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Are We Living in a Hotel Technology Bubble?

For many of us who lived through the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s, we remember well the heady times experienced, but also the rapid descent into an economic malaise that followed.

Fast forward 15 years later, and it seems that we are potentially on the precipice of a similar situation. Valuations of technology companies and mobile app providers are sky high – Uber is worth $41 billion and Alibaba has a market cap of more than $250 billion.

However, many financial experts point to this trend being more about a shift in tech wealth, as opposed to an actual bubble. Others say that the impact of today’s tech bubble deflating will have a much lesser impact on the economy as a whole this time around.

So, what is going on with the hotel technology sector? Are we seeing a bubble as well?

Based on the recent news that Choice Hotels International is hiring 100 IT specialists for full-time, permanent, high-paying positions; the answer may be “yes.”

Though something different seems to be going on in the hospitality arena: hoteliers are leveraging technologies for PR purposes. Each week, we see a new slew of press releases from hotel brands announcing their new innovations.

The innovation war is all about who can get the most publicity based on the “coolest” new technologies. As we’ve mentioned, offering the hippest innovations does not always translate into meeting the guests’ needs. Do hotel guests really want keyless rooms? Or will a robotic concierge create lasting guest loyalty?

Don’t get us wrong … we think all of these innovations are very interesting, but it is all too easy to choose the latest “shiny object,” which may not be what the guests actually want. Offering a more utility solution that provides a frictionless guest experience may be the best way to go.

By focusing on meeting true guest needs, hotel brands can make the right investments into long-term technologies that provide true return-on-investment (ROI).

While experts believe that a near-future technology downturn won’t be as bad as it was 15 years ago, hotel brands should exercise caution and only focus on pleasing the guest.

If you do this, then everything else will fall into place.

 

Millennials Vs. Baby Boomers: The Balancing Act for Hospitality Providers

The topic of catering to the millennial guest is something that is usually top of mind for hoteliers. In many ways, this generation is driving hospitality providers to embrace new innovations, which ultimately benefit all guests.

However, is catering exclusively to the millennial guest a smart business strategy?

It is easy to forget that those individuals over 50 years old, the “baby boomers,” hold the majority of our nation’s wealth. As such, hoteliers should consider the technology adoption challenges that come with this extremely influential demographic.

The reality is that a hotel’s IT plan should have varying degrees of technology to cater to both generations. For example, at check-in, while some millennials want to check-in with a mobile app, boomers might simply want to interact with a human.

In addition, a millennial might find it easier to use a social media tool – like Yelp – for dinner recommendations and reservations, while again, a boomer might prefer gaining these insights from a human concierge.

Of course, the technology adoption differences between these generations are not always black and white. Many boomers are tech savvy, and there are millennials who prefer human interactions.

This points to the need to offer a wide-variety of services that cover both the innovation and human elements of guest interaction. By taking this approach, you can offer a frictionless guest experience based on many services.

While the digital world has disrupted traditional methods of doing business, this does not mean that the old ways of engaging with guests – especially the 50-plus generation – are no longer effective.

Putting all your eggs in one demographic basket may not be the best approach.

 

 

Should Hospitality Providers Replace Front Desk Staff with Mobile Solutions?

There’s been plenty of news about the hospitality sector embracing new innovations in the area of mobile solutions.  From the development of new mobile applications for guests to manage their experience to providing iPads in every guest room, this new horizon will play a major role in allowing hoteliers to offer enhanced services.

One area of advanced mobile solutions recently caught my attention: niche hotels actually replacing their front desk staff with mobile and communications solutions that allow guests to pay in advance, as well as receive correspondence with the security codes to access their rooms.

While this seems like an innovative and cost-saving idea, the reality is that mobile solutions should be used to augment current service offerings.  I don’t believe that larger hoteliers should or ever will fully abandon having staff at the front desk because a guest’s need needs must continually be met and human interaction must always to be an option for a hotelier to assist with unforeseen challenges.  In some cases, a hand-held device could never replace the convenience and personal touch of highly trained front desk staff.

In the past, we have seen similar situations where organizations have tried to supplant people with technology, only to learn the lesson that they instead should have supplemented them.  Some examples that come to mind are automated phone attendants and websites, where some organizations believed they could cut off communication with their customers only to find that they wanted the option of both means to improve their interaction and experience.  The use of mobile technology by hospitality providers will be no different: there will be times when guests will want to do things on their own via the technology and other times when they want to interact with someone.  What hoteliers need to provide is guest-friendly technology that guests want, as well as staff available to assist.

The use of mobile technology to manage a guest’s experience holds great promise, but it brings with it some potential challenges.  For example, does this new frictionless check-in method help these niche hoteliers retain guests?  Without having any measurable goals – or even testing this concept out in one or two properties in advance of a full-scale roll out – hospitality providers can actually run the risk of driving these guests away.  They will need to tread cautiously to ensure they strike the right balance between technology and human interaction that their guests ultimately desire.

The concept of service is the driving differentiator for any hospitality provider.  Many of the largest hoteliers can trace back their overall business success to providing the best services on the market.  And, in today’s competitive landscape, hospitality providers cannot risk losing guests due to service issues.  Information technology should be used to improve the guest experience and the reality is that it will always supplement, and not supplant, the people that ultimately provide service to guests.

Bisnow Lodging Investment Summit Brings Out Brightest Stars in Hospitality

Without a doubt, the Washington DC area has become the cornerstone for the hospitality industry — with Marriott, Hilton and Choice Hotels, as well as many lodging investment players, calling our region home.

So, it was no surprise that the folks at Bisnow Media were able to pull off a spectacular national event that drew together the “who’s who” of the hospitality sector at its Bisnow Lodging Investment Summit (BLIS) on May 9-10 at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson’s Corner.

We had the unique pleasure of attending BLIS, which brought together 500 industry players to hear 32 speakers discuss the future of the hospitality industry. Some of the highlights included Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s new CEO, providing his vision for doubling the hospitality provider’s overseas portfolio, as well as political pundit Tucker Carlson’s enlightening and entertaining speech on the state of politics and what to expect from the upcoming Presidential election.

The event also showcased some of the challenges that the industry faces, such as what will happen to RevPAR as consumer confidence continues to decline, as well as managing growth in a global economy that is still in a state of turmoil.

At NetLink, we have always believed that the best way to enhance growth, in even the most challenging of economic climates, is to ensure that all IT investments support business growth. For example, be sure to check out this case study about how Marriott International developed its online gift card effort, which resulted in $35 million in additional revenue.

As the lodging sector continues to move forward, it is exciting to see that the industry is coming up with unique strategies for business growth. And, plenty of opportunities still abound for those selling solutions to hospitality providers.

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

NetLink Resource Group Sponsors Adoptions Together Golf Tournament

At NetLink Resource Group, we are involved in a number of organizations for both professional and personal reasons. From one employee’s involvement in the Washington Master Chorale to our support of organizations like the Northern Virginia Tech Council, the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, we are a very diverse group of individuals who believe in the value of community.

As such, I am excited to announce that we are part-sponsors for the “Swing Into Action for Kids Golf Tournament” fundraiser hosted by Adoptions Together. Adoptions Together is a non-profit organization that supports children and families formed through adoption, guardianship, foster care and kinship care. This is an amazing group of people that helps both adults and children realize the dream of having a stable and loving family environment.

Sponsoring this event carries special meaning for me because my wife and I adopted our two children through the domestic infant program at Adoptions Together. In addition, my oldest son is participating in the NetLink foursome at the tournament.

Whether you run a foundation or are an individual donor, I highly recommend you learn more about Adoptions Together and support this great organization that has had a tremendous impact on my life. Click here to learn more.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

NetLink’s Director of Business Development Named Chair of CRTC’S Ambassador Committee

NetLink Resource Group, Inc., a leading provider of custom web application solutions, today announced that Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, has been named Chair of the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council’s (CRTC) Ambassador Committee.

In this role, she will be helping the Ambassador Committee ensure that CRTC members are fully connected to the organization and are reaping the benefit of their membership. The CRTC Ambassador Committee’s mission is to enhance recruitment and retention of CRTC members, and provide opportunities for members to be fully connected with the organization and other members.

“Our region is full of many forward-thinking companies that are breaking the bounds of innovation and the CRTC serves as the hub for this vibrant business community,” said Turner. “ I am very excited about my new role in the CRTC and I look forward to helping advance the mission of this great organization.”

The CRTC Ambassador Committee is comprised of 13 executives from multiple business disciplines who meet monthly to develop programs for both growing membership and expanding opportunities for current members. The CRTC also recently announced the winners of its TechAwards 2012, which honored the region’s rising tech companies, outstanding innovators and regional tech leaders.

About Chesapeake Regional Tech Council

Founded in 1992, the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council (CRTC) energizes and propels the advancement of technologies with the exchange of ideas, expertise and business and partnership opportunities. The CRTC is a resource for visibility, connections, knowledge and education for technology companies in and around the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore area, attracting new technology companies to the region and helping emerging technology companies grow and prosper in this increasingly dynamic environment. The CRTC is a non-profit membership organization supported by a grant from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (MD DBED) and a grant from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC) and enabled by membership and annual sustaining sponsorship. More than 250 businesses from the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore area are members of the council, including many of the area’s well-known leading technology companies. For more information go to http://www.chesapeaketech.org.

About NetLink Resource Group

At NetLink, we work with businesses to analyze opportunities, recommend technology strategies, and execute digital / mobile / web solutions that improve customer engagement, revenues, and operational efficiencies. We dissect complex business challenges, develop quick-to-market platforms that overcome them, and provide ongoing, professional support that allows you to focus on your business rather than managing multiple vendors. Our team delivers solutions that address hospitality, financial, workflow automation, and marketing needs. We serve a wide range of organizations, from SMBs to large companies in the private sector, as well as government and non-profits.

 

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HFTP Promotes Innovative IT Approaches for Enhancing Guest Experiences

 

Recently, the DC Chapter of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP) hosted a roundtable that highlighted new innovations in the area of guestroom technologies. Industry leaders gathered to share their perspectives on technology as it relates to the “guest” experience, as well as what leading edge hotels are doing to improve this experience.

Some of the emerging trends that were discussed included:

  • The ability to check-in to a room prior to arrival by using a smartphone, tablet or guest loyalty card
  • Interacting with guests via multiple channels including email, text, in person or an app
  • Knowing guest room preferences — including the temperature of the room, the number of towels, food and beverages, movies that were rented — and having the room ready upon arrival
  • Using a smartphone or tablet to control the TV

It is exciting to see the hospitality sector embracing new forms of customer service that will enhance profit during a time when leisure travel is down. It would seem that hotels could achieve a competitive advantage by implementing these types of solutions.

And, kudos to HFTP for promoting these innovative solutions. As the hospitality sector continues to embrace new innovations that enhance customer loyalty, we will continue to shine a light on hoteliers that are moving the needle when it comes to implementing IT solutions that provide true business value.

 

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

AH&LA Legislative Action Summit Brings Value of Customer Service to Light

This year, I had the privilege of attending the AH&LA’s Legislative Action Summit (LAS), which brought together key leadership from the lodging sector to make the industry’s voice heard on Capitol Hill.

Some of the major issues tackled at the LAS were the ability to foster growth and job creation in the lodging arena, the need to have online travel companies pay their fair share of taxes from online bookings, as well as removing burdensome visa processes that keep international travelers from coming to the U.S.

These are all serious issues that have major implications on the growth of the lodging sector. It was incredibly enlightening to be in the same room as the brightest legislative affairs executives who play a major role in providing an environment for true business growth for the hospitality industry.

Not only is the hospitality industry tied to the economic growth of the nation, it is also the mainstay of many local communities around the country. By easing some restrictions for travelers coming into the country, the hospitality industry has the potential to add 1.3 million jobs in 2012.

I did have one major epiphany during the LAS, and ironically, it did not come from participating in the sessions and networking events. Each night, when I went back to my hotel (JW Marriott), I was greeted with an unprecedented level of customer service. And, when I was leaving — and had to keep my bags with the bellman because of an 8 a.m. check out – I had five Marriot employees taking care of me. From loading my luggage into my 11-year-old SUV and beyond, it was a prime example of how the lodging industry needs to continue focusing on one thing: making the guests happy.

Clearly, attending the LAS was an illuminating experience for me, but I was really reminded that customer service is the cornerstone of business success by the JW Marriott employees themselves. When that belief trickles down to all staff positions, hoteliers can’t help but attract and retain more guests!

 

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

 

NetLink Proud to Sponsor CRTC’s TechAwards 2012

As we have highlighted before, we see tremendous value in taking advantage of pretty much every business-networking event in the region. For NetLink Resource Group, this extends beyond just showing up at the events. We actually show our support by sponsoring numerous events and awards programs, including the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council’s (CRTC) TechAwards 2012.

The CRTC’s TechAwards 2012 will showcase the region’s rising technology companies, innovators and leaders. The CRTC received nearly 40 submissions in five categories from a variety of accomplished technology businesses throughout the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore region that demonstrated impressive growth, innovation and community service. And, this year’s finalists are clearly some of the true movers-and-shakers and up-and-comers in our region.

Be sure to mark you calendars for the CRTC “Meet the Finalists” InfoMixer, as well as the main event: the actual award ceremony.

See you all then and congratulations to all the CRTC TechAwards finalists!

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

Greatness Verified: A/B Testing Provides True Validation

The idea of greatness is purely subjective. When it comes to developing an online property that generates revenue, businesses can never really know if their efforts will produce greatness unless they undertake A/B testing.

A/B testing is simply comparing two versions of a landing page and seeing which version was more effective in attracting/retaining key traffic and ultimately leading to sales conversions. Clearly the highest performing version should be the one developed, launched and further tested.

Part of the challenge is that A/B testing often takes a backseat to more buzz-worthy marketing efforts like SEO, web analytics and usability. While not diminishing the power of SEO and analytics, A/B testing should be as much of a priority for sales and marketing as it validates the effectiveness of any new online effort prior to launch.

So, what should be tested? A/B testing extends well beyond just the aesthetics of a site. Of course each testing situation is unique, but core elements that should be covered include the ability to capture sales leads and generate revenue, the site’s call to action, headline/products descriptions, promotional offers, product pricing and much more.

As many companies and organizations invest a tremendous amount of money in their web sites, there needs to be methods for ensuring the best return-on-investment (ROI), beyond validating and tracking analytics.

A/B testing actually improves ROI and allows for the development of incremental improvements, which is critical in building a successful web property. This is an ongoing process that allows for the refining of all efforts and provides sales and marketing executives with the knowledge needed to gauge success.

Most businesses simply need to attract customers online and entice them to make a sale. Though businesses will never actually know if they have missed opportunities to capture sales leads unless they have actually tested and validated their web properties. Other wise, you are just taking shots in the dark.

Stay tuned for more posts about A/B testing on the NetLink blog. As we believe in the power of building out IT solutions that only provide true business value, the concept of A/B testing is very important. We intend to dive much further into this vital topic in the coming weeks and months.

Posted by: Myles Henderson, Developer at NetLink Resource Group