Hoteliers are no longer just competing with each other for the prospective guest’s attention, but with other entities that aren’t even hotels, says Francine Heywood.
Online travel agencies are selling guests hotel stays and charging hoteliers commission, and sharing economy phenomena that provide traditional services in new ways such as AirBnB and Uber have disrupted the travel industry.
Technology has changed not only the hotel booking landscape, but is also creeping into the very job of being a hotelier. Hilton is even piloting a robot concierge featuring advanced artificial intelligence and the ability to “learn” from its interactions with guests.
Most hoteliers, and their guests, for that matter, do still prefer to interact with real humans, but considering the impact that technology has on our day-to-day lives, even those guests looking for the most hands-on experience expect the speed and convenience that modern technology provides (and that we have all come to take for granted). This is even more true for hotel brands focusing on more personalised and intimate guest experiences.
The ever-changing expectations of guests and fierce competition for online bookings mean that technological solutions have to be embraced. But which ones? Ironically, more technology can also mean more challenges for smaller or boutique hotels where budget allocations and staffing limitations can lead to wasted time and money. This confusion is compounded by the fact that two-way radios and clipboards can still get the job done adequately (although not excellently).
Before you embark on a quest to become gadget-wise in your hotel – especially a boutique hotel – ask yourself what kind of guest experience you are trying to provide. A hospitality business exists for and because of its guests, and therefore all operational decisions, including choosing what technology to implement, should be informed by a careful consideration of what will improve and enhance the guest experience, what will help you to win bookings during the path to purchase, and ultimately inspire trust in your brand over your competitors.
For boutique hotels especially, where the product is a unique personalised experience (in contrast to more homogenous commercial brands), trust is an immensely valuable commodity: your customers can’t send the product back if they aren’t happy with it, they can’t test it with a free trial if they are unsure, and making a purchase (going on holiday) is costly in terms of both time and money.
Thanks to the growth of user generated content online, your prospective guests have the capacity to learn directly from your previous guests about the best and worst aspects of your hotel. People from around the world are sharing experiences with one another without ever having met. This highlights one of the first and most basic things all hoteliers need to address immediately: their online reputations.
In 2009, researchers found that around 80 per cent of travellers worldwide were referring to sites like TripAdvisor during their travel purchasing journey, and although there is an increasing awareness among consumers that not all online reviews are genuine, a 2014 study conducted in Germany found that 86 per cent of people consider reviews to be “credible” or “very credible”, and the European Commission’s 2014 Study on Online Consumer Reviews in the Hotel Sector states that consumers are “confident in their own ability to make a balanced and informed decision on how to use the feedback.”
Not only is there a culture of sharing reviews, there is a culture of sharing experiences: In a 2016 study, it was found that 70 per cent of travellers update Facebook while on vacation. Personal recommendations are the most trusted form of ‘advertising', because, at the end of the day, people trust people – not brands.
It is clear that reviews are critical both in influencing guests during the path to purchase and inspiring loyalty. Online reputation management technology can help to maximise these effects in ways that do not detract from the personalised experience many hoteliers seek to provide for their guests, and, when used well, can help you to create an even more exceptional guest experience.
Besides the clear positive effect on guest experience, having feedback and review data on hand allows hoteliers to compare their own performance to that of their competitors, and discover areas where they can achieve a competitive edge.
Using your guest feedback and online reviews as a foundation, you can build up a technology stack that is suited to your guests’ needs, while avoiding implementing technology just for the sake of seeming cutting edge. Evaluate your guests’ feedback to find out where their experience needs enhancing or streamlining in order to determine which post, during or pre-stay technology you should implement.
Remember that the technology that will improve a guest’s stay isn’t always technology designed specifically for the hotel industry – a Netflix account that allows your guests to choose their own in-room entertainment may be more valuable than key-less doors. Having a system in place to manage feedback and online reviews will help identify these instances.
Online reviews and other user generated content, such as social media posts and blogs, are not only trusted, but are sought after by people planning to travel. Asking people for online reviews, and making it easy for them to post them, will increase your number of reviews, and may well increase your proportion of positive reviews. Also consider a marketing strategy that focusses on guest-created content to amplify a sense of trust in your brand.
Engagement is essential for building trust, and with the right technology, engagement and feedback can become useful for marketing, operations and management.
Hotel technology is becoming increasingly integrated and amalgamated, and the trend in guest relations technology is towards an integrated, consolidated solution that not only provides guest feedback and online reputation management tools, but also performs basic marketing tasks, such as email segmentation and social sharing.
While you consider your marketing strategy for 2017, and evaluate your choices for additions to your technology stack, make sure you have a strong foundation on which to build. Guest feedback and online reviews have the power to not only inspire trust in your brand and to foster loyalty, but can also inform your future technological and operational decisions.
2. Yoo, Kyung-Hyan, Gretzel, Ulrike, 2009. Comparison of deceptive and truthful travel reviews. In: Hopken, W., Gretzel, U., Law, R. (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism, 2009. Springer-Verlag Wien, The Netherlands, pp. 37-47.
Francine co-founded GuestRevu in 2013 and manages the company’s sales and marketing activities globally. GuestRevu (a TripAdvisor Platinum Review Collection Partner) provides cloud-based online reputation and guest feedback solutions that help hoteliers improve their guest experience with critical insights that fuel better decisions, build stronger relationships, and drive direct bookings.