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Do Guests Want to Choose Their Hotel Rooms Via Google Maps?

While being able to choose your seats online is a common practice for booking flights, the hotel industry is now also moving in this direction by allowing guests to choose their own rooms online via Google Maps.

However, unlike airlines, hoteliers are offering highly detailed information about the rooms and surroundings through the Google Maps API. For example, Hilton Worldwide just announced that its offering will help guests to visualize where available hotel rooms are located in relation to city streets, public transportation, parks, bodies of water and other markers.

Of course, this could potentially be a game-changing way that guests interact with major brands. At first, though, it may only appeal to tech-forward guests who appreciate this level of interaction. For the average guest, it could create an additional layer of work when booking.

In addition, this could be an ideal solution for resorts, where guests like to visualize their vacation destinations in advance. On the other hand, business travelers may be completely indifferent to this type of booking offering – especially since not much time is actually spent in their rooms.

Hotels also run the risk of the “what you see is not always what you get” phenomenon. As many have experienced, the photos of a Caribbean resort often look much different in pictures than they do in real life.

As with many new innovations, this new booking capability will work well with techies, and people booking their vacations. In due time, this will most likely become a common booking practice for everyone. And, for now … Hilton is leading the way by being the first one out of the gate.

 

Are Tech-Driven Hotels Alluring or Alienating for Guests?

Each week, there are multiple news stories about hotel brands embracing new guest-facing innovations. From robots to keyless entry to digital concierges, there is no shortage of new technologies that are transforming how guests interact with brands.

While these innovations create great media headlines, one has to wonder if these technologies ultimately alienate or allure guests. This is a challenging question for all hoteliers. That’s why the Wall Street Journal recently tackled the issue in this feature story.

While in the next 10 years, robots and other innovations will most likely be commonplace for many hotels – with guests being fully used to interacting with brands through technology. Today, we are seeing a technology shake-up that could be creating a divide amongst guests. For example, there seems to be a split between people who prefer interacting with humans, as opposed to texting the front desk when they need something like a toothbrush.

And although robotic butlers may have a “gee-wiz” factor that could appeal to Millennial travelers, it could cause friction for Baby Boomer guests.

As we have highlighted before, by chasing Millennials, hoteliers may risk losing their baby boomer guests, who have more money to spend. It’s all too easy to forget that many baby boomers want a frictionless, yet often a technology-less experience that will make them feel comfortable.

However, this may not be the case for all baby boomer guests. But the bottom line is that the pace of innovation could scare many away.

Of course, many hoteliers are fully aware of this demographic divide, and are trying to develop the best strategies for appealing to a wide audience of guests. But it remains that the rapid pace of hotel technology development is making the “alluring versus alienating” question very difficult to fully answer.

 

Facebook Aims to Create Guest Personalization Engine for Hotels

For many of us Facebook users, we are accustomed to our news feeds being populated by highly individualized and targeted content – whether it’s sports, music, political news or highly niche information. The social media giant’s dynamic algorithm has ultimately allowed it to be the “hub of all things” on the Internet.

This was one of the key themes at the recent Facebook F8 Developers Conference, where a big push was how advertisers and brands can use new APIs to test and launch programs directly into users’ news feeds.

In terms of the hospitality arena, these APIs will allow major hotel brands to inject special offers, loyalty program updates and other curated brand news right into their current and prospective guests’ feeds. Since the Facebook user data is very robust, the content and offers provided will also be very targeted – especially in ways that go “one layer deeper” when it comes to guest preferences.

Facebook has the potential to become the complete guest personalization engine for hospitality providers. From reporting and analytics to the ability to segment users based on preferences, this will be a 360-degree platform that could change how brands interact with guests.

In addition, most hoteliers would no longer need to build their own personalization engines. However, this comes with the challenge of Facebook owning all of the data – but many savvy brand managers are aware of the pitfalls and opportunities that come with this type of strategy.

And this isn’t just for hotels. Many other consumer and business-to-business brands could also embrace Facebook as its CRM platform. This will, of course, result in Facebook becoming even more important in the Internet arena, but the outcome could be a way to provide the most personalized offers possible to guest.

 

Millennials Seek the Often-Elusive Unique Guest Experience

According to speakers at the recent Seattle Hospitality on the Horizon event, Millennial travelers will soon “be in the driver seat” when it comes to hoteliers meeting their needs. Rather than focusing on the acquisition of things, this demographic has a different need: they want truly authentic experiences from hotel brands.

This shift into today’s “experience economy” comes with both challenges and opportunities for hoteliers. For example, in terms of challenges, most Millennials seek travel recommendations from their peers. In addition, the idea of “a unique experience” changes very rapidly based on fast-moving trends that are often cultivated through social media.

When it comes to opportunities, Millennials seek information from a mobile environment. This is pushing many hoteliers to enhance their brands in this arena. For example, Hilton Hotels & Resorts recently launched a mobile campaign featuring an interactive 360° video that takes the viewer on a virtual vacation.

Though the core challenge will be determining where the next unique experience will be. At one time Austin, Texas, was a prime destination for all things hip and cool. However, due to the increasing popularity of South by Southwest, this once popular destination for hipsters across the planet has become generic to some. The same could be said about Nashville and other U.S. cities that have thriving music scenes.

Hotel brands need to be on the forefront of the next cool destination. Being ahead of the curve when it comes to Millennial traveler trends is not an easy task. It also comes with the risk of investing in properties in cities that may not end up being cultural destinations for young people.

Providing the “experience of place” is the new thing in the hotel arena. Hopefully, today’s brands can develop the right strategies to entice Millennials with lasting, unique experiences. This will take the combination of the right guest-pleasing technologies with the core tenet of real estate success: location, location, location.

One Hotel Brand Aims to Meet the Needs of the “Curious Traveler”

In an effort to understand what’s driving purchasing behavior among experienced, upscale travelers, The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) recently implemented an ambitious research effort called “The Curious Traveler” trend study.

The study found that this special segment of traveler relies on his or her own devices, and relishes the process to explore a destination in a spontaneous way.

According to the survey, “Curious Travelers are taking almost eight leisure trips a year, and while American travelers take the least amount of vacation time compared to other markets in this study, they are the most likely to visit new destinations when they travel overseas…. The Curious Traveler has a strong sense of self. They trust their judgment as much, if not more, than the opinions of others.”

Skift Magazine recently interviewed Shannon Knapp, CMO of LHW, about this study, which also found that:

  • 79 percent of Curious Travelers feel that travel is an essential part of life
  • 30 percent of Curious Travelers intend to take more trips in 2016 versus 12 percent who plan to take fewer
  • 78 percent express interest in exploring a destination’s hidden gems
  • 54 percent look for unique and different travel adventures
  • Only 32 percent seek the “hottest/trendiest” spots
  • The Curious Traveler will spend 7 percent more on hotel accommodations per night this year than they did in 2015 ($419 per night/$390 per night)

This research came about after Knapp led a full brand update for LWH, which aimed to “break through” with this audience of travelers. The new study has allowed LWH to delve deeper into the specific motivations and travel behaviors to best serve these guests.

According to Knapp, the “Curious Travelers” are the real trendsetters and they prefer to follow their own path and thrive in cultural immersion. By ignoring the common tourist destinations, and “living like a local,” this audience is challenging hotel brands to deliver authentic travel experiences.

Offering this level of personalization can be overwhelming. By truly aiming for “the authentic,” LWH will be able to blaze a long trail of true brand loyalty with a special group of travelers.

 

Hotel Guest Personalization Leads to Enhanced Business Growth

The concept of guest personalization is nearly ubiquitous in today’s hospitality arena. While many hoteliers have been using the term “guest personalization” throughout their public relations and marketing efforts, there are some brands that are actually bringing this idea to life.

For example, the new Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel offers a team of lifestyle concierges with hyper-local knowledge. They work with guests to curate a continuously changing database of detailed information on events, restaurants, shopping venues, shows, and other local discoveries near the hotel.

The hotel even offers a “Navigator Table,” located in the lobby where guests can interact with these lifestyle concierges for personalized recommendations.

Along these same lines, many hoteliers have been enhancing their loyalty programs to focus on the next-generation travelers. As highlighted in this recent Hospitality Technology article, the future of loyalty programs will be all about hyper personalization, programs that reflect the spirit of the brand, ease-of-use and more enticing rewards.

All of these enhancements to guest personalization are certainly laudable, but come with challenges. For example, the Renaissance will most likely find it difficult to scale out this lifestyle concierge offering to smaller markets throughout the U.S.

In addition, for next-generation loyalty programs to truly come to life, hotel brands need fully interoperable data systems that allow any front-line worker to access guest preference information. This is a challenge that many other industry sectors are also trying to overcome, which is all about freeing the data from legacy systems to make it truly actionable.

To monetize guest personalization, hoteliers require instant access to data, and need to have their staff trained on using this information. The hotel arena is taking steps in the right direction, but genuine personalization requires major shifts in innovation and hotel personnel – where real-time data makes it possible to please the guest during all points of their stay.

 

The OTA Battle Heats Up: Expedia Fights Back Against Marriott and Hilton

With two major hotel brands making efforts to enhance direct guest bookings, one Online Travel Agency (OTA) has decided to fight back.

Expedia’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently spoke at a recent investor day in New York City, and proclaimed that Marriott and Hilton will likely lose share in the Expedia marketplace if they don’t provide their best prices and availability.

Khosrowshahi also stated that hotels fall to lower positions in Expedia’s sort order and their conversions decline when properties or brands don’t aggressively engage on Expedia sites. He even went on to say that there are plenty of rival brands ready to gain share.

According to this recent Skift Magazine article, Marriott is taking the high-road based on this comment from a spokesperson for the international brand, “we have great relationships with our OTA partners and will continue to work with intermediaries in mutually beneficial relationships that enable us to achieve our strategic objectives. We realize that customers today have a choice of booking channel at their fingertips so our goal is to offer a portfolio of direct and indirect booking channels for our guests.”

With investor pressure always being high, it’s natural for Expedia to respond to this new “direct booking” trend. The challenge is that guests are already overwhelmed with multiple channels for booking. While many search for hotels based on price, if they are loyal to a brand they may be more apt to cut through the clutter and book directly.

Conversely, when there is no direct channel for getting the best rate, the guest needs to do all of the legwork. This is very similar to the rise of movie streaming services. Most consumers have to figure out whether or not Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime actually have the movies they want to watch. As a result, the consumer experiences undo friction.

Ultimately, the guest could lose in the scenario. Perhaps the OTAs and the major hotel brands should put the guest first in this “booking battle” and let the loyalty happen naturally?

This will most likely not happen. Though one thing is for sure … this battle is far from being over and the ultimate outcomes will be very interesting.

 

Stop Clicking Around: Hilton’s New Ad Campaign Pushes for Direct Bookings

Hilton Worldwide recently made a significant marketing investment to combat the rise of guest bookings from third-party distribution channels. The hospitality leader has launched an advertising campaign based on the concept of “Stop Clicking Around.”

With this campaign, Hilton is aiming to recapture booking commissions that go towards online travel agencies (OTAs), which can range from 10 to 30 percent. According to a recent Skift article, the campaign promotes how guests can get the lowest rates possible by booking direct, as well as incentivizes guests to become Hilton HHonors members.

Watch the advertisement here:

The campaign takes a smart and fresh approach by telling a great story – with an iconic song – in 30 seconds. When compared to other major hospitality providers that are more risk-averse with their brands, this is a highly creative way to convey a message that could ultimately generate more revenue.

A Cautionary Tale for Hoteliers: Pay Attention to the Terms and Conditions of an Acquired Service Provider

Leading booking site Trivago is making waves in the hospitality industry with the news of its majority ownership stake in Base7booking, a cloud-based property management system.

As highlighted in this recent Skift article, this move means Trivago can get deep into the business-to-business side of the hotel business – allowing hotel brands to manage daily operations, run reports, send invoices and enhance their digital and email marketing.

On the surface, this seems like a very viable strategy for Trivago. However, for hoteliers who are already using Base7booking as their Property Management System (PMS), what happens when Trivago gets access to guest booking data?   Since Trivago is an Online Travel Agency (OTA), will they use this data to divert direct bookings from hotel brands?

This certainly remains to be seen, but it should be a cautionary tale for all major hospitality providers. The lesson being that everyone should fully know the contractual terms and conditions of a technology provider in the event that a potential competitor acquires them.

Of course, it is not clear if this will actually happen with this particular acquisition. But when looking at other industries, this is a common phenomenon. For example, in the healthcare arena, you often see device manufacturers acquiring billing platforms, which will go directly to the consumers (cutting out the distribution channel).

Investors and the public markets need to see year-over-year growth and a return-on-their-investment, drivers for companies like Trivago expanding its footprint.

While this type of business expansion is understandable, it can put a hotelier in a risky position, which is why knowing all of the contractual terms and conditions with your partners is vital.

 

Simplified Web Presences for Hotels: A Shorter Path to Booking?

In today’s information-crowded Internet, a smart strategy for increasing guest bookings is for hotels to offer more simplified websites.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel group recently captured the attention of Skift Magazine with the re-launch of its website, which was noted as “style over substance.” The publication felt the new website forgoes experiential travel content and does not offer an exciting brand experience.

However, there may be a good reason for this. The more simplified approach could be aimed at enhancing direct booking. The reality is that most guests research 6-8 hotels before the finally book, and the path of least resistance may ultimately be the winner.

Of course, there is always the challenge of who owns and manages the booking engine on the backend, and keeping these processes more simplified and streamlined. But the guest-facing booking experience is the vital last mile in gaining more conversions.

Perhaps the Ritz-Carlton hotel group understands how the average guest is bombarded all the time with information, offers and other content. As a result, many people experience “cognitive overload” from today’s digital world.

The best way to reduce information overload is to make it easier for the guest. The Ritz-Carlton is paving a new road for enhancing the guest experience? As they say, less is more.