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Frictionless Guest Experience

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 Delicate Balance of Next-Generation CRM for Hoteliers

Loews Hotels & Resorts recently announced that it is implementing a CRM solution that will provide a single view of guest history, value, behavior, desire, intent and engagement at 23 of its locations.

The new solution will tap into first and third party data sources to deliver “one-to-one marketing across all digital channels.” These channels include email, Web, display ads, mobile, social, video and search.

While this effort is laudable – and reinforces the value of being able to provide sophisticated guest intelligence, reporting, and analytics – it can create a “too much of a good thing” phenomenon where the brand could potential bombard guests with too much information.

Of course, the main driver for this effort is to enhance marketing and up-sell opportunities for Loews. However, if you saturate a guest with offers through every possible digital channel, it could potentially turn them off.

The key is being able to leverage this system beyond just for marketing. The goal behind a new CRM system should be to simply help the guest. This can include developing targeted offers based on the guest’s true preferences, and pleasing the guest through the entire stay cycle.

In addition, consumers are becoming savvier about how targeted digital marketing actually works. If they are watching a music video on YouTube, and then see an ad for that particular band or musician on Facebook immediately after, they often feel like they are being tracked – or worse, spied upon by brands.

This all requires a very delicate balance because too much of a good thing can be bad. Other hotel brands should certainly try to emulate what Loews is doing with this new system. The strategy should always be to please the guest, and not bombard them with marketing offers.


The Real Reason Why Airport Hotels Are Prospering

According to a recent Hotel News Now article, airport hotels are seeing an increase in demand and now command a significant rate premium.

The article highlights how a new study from STR shows that U.S. airport hotels posted a 9.1 percent increase in revenue per available room through the first seven months of 2015, after posting a similar growth rate of 9.3 percent during the same period in 2014. This increase in demand is allowing airport hotel operators to increase their average daily rates by 7 percent.

On the surface, this seems like a good thing for these hoteliers. But what’s really going on behind this increase in room demand? It’s actually quite simple: flight delays and other issues brought on by the airlines.

According to this recent Fortune article, airports like Chicago’s O’Hare International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International experience the most delayed or cancelled flights in the U.S.   Especially in winter – in 2014, more than 75,000 domestic flights were cancelled during winter.

While airport hotel operators are reaping the benefits of these flight delays, it should be noted that they are often dealing with a weary, stressed-out traveler – many who are traveling for business.

Pleasing these guests is no small challenge. By implementing the right innovations for reducing the stress that comes with travel, it is possible to reduce guest friction.

For example, if you have built a persona on a certain kind of business traveler who is about to come through your doors – due to a cancelled flight – it is possible to anticipate his or her needs in advance. Of course, their needs could be as simple as having effective Wi-fi or knowing their room service preferences.

Anticipating the needs of these stressed out travelers will go a long way in turning a negative experience into something that creates lasting brand loyalty – even if cancelled flights keep sending guests your way.


All Travelers Now Want High-Touch Services

Technology has become the equalizer for all travelers. Whether it’s a high-end business traveler or a family on vacation on the New Jersey shore, virtually everyone has become accustomed to – and expects – high-touch services from hotels.

A recent American Express survey found that “future travelers” will tap into these high-tech options and human services in order to achieve the ultimate travel experience. While the study focuses on the traveler of the future, we believe that this trend is happening right now.

Another interesting aspect of the study is that 93 percent of travelers said that despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced.

“Increasingly, travelers want to see the world on their terms with tailored, personalized and differentiated experiences that reflect their passions and needs,” said Claire Bennett, Executive Vice President, American Express Travel. “The boundaries between technology and personal service are being blurred, allowing more intimate connections for travelers with the world around them.”

For hotel brands this presents both challenges and opportunities.

With pretty much every category of traveler expecting high-touch services, hoteliers will need to focus their efforts even more on pleasing the guest. It also opens the door for hotel brands to seek out new innovations and partnerships that strengthen the brand by creating a completely “frictionless guest experience.”

Additionally, the study found that 82 percent of respondents are more interested in “making memories” than making money, and are seeking more meaningful life experiences. In other words, it’s the experience and not material possessions that make people happy.

For hoteliers, this means creating these new experiences for guests, leveraging new technologies and making service an even bigger priority. In other words, going above and beyond for guests is now the new norm.

The hotel brands that embrace this new mindset will clearly emerge from the ever-increasing competitive pack. The good news though is that the guest always wins.



A Matter of Trust: Online Hotel Rating Systems

In today’s very transparent Internet world, online guest rating systems can be both a major challenge and a business opportunity for hoteliers.

In addition, the validity of guest rating systems are not always cut and dry. For example, people tend to give a restaurant in their own neighborhood a more negative review, as opposed a restaurant they encounter during their travels. This reinforces that human biases come into play when it comes to online ratings, and that brands should continually aim for trusted relationships with their guests.

It probably comes as no surprise, but new studies show that many guests are more influenced to book, or not book, based on online reviews – not price. This means that potential guests are using online review sites such as TripAdvisor to make certain that the hotel reviews match their expectations.

This also reinforces the value of creating trust with guests. Though how can hoteliers create this brand trust?

By providing a “frictionless guest experience,” hoteliers can improve reviews and loyalty, as well as empower guests to interact with hotel brands in customized ways.

From booking to checkout and beyond, guests must be fully satisfied throughout the entire lifecycle – especially when doing online booking.  This often starts with tools that anticipate guests’ needs before they even arrive. Essentially, this means meeting guests’ needs before they even know what they want.

By fully anticipating guest needs, it is possible to instill this trust, which will go a very long way in ensuring lasting brand loyalty.


Guest Friction is Subjective in Hospitality Arena

In today’s hospitality arena, guest expectations have become very high. From wanting keyless entry to pervasive Wifi, most guests want their needs to be continually met in a completely frictionless environment.

While new innovations are keeping guests happy, there may be a converse situation happening: perhaps the new technologies themselves are causing friction? Or perhaps the idea of a keyless room or a digital concierge will cause more stress for certain kinds of guests?

For example, while Millennials are more apt to embrace a mobile experience, the Baby Boomers may be resistant to some of the technology changes happening in hospitality. A new mobile app for guest check-in and concierge services may actually cause stress for those from another generation.

When developing new innovations, hoteliers should consider focusing on the unique personas across all generations of guests. Customized and personalized solutions can help bridge this gap and please every type of guest. This is no small challenge, but it can be achieved.

In terms of the bigger picture, the reality is that there is no margin of error in hospitability. One unhappy guest has the power to influence many others to consider going with a competitive property through social media.

Rather than moving quickly to beat a competitor to announcing a new innovation, it may be best to step away from the rapid PR rush and focus on the guest. New technologies are laudable, but all degrees of potential “friction” should be considered with developing and testing these innovations.

For some people technology is very exciting, while for others, it can be scary and stressful. Considering the wide-range of technology users will help hoteliers develop innovations that will reduce the friction for everyone.


Bringing Next-Generation Hotel Loyalty Programs to Life

We recently ran a blog post about how hoteliers are developing loyalty programs “on steroids.”

Much of this is being driven by guests who are demanding rewards for items such as free music downloads and enhanced partner opportunities like concert tickets and off-premise restaurant gift certificates. Brands like Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Marriott are leading the way with some innovative loyalty programs.

The ability to be able to quickly ramp up new and unique offerings is paramount for other hoteliers that want to follow suit.

But how can this be done?

Thankfully, this can be done very easily efficiently. By taking an open API approach on the back-end, it is possible to enable “a points functionality” by simply pressing a button to automatically make the offer go live.

This functionality is a part of new Frictionless Guest Experience™ systems that allows hoteliers to offer a high level of personalization, at all times. 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, these types of systems offer online guest and administrative portals. The latter allows hotel brands to configure all of the information they wish to present to guests. This can include rewards and offers negotiated with off-property partners, and the like. Within the guest-facing portal, it is possible to promote these loyalty offerings in highly dynamic ways.

Essentially, it is possible for any hotel brand to develop next-generation loyalty programs that are highly creative and dynamic – which, of course, translates into new revenue opportunities.

If you are a hotel brand looking to develop the right systems for enhancing the guest experience, feel free to contact us at NetLink Resource Group here.


Online Hotel Reviews Contribute Most to Booking Decisions, Not Price

It’s officially a new world for hotel marketing. No longer is price the most important factor in selecting a hotel.  New research from Penn State University shows that guests are more influenced to book, or not book, based on online reviews – not price

Guests are not just looking at online sites for price comparison anymore, but using online review sites such as TripAdvisor to make certain that the hotel reviews match their expectations.  Travelers simply want to know if they are getting the value they deserve for the price.

As TripAdvisors’ user interface can be cumbersome for guests to compare hotels, this new research underscores the importance of reviews in influencing guest buying patterns.

The study revealed that positive reviews are the primary factor in choice – not ratings and rank. Guests said they would trade a lower-priced property for a hotel with better reviews. And interestingly the content or language in the reviews did not matter – only whether reviews were positive or negative.

However, it should be noted that price still matters. As such, hotels need to pay attention to how their reviews compare to competitors when setting a price. Once a negative review is posted, dropping the price has no effect in restoring the dropped bookings.

In order to take this concept one step further, now is the time for hoteliers to build in the right systems that provide consistent, real-time feedback from guests that enhances the brand overall.  The key is to deliver an experience on par, or above, what is reported on sites like TripAdvisors — combined with a high level of personalization to guests in both the social and mobile environments.

Based on NetLink’s research, providing a  “frictionless guest experience” improves reviews and loyalty and will empower guests to interact with hotel brands in customized ways.  In addition, it will fully counter any bad reviews that may come about on the Internet.

Finding new and innovative ways to enhance the guest experience will give your hotel the edge it needs to stay on top of the good reviews and gain new customers.  The good news is that you don’t need to always lower your prices to remain competitive.