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Hotels Aim to Go 3D: Global, Local and Personalized

Without personalizing experiences for guests, it has become a challenge for hoteliers to capture the loyalty of the fast-moving, technology-savvy traveler. In addition, as we have seen, price is no longer the most important factor in selecting a hotel.

However, thanks to a world of data that is available at any hotelier’s fingertips, there are highly effective ways of personalizing services to the point where front desk staff can provide a guest with tickets to a favorite local band, book the latest trendy restaurant for a business dinner, or even coordinate a private safari adventure for a guest’s birthday – all based on real-time guest data.

Driving this point home, InterContinental Hotels Group, recently announced the results of a survey that polled 7,000 travelers. The report found that in order to obtain guest loyalty going forward, hotel brands must go 3D, which means being globalized, localized and personalized.

“This report marks a step-change in the thinking that has dominated the travel and hospitality industry over the last two decades. Hotel brands have traditionally concentrated on being 2D – how to be both global and local,” Richard Solomons, IHG’s chief executive in a recent statement. “But our research shows that the rise of personalization means brands must be 3D in order to build both trust and lasting relationships with guests and to win in a highly competitive global market.”

Other survey findings include:

  • 68% of travelers from Brazil, 60 from the UAE and 58 percent from China disagree with the statement that “a global brand can never be a good fit with local culture.”
  • 59% of all travelers said personalization makes their hotel stays more comfortable.
  • 54% said increased comfort makes them feel more recognized by the brand.
  • 62% of millennials said that being able to access such personal content as films or music would prompt them to return to a hotel compared to 55% of travelers of all ages.
  • 72% of travelers older than 65 would return to a hotel that featured healthy food and beverage choices versus 61% of millennials.
  • 64% of Chinese and 62% of Brazilians “expect a hotel to tailor the experience they have to their personal needs,” compared to 43% of U.S. and 42% of U.K. travelers.

With this knowledge in-hand and using the latest innovations, hoteliers currently have a major opportunity to go 3D and provide the right solutions for increasing guest loyalty and overall revenues. From booking to checkout and beyond, tools exist today that anticipate guests’ needs before they even arrive.

No longer are guests choosing a hotel on price alone.  By meeting guests’ needs before they even know what they want, hoteliers will successfully capture the brand loyalty of today’s business and leisure traveler.


Explosion of Innovation Causing Tech Overload for Hotels?

The hospitality sector is undergoing a unique transformation where new innovations are emerging on a daily basis.  From text-to-guest providers to new mobile concierge applications, the choices are limitless for hotel IT staff.

This has caused many hotel brands to compete in an arms race when it comes to developing and implementing new guest-oriented innovations.  Each new guest offering warrants press coverage, and hoteliers need to move quickly to win the innovation awareness war.

However, is this causing innovation overload for hoteliers?

The nature of doing business this way can cause IT staff to continually operate in a reactionary tactical mode, where it is difficult to operate in a strategic fashion.

To even effectively manage and implement these solutions, hotel IT staff operate in a patch work-like quilt, which includes multiple vendors, contracts, timelines and priorities.

We believe that hoteliers require a unified solution that operates in a dashboard-like manner for managing the development and deployment of all innovations.  This unified approach will also allow hoteliers to operate in a more proactive mode.

Along these same lines, hoteliers often grapple with determining which technology developments should be provided by outside partners.  By outsourcing technology needs to a trusted partner, hoteliers can keep up with the latest innovations to enable them to be competitive in today’s market.

As we have highlighted before, external partners bring innovation, flexibility, agility and fresh perspective and no competing agendas.   In addition, new open platforms provide many of the functions brands are seeking to implement, as well as allows brands to retain control of certain aspects of a solution — while not having to build out the infrastructure internally.

Thankfully it is possible to manage the “innovation overload,” which is very common these days with the explosion of technologies available to hoteliers.  By seeking the right partner, who can provide a comprehensive solution, it is possible to stay one-step-ahead of the competition.



Marriott’s Edition Caters to the Young and Hip

Next generation travelers are the early adopters of innovation and are driving tremendous changes in the hospitality sector.  While many boutique brands were first to cater to this audience, larger hoteliers are following suit.

Marriott International is embracing this new movement by creating a new chain called Edition, which is a luxurious, hip boutique hotel that could grow to a 100­city hotel chain.

The idea was conceived in partnership with Ian Schrager, who is essentially the founder of the boutique hotel movement.  Edition features laser-lit nightclubs and guest-rooms include paintings of women wearing toilet-paper turbans, hardwood floors and faux-fur throws.

For some time, Marriott International has been enhancing its “guest-room beauty experience” with nicer bathroom items and providing guests with the free Xplor app, which combines loyalty and games for guests.  However, according to company executives, it needed to standout in the “sea of sameness.”

Edition brings a whole new level of hipness to Marriott International. In fact, according to the New York Times, this move has caused the Ritz-Carlton brand to acknowledge its true owners – Marriott.  With the addition of Edition, the walls can be broken down between the two chains, which will add tremendous value to Marriott’s image.

As we have highlighted before, younger travelers are informed and empowered.  As such, they demand personalized experiences, which can be booked through social and mobile channels, and they are looking to ‘bond’ more with brands.

Edition will serve as a prime example of how larger hoteliers can create new brands to cater to this unique audience.  Innovation will be the foundation for meeting the needs of the next-generation traveler and Marriott International is taking the right steps, which will certainly be replicated by competing brands.



The Demise of the Hotel Minibar Signals Big Changes in Hotel Innovation

With next-generation hotel guests preferring a more collaborative environment in the lobbies, one thing is about to go the way of the dinosaur:  the hotel minibar.

According to a new study by TripAdvisor, only 21 percent of travelers cared if there was a minibar in their rooms.   Major hotel chains have taken notice of this trend with Marriott International, Hyatt and Hilton all phasing out this once-reliable travel staple.

While this trend may not seem that groundbreaking on the surface, there is much more going on here from a guest innovation perspective.

For many years, hoteliers embraced in-room innovation and entertainment options, which may no longer be a viable path to pursue. The guest rooms are becoming the place where travelers sleep. Today’s travelers prefer to interact with brands on their own terms in a ubiquitous environment – from the lobbies to the social media and mobile arenas.

That is why as we previously highlighted, more progressive hoteliers are creating larger lobbies to serve as collaboration spaces, and smaller guest rooms since next-generation travelers prefer to spend more time socializing outside of the room.

For example, with the rise of the freelance nation and virtual workers, many travelers require the right workspaces to remain productive on the road.   Therefore some boutique hotels are creating larger lobbies to serve as work zones for these travelers, which serve as a mini incubator-like environment where workers can remain productive and network with potential prospects and partners.

There is clearly a call for hoteliers to look beyond the guest room.  Today’s travelers prefer collaboration and networking.  The major hoteliers who are embracing this movement will create unparalleled brand loyalty that resonates in ways that create true differentiation and enhanced profitability.

Time for Hoteliers to ‘Cut the Cable’ and Invest in Bandwidth

We recently highlighted a new study from HVS London called “A New Breed of Traveler,” which explained how next-generation travelers want to feel ‘connected,’ as opposed to experiencing traditional hotel luxuries.

As a result, the more progressive hoteliers are creating larger lobbies to serve as collaboration spaces, and smaller guest rooms since more time is spent socializing outside of the room. This audience of traveler brings its own mobile technologies with them, and is less interested in the in-room entertainment.

Rather, the new cable-cutting persona is more interested in crowd-sourcing information and feels more connected to the brand in a more social- and collaborative-based environment. In fact, all signs are pointing to travelers watching less TV in their rooms.

As this generation of personalized media consumers matures and travels more often, hoteliers will decrease the investment in cable and will increase available bandwidth.  It’s a win-win for both the hoteliers and the travelers. The complexity of guest-facing technology and the associated support costs will be significantly reduced, while the traveler will get more bandwidth to stream their content.

In addition, when it comes to media consumption, this new generation of traveler wants to be completely in control of when, how and where they consume media.  This signals a major shift from when all media was consumed through an in-room television hooked to a cable box.

Today hoteliers are presented with the opportunity of investing in more bandwidth and collaborative spaces outside of the guest room. When this is achieved and implemented correctly, it will be possible to gain the ever-elusive brand loyalty from the younger and upwardly mobile demographic.

Furthermore, these next-generation travelers are the early adopters, so it will be an investment that will eventually appeal to the mainstream traveler as well.



Traditional Luxuries No Longer a Priority for Modern Hotel Guests

A new breed of traveler is driving tremendous changes in the hospitality sector, where experiences now trump luxury.  According to a new study by HVS London called “A New Breed of Traveler,” this emerging trend signals a much-needed shift in the way that hoteliers cater to guests.

The increase in affluence, globalization and technology has led to modern hotel guests valuing experiences and the feeling of ‘being connected’ over traditional hotel luxuries, such as white linen services or even a traditional concierge.

In fact, this new study suggests that many hotels are falling behind when it comes to adapting to this new breed of traveler.  But the more progressive hoteliers, who have embraced this shift, are designing for this new breed of traveler such as creating larger lobbies to serve as collaboration spaces, and smaller guest rooms since more time is spent socializing outside of the room.

In a similar study by Amadeus called “Trending with NextGen Travelers,” these guests are demanding personalized experiences, which can be booked through social and mobile channels, and are looking to ‘bond’ more with brands.

We believe that this new traveler expects a completely frictionless experience, where, from booking to checkout and beyond, all needs can be met through innovation.

When dramatic change happens in any industry, it is all too easy to fall behind by taking the course of inaction.  It goes without saying that the hotel brands that can most quickly and effectively adapt will succeed.

This is where a progressive approach to developing the right innovations for helping guests augment their travel experiences is paramount. These “next-generation” travelers are the early adopters and provide a window into the future of travel.

The big questions is which hotel brands will be the true pioneers in staying ahead of the needs of the next-generation traveler.  Those who swiftly embrace change and take the right innovation risks will emerge as the true category leaders.




Embracing New Innovations When Expanding Internationally

As the hospitality sector continues to rebound, many larger hoteliers are investing in international growth and expansion opportunities.

Read any hotel trade magazine and you will see a wide range of international expansion stories, such as Hilton seeking new opportunities in Malaysia and Marriott International’s plans to open its first hotel in Bosnia and Herzegovin.

Driving much of this expansion is the flow of investment dollars.  According to Jones Lang of LaSalle’s Hotels & Hospitality Group, hotel investment volumes across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) reached €8.2 billion September YTD 2013, a 53 percent growth compared to the same time last year.

“Q3 reported the strongest quarterly growth so far this year, with transaction volumes up almost 70 percent compared to the same quarter in 2012,” according to Jonathan Hubbard, CEO Northern Europe, Hotels & Hospitality Group.

As hotels expand their portfolios internationally, this is the ideal time to ensure that the right technologies are being implemented to help create brand loyalty in these new regions. Although hotels need to know and understand the local market, its culture and what it has to offer, the right innovations – from a frictionless guest experience to mobility – can serve as a true brand differentiator in these new regions.

By offering guests high-touch services, combined with strong personalization to guests in both the social and mobile environments, hotels have the opportunity to establish deeper connections with guests in any location around the planet.

With travel budgets expected to increase across the board, hotel brands will have more opportunities than ever to gain guest loyalty – not just in the U.S., but also across the globe.





U.S. Behind in B2C Mobile App Usage, But That’s Set to Change in Hospitality

Now is the time for the hospitality sector to embrace mobile guest solutions, as the U.S. is steadily moving up the mobility utilization chain.  According to a new survey, American guests are interacting the business through mobile devices at an advanced rate — although there is still for improvement.

According to the survey, U.S. guests still have an unwillingness to share personal data and a low level of trust with online businesses.  The study showcased the top nations with the most consumers using mobile devices for interacting with brands, which were China (51 percent), Korea (50 percent) and India (49 percent).

The survey of 2,239 adult smartphone users was conducted online in mid-2013 across 14 countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, the UK, and the United States. The survey looked at consumer preferences and tendencies with regard to mobile, online and in-person interactions with retailers, banks, government agencies, healthcare providers, and insurers.

Although not a surprise to some, France (12 percent), Japan (15 percent) and the United States (16 percent) were the countries with the lowest percentage of those interacting with business through mobile devices.

However, this is changing rapidly, especially in the hospitality sector. As we have previously covered, more people in the U.S. are accessing their mobile devices for everything from searching for and booking a hotel room to ordering room service and local “experiences” via their smartphones.

Hoteliers need to prepare their mobile app plans now to stay ahead of the curve. The U.S. and Europe may be catching up with other nations, but as technology becomes increasingly secure, and more people interact with businesses on their mobile devices, this will change.

This trend also falls on the heels of the growth of SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile), which is the use of location-based services for effectively marketing to guests through smartphones. In addition, Expedia anticipates that the current number of bookings via mobile devices currently about 16 million, will double by 2016.

While this study shows that the U.S. lags behind when it comes to consumers interacting with brands through mobile devices, the hospitality sector is a unique arena and mobility is the new frontier that is already upon us.

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.

Embrace New Innovations During Times of Acquisition

Acquisitions in the hospitality sector are on the rise.  Surviving an acquisition can be challenging.  From budget overruns to staffing issues to the right technology migrations, it can be a perilous journey.

According to a recent Hospitality Upgrade article, hotel IT professionals should develop comprehensive plans for technology migrations before, during and after an acquisition. From the developing new property management system interfaces to match the brand to conforming to guest Internet specifications – which vary widely among brands – to business center requirements, the list is highly extensive.

In addition to addressing system-wide integration challenges, this time of change also creates an opportunity for brands to embrace new innovations, which actually support the strategic efforts behind the acquisition.  For example, if a larger brand is acquiring a smaller high-end chain, it presents the opportunity to invest in new SoLoMo innovations that appeal more to high-end, connected travelers

An acquisition also creates the chance for IT staff to collaborate, learn and better innovate with IT personnel from the acquiring brand, and vice-versa.  Frequently territorial issues arise after an acquisition.  However, hotel IT professionals who are more open to being collaborative will experience the more professional gains from working on a larger team.  It will also create an opportunity to bring new innovations to the table that both support the brand and reinforce the true value of hotel IT.

Finally, it is an ideal time to break down the organizational silos that are very common with larger hospitality providers.  These silos cause roadblocks in getting the right information into the hands of guests, which this happens the overall brand can suffer tremendously.

Acquisitions and takeovers provide a time of great change. Technology migrations are a herculean task and it is easy to fall into the trap of only checking things off of your to-do-list.  It is also equally important to use the opportunity to think more strategically about how new innovations can help the brand overall.

When this happens, everyone wins …