose a “big bang” approach that will take years to begin providing more immediate guest value.

There is a reasonable, balanced alternative: Hoteliers can choose quick-to-implement technologies that improve guest experiences more immediately yet allow for the collection of guest-specific information needed to leverage the longer-term vision of understanding guest preferences. But to make the right choices, their ultimate goal must be to enhance the guest’s experience by understanding and giving them what they want. The risk is that providers will be driven foremost by the desire to push offerings on guests that seem to have the greatest revenue potential.

Yet we all inherently know that to grow any long-term relationship, we have to strive to understand and give before we can expect to receive. In hospitality, the indication of a healthy relationship is a guest’s loyalty to a brand or hotel and it can only be grown by truly striving to understand each guest and proactively giving them what they value the most within their entire travel experience. You can’t wait for years to begin building that relationship or be driven so heavily by revenue that it clouds your ability to implement technologies or choose amenities which fail to provide the greatest value to guests, both individually and collectively.

Loyalty is not a commodity and can’t be earned by simply offering more commodities. Instead, it must be established by learning what guests truly value in all aspects of their travel experience and providing it to them, and then nurtured by continuously improving your offering. It’s not any easy mission with an obvious path toward success but getting started now with technologies that are quick to implement, tangibly improve guest experiences, and allow you to keep learning more about your guests is a reasonable way to begin.


Enticing Business Travelers to Fully Use Hotel Mobile Apps

A recent study from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that business travelers want free Wifi and smart power outlets more than anything else.

While this study may seem like common knowledge on the surface, there is one element that the GBTA explored, which is that business travelers also only use hotel mobile apps for managing their reservations – not for interacting with hotel staff.

This may also seem like “surface knowledge,” but there is something else going on here. Why do these travelers only use these apps in such a limited fashion?

The answer may be that these travelers are not fully encouraged to fully leverage hotel mobile apps. For example, if a hotel app offers detailed information about area restaurants and events (i.e., updates on a concert or other cultural event that could make for a great evening with a client), then it would be possible to make the mobile app experience more dynamic.

This approach is taking a page from the frictionless guest travel model of innovation where hotels use data and analytics from actual behaviors and in-experience reporting to anticipate travelers’ needs. From there it is possible to make targeted, timely and personalized offers to guests that will help increase brand loyalty.

Ideally, this should be done in a mobile app environment. Ultimately, it will allow hotel brands to interact with guests on a much deeper level.

In addition, many hotels are dealing with revenue losses from guests preferring to take advantage of food delivery services, as opposed to using room service. This new mobile app approach allows hoteliers to compete with these services by presenting customized offers that can keep them leveraging on-property services.

Of course, free Wifi is now a given, which was reinforced in this study. However, the real story is about how to get business travelers to better interact with hotel brands in a mobile environment. By engaging with guests more, it is possible to develop long-term brand loyalty in a very viable travel demographic: the business traveler.


The Balance Between Pleasing Hotel Guests and Charging Extra Fees

In the travel sector, many companies have significantly enhanced their profit margins and earnings by charging for extra fees. Whether it’s for baggage fees for airlines or parking or room cancelation fees for hotels, there’s plenty of space for adding on guest surcharges.

According to this recent Skift article, 2016 is set to be another record year for U.S. hotels in terms of the amount of money they will collect from fees and surcharges. In 2015, hotels collected a record $2.45 billion, and this number is expected to increase in 2016, according to a NYU study.

The surcharges began to increase between 2002 and 2009, when travel demand decreased due the economic climate at the time.

However, this rise in revenue brings up the challenge – and need for balance – when it comes to charging extra fees. It goes without saying that travelers are not too fond of these charges.

Southwest Airlines has been the purveyor in gaining traveler loyalty with its bag-fly-free policy, which has helped to create a beloved brand. This, along with the discounted fairs and the “fun and lively approach” they take towards travelers, allows the brand to standout.

For hoteliers, the brand – including everything from implementing QR codes for offers at the front desk to design elements – come from the corporate headquarters, and trickle down to the franchises. This also includes the strategies behind the development of programs to charge extra fees.

In an era where it’s hard to quantify guest loyalty, hoteliers need to take the appropriate steps to help build the brand, and not risk the loss of mindshare amongst guests by creating new fees. And, ongoing guest loyalty will ultimately result in more revenue in the long-term, as opposed to one-off fees.


Including the Guest Experience in the Hotel Technology Stack

With a wide-range of innovations available for the hospitality arena, there is a growing need for hotel CIOs to leverage the full technology stack.

As highlighted by this recent HospitalityNet article, the hotel technology stack keeps getting larger with everything from booking software to revenue management systems to digital marketing tools and much more.

Of course, one of the most critical components of the stack are solutions that aim to please the guest before, during and after their stays. These types of offerings provide in-depth recommendations for activities both on and off of the properties.

Providing unique experiences are a core part of a guest’s stay and can ultimately enhance overall loyalty. This comes from leveraging solutions that allow you to develop and understand your guest’s profile and preferences based upon their interest in attractions and happenings near your property.

From booking to checkout and beyond, guests will be fully satisfied throughout the entire lifecycle, which is the premise behind keeping the guest experience completely frictionless.

In addition, while many of the marketing solutions being highlighted in the HospitalityNet article are very valuable, many of these offerings are starting to become commoditized – much like Wifi and free breakfasts.

This is why hoteliers should consider augmenting their technology stacks with offering that expand beyond the usual solutions.

Creating a truly unique guest experience is no small challenge, but it can be overcome with the right innovations and strategic approach.


Today’s Travelers Want More Technology and Control

With mobile devices reaching near ubiquity, as well as their ever-increasing power and features, it makes sense that travelers want more technology and control during their trips.

According to a new study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airline carriers should take advantage of this technology evolution by developing mobile apps that are more robust and useful.

While this study tends to focus on innovation specific to airline travel, all hospitality providers should take note and leverage the right mobile apps for allowing guests to do everything from accessing their own video content to making restaurant reservations to booking rooms and beyond.

The central theme is that the traveler has control over his or her own travel experience.

One way for hoteliers to be one-step-ahead of this shift is to leverage 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.

When it comes to hoteliers, these types of mobile solutions provide a means to enhance guest loyalty in ways never imagined. One simple and fully customized recommendation can create a travel experience that a guest will remember forever, and share with their friends and family.

In the end, both the guests and the hoteliers can gain a better sense of control, and a new found connection that will generate long-term loyalty.


Is Airbnb Really the Experience of a Lifetime?

Over the past couple of years, there have been many studies and reports that highlight how Airbnb is a threat to major hoteliers. One study estimated that hotels lose approximately $450 million in direct revenues per year to AirBnb. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Airbnb has embarked on a marketing campaign based on the premise of having travelers live in destinations – as opposed to merely being tourists. The concept is that by staying in an Airbnb, you will be able to live like a true local, and have an “experience of a lifetime.”

Aiming to appeal to Millennial travelers, this campaign is certainly different when it comes to hospitality marketing, but are they excluding a large group of travelers?

This is the main theme behind a recent Skift Magazine quest article that discusses how travelers may not want to actually live like a local. For example, when many people travel to Paris, they actually want to enjoy some of the world-class tourist sites, which includes the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre.

“The big group that’s being excluded is also people who travel from certain parts of the world to see other parts of the world. People who spend their hard-earned money to do so. People who, yes, sometimes stay in hotels precisely because it’s NOT like being at home. Because sometimes they don’t want to do the stuff they normally do – they’re on vacation trying to do stuff that they never do, or have never done before” stated the article.

In addition, when you stay at an Airbnb, you have the option of cooking your own meals, which may not be an experience of a lifetime. For instance, many travelers enjoy the cuisine that is offered by their hotels, as well as top restaurants in the area.

While Airbnb can certainly be seen as a threat, major hotel brands can counter this by focusing on providing a guest experience tailored to the traveler, such as those people who want to be tourists.

By staying in a world-class hotel that offers specific amenities and services to different categories of tourists, you could potentially provide an “experience of a lifetime.” More important, you don’t need to shop for groceries and cook your own meals.