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Hotel Innovation Lab Aims to Maintain Brand Consistency and Court Younger Travelers

Marriott International has embarked on an effort to advance innovation in a way that courts younger travelers, yet also maintains brand consistency for older guests.

Achieving this balance is a significant challenge. However, the leading global hospitality brand, Marriott, has made its downtown Charlotte, North Carolina its new innovation lab – for testing new technology concepts.

According to this recent Fast Company article, the property has “beta buttons” on its walls, tables, and iPads, as well as “beta boards” for gaining instant-feedback from guests. Of course this new effort is truly aimed at appealing to next generation of consumers – millennials and gen Z – who will soon make up the bulk of the hotels’ customers.

This does not mean that Marriott is abandoning its baby boomer guests, who seek brand consistency when they travel to properties. As such, Marriott is now focused on introducing variety into hotels, while also ensuring that guests leave knowing they’ve encountered the Marriott brand.

A bigger challenge for Marriott and other large brands wanting to seek this balance is the investment in upgrading all properties to meet these new needs. The property refresh cycle was typically four years or more in the making. Today, brands are speeding up this cycle in order to remain competitive, and offer unique guest experiences. For many brands, this rapid development cycle is not economically sustainable.

However, Marriott is leading the way by making innovation, and especially feedback from younger guests, a true part of its DNA. As the brand continues to evolve, this heritage of innovation will allow it to remain differentiated in a highly competitive, and fast-moving arena.


Boutique Hotel Success is About Attitude and Approach

In today’s hospitality arena, there is a movement to create more boutique hotels, which can offer solid profit margins and the ability to offer a unique guest experience.

The challenge is that many investors moving into this space – to capitalize on this opportunity — are taking a “me too” attitude with the singular focus on making the property’s design different and innovative.

As recently highlighted by boutique hotel visionary Ian Schrager, the key to success is attitude and approach, which should be about offering an elevated experience.

Schrager also pointed to the need to stay away from just focusing on design.

“Special effects in a movie make a good movie better, but they don’t make a bad movie good. I’m worried we’re seeing the same kinds of hotels now but in different colors,” said Schrager at the recent Boutique Investment Conference.

He also discussed how guests often don’t expect top service from boutique hotels. When top service is combined with top design, then the real “alchemy” of true guest loyalty can be fostered. It also takes an attitude where traditional hospitality rules should be broken, which can lead to long-term success.

As the boutique hotel sector continues to be a prime target for investors, Schrager’s insights should clearly be taken into consideration, especially since there’s the risk of oversupply.

“It doesn’t matter that there’s an oversupply problem in New York. Come prepared with a great product, and it’ll do great. Same with Airbnb. The best way to compete with Airbnb—which is coming after our children—is to provide a unique experience,” added Schrager.

The “unique guest experience” continues to be the holy grail in the hotel arena. The challenge is that the stakes are higher for boutiques, and the need for the right “attitude and approach” will dictate business growth in the long run.


Focus on Guest Experience Design First

According to a recent Priceline survey, most travelers want just one app that would facilitate all of their travel needs. This hypothetical mobile app would cover everything from planning to booking and ticketing across all forms of travel.

As most people have a finite amount of time, and are also dealing with technology fatigue, this approach makes sense – especially considering how fragmented the travel experience can be when dealing with multiple travel apps from hotel brands.

Most hotel brands develop their travel apps with the thinking that guests will automatically want to interact with them through these channels. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case because the apps are not designed with the guest experience in mind.

Much like the enterprise IT world, where security is now being built into any new innovation from the start, hoteliers may want to consider “guest experience design” first. In other words, think of the guest first and the experience they potentially want – then from there it’s a matter of agile development.

For example, some hotel brands are offering songs and music as an extension of their rewards programs. While on the surface, this seems like a creative idea, it may actually dilute the brand because it’s not travel related. In addition, it may not be worth developing any kind of program that does not extend the value of the stay.

By focusing on the guest first, it is possible to have more meaningful interactions with travelers through hotel mobile apps. This is no small challenge. However, by gaining the right guest data first, and then proceeding with development based on these insights, it is possible to capture guest attention and loyalty in this mobile arena.


Hotel Guest Engagement Has Nothing to Do with Selling

In today’s era of providing authentic guest experiences, many hoteliers are seeking new ways to enhance guest engagement. For many this can be the key to unlocking long-term loyalty, and counter rising competition from sharing economy alternatives like Airbnb.

The challenge is the definition of “engagement.”

For many this concept is simply communicating with guests through their preferred channel, which is most likely on their mobile devices. A recent Tnooz editorial discussed how there is a myriad of communication technologies available – but true engagement “supports the consumer’s need to feel special and it is tailored to their desired amount of attention.”

Delighting the guest with a two-way conversation is paramount, as opposed to communicating offers through a mobile text. The challenge is that most hotels have one agenda when it comes to guest engagement, boosting revenue.

This often comes with pushing guests towards events and attractions that intend to up-sell them, which should not be the priority. True guest engagement should be all about providing quality and tailored information that improves their overall stay – it should have nothing to do with immediate revenue expansion.

Though the ultimate outcome would be long-term revenue growth. For example, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards did not set out to become rich and famous rock stars when they were young. They were passionate about blues music coming out of the U.S., and wanted to expose the world to their interpretation of this special music. As a result, they ultimately because major rock stars, which was a side effect of this effort.

Major hotels can take a page from Mick and Keith and focus on providing quality experiences to the guest, with no plan for immediate financial return. But in the long-term, this type of effort will bring in far more revenue from a steady stream of loyal guests.

This type of revenue will most likely surpass any income that would come from an offer sent to a guest via text.


Hospitality Technology Arena Maturing – What’s Next?

Based on a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Marriott’s Chief Information Officer Bruce Hoffmeister, it is obvious that the hospitality sector has made tremendous leaps and bounds when it comes to adopting new innovations.

It seem like only a couple of years ago that major hotel brands were just starting to embrace the concept of mobility, and other innovations aimed at pleasing the guest through the entire stay cycle.

Fast-forward to today and hoteliers like Marriott are an example of how to employ mobility and other innovations – such as providing “unique guest experiences” to interacting with guests at multiple touch points. Leading hotel brands are now officially on the forefront.

So, what’s next?

While many of us don’t have crystal ball in front of us, it would be safe to assume that innovation will continue to transform the guest experience. Whether it’s the true adoption of robot butlers and concierges to ubiquitous keyless entry, the foundation for brand loyalty will lie in evolving technologies.

And even though at some point in the near future, these types of technologies will be commonplace at any property, this normalization of innovation will continue to create a new springboard for the next level of exciting technologies.

Of course, it is difficult to see this next level through a crystal ball. However, we imagine that Marriott will continue to spearhead the latest technologies on their properties, web and mobile apps.


Rise of Global Sharing Economy and Its Impact on Hotels

It seems that the sharing economy is not going away anytime soon. According to a recent report from Juniper Research, sharing economy revenues are poised to grow from $6.4 billion in 2015 to $20.4 billion by 2020.

While much of this growth will be due to expansion into emerging global markets, there is also an expected increase in revenue from food delivery services from Uber and others. As we have highlighted before, this could provide an alternative to room service or restaurant offerings at hotels.

Hoteliers are often challenged with offering amenities that keep guests on the properties, which often includes the right bars and restaurants. This challenge will most likely continue to increase as guests seek alternative options for food and beverage.

In addition, we expect that Uber and others will offer loyalty programs and other incentives to help enhance the penetration of these services.

In the coming months, major hospitality providers will aim to counter this trend, by enhancing their food offerings, as well as boosting loyalty programs that offer guests special on-site restaurant offers.

This also points to an increased need for leveraging the right guest data mining solution. By knowing guest preferences before, during and after the stay, it will be possible to create the most customizable offers aimed at keeping guests engaged and on the property.

The sharing economy continues to change the hospitality arena. While new delivery services could potentially eat (pun intended) into hotel profit margins, the guest will ultimately win by having more options. The key is being able to counter this trend by continually pleasing the guest.


Meeting Expected Summer Travel Spike with Innovation

There are a number of factors coming into play that point to a potentially record-setting summer for travel. From low gas prices to strong consumer confidence and increasing domestic and international leisure travel, the summer of 2016 could be a game-changing travel season for hoteliers.

Another driver of this trend could be the rise of the “experience economy,” where consumers are seeking to acquire experiences, as opposed to buying things. This is especially true for Millennials, who are often the prime marketing target for hoteliers when it comes to offering unique experiences.

As we have highlighted before, providing a truly “unique experience” is challenging for many hoteliers. While this Holy Grail can be difficult to attain, one thing is for sure this travel season, guest expectations will be high.

In order to achieve long-term brand loyalty in today’s travel-confident climate, major hotel brands are looking to implement the latest innovations that fully personalize the guest experience.

The foundation for achieving this higher-level of personalization will come from data.

Of course, accessing and acting-upon guest data in real-time is no easy task. With multiple CRM platforms often at play, as well as the need for front-line staff to act upon this information, many hoteliers are still trying to break down this data challenge.

In addition, in order to truly anticipate shifts in guest preferences, hoteliers may want to consider leveraging data from third-party data providers to paint a true picture of what guests want. This also includes integrating data from loyalty programs and other sources to analyze everything from purchasing behaviors, and demographic shifts.

To make the most of the anticipated record-breaking season of hotel bookings ahead of us, the key will be to leverage technologies in ways that establish and maintain brand loyalty – now and well after the summer season.




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.