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Guests Prefer Using Technologies to Confront Hoteliers When Problems Arise

In our fully connected online social world, we have become used to dealing with problems through technology – as opposed to confronting an issue with someone face-to-face or over the telephone.

The same thing is happening with the hospitality sector. According to a new survey by AppyHotel.com, in an effort to avoid confrontation, almost half of hotel guests prefer using technology to communicate with a hotelier when an issue arises, rather than speaking directly with hotel staff.

The survey revealed that 49 percent of guests favor using technology to voice their concerns or queries and 23 percent would rather go online to chat with a hotel representative than do so in person.

“It’s a clear indication that technology is not only providing hotel guests with a variety of platforms to express their views to management, but is also becoming an integral part of a hotel’s customer service offering,” said Isabella Glendinning, Vice President of Marketing for Appy Hotel.

Thanks to the rise of mobile technologies and the empowerment that the Internet provides to users for expressing their anger and frustrations – such as the heated arguments that arise in the comment sections of article or on LinkedIn – consumers are simply more used to offering blatant commentary behind the safety of a screen.

What does this mean for hotels?  We believe that it reinforces the need to offer key innovations for both communicating with guests, and offering services that will enhance the travel experience.  It also underscores the need to use innovation to minimize any friction when a guest comes in contact with a brand online or in a mobile environment.

People simply don’t like face-to-face confrontations.  As technology has enabled guests to further express their true feelings in a digital environment, hoteliers have the unique opportunity to adjust their guest engagement approaches.  As always, this should be coupled with providing outstanding services, which can be also delivered and communicated in an online environment.

Innovation is the foundation for pleasing guests and by creating the right solutions and strategies for connecting with travelers, it is possible to work in a comfortable medium for guests so complaints can ultimately be minimized.

Meeting the Needs of Next-Generation Travelers Through Innovation

Young travelers, who are fully steeped in social media, represent the next generation of travelers. They are extremely tech-savy, desire customized and adventurous trips, and rely on social interaction for recommendations.

This is the key finding from a recent white paper by Amadeus called, “Trending with NextGen Travelers,” which highlights important technology trends for catering to this unique group of travelers.

“Our NextGen research illuminates the unique characteristics of this up-and-coming group and showcases the need and opportunity for the travel industry to adapt. Technologies that enable customization, social engagement and on-the-go access through mobile devices will certainly be key,” stated the study.

The main theme from the study reveals that 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.

These travelers are seeking unique travel opportunities that go beyond the status quo, which they share with others through social media channels.

For hospitality providers, this study reinforces a new paradigm shift that is happening with next-generation travelers.  It presents an exceptional opportunity to leverage innovation in ways that develops customized content and offers for younger travelers, which ultimately translates into deep brand loyalty.

For many years, hospitality providers have struggled with ways to build brand loyalty.   And with guests making their booking decisions on price alone, it is difficult to establish the connection required to build loyalty that can translate into recurring revenue.

This new study shows that the next-generation of travelers have different expectations and the door is wide open for opportunities to build brand loyalty through innovation.  It is no longer necessary for hoteliers to view guests and customers as being merely ‘transactions.’

As these travelers begin to age and enter middle age, we will ultimately see the entire landscape of the hospitality sector change.  Innovation will ultimately be the core foundation for the entire travel industry, which is indeed exciting.


2014 Expected to Be Strong Year for U.S. Hotel Growth

Although we just hit the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis bailouts, our nation is still dealing with a slow moving recession that show little signs of reaching a full recovery, except for one sector: hospitality.

Recently, as reported in Hospitality Technology, PwC US released an updated lodging forecast showing steady growth in the sector.  The report indicates that lodging demand will increase 2.2 percent by the end of the year.  This, combined with still-restrained supply growth of 0.8 percent, is anticipated to boost occupancy levels to 62.2 percent, which is the highest since 2007.

Other highlights of the forecast include:

  • – Occupancy levels at higher-priced hotels are ahead of prior peak levels
  • – Industry revenue per room (RevPAR) is above its prior peak
  • – Hotel construction activity, while rebounding, is still quite moderate

“While the pace of economic recovery remains an overhang on some segments, particularly group travel, we’re seeing business and leisure transient hotel demand remain robust, particularly in most of the U.S. top 25 markets,” said Scott D. Berman, principal and U.S. industry leader, hospitality & leisure, PwC . “As U.S. hotels enter the budgeting and rate negotiation period this fall with their most significant corporate customers, the foundation is in place for room rate gains, in part due to a favorable supply-demand balance.”

As economic growth is expected to strengthen overall in 2014, we will see a steady improvement overall for the hospitality sector.  In addition, as business investment spending is growing, we will also see more companies planning group meetings and events in 2014.

A key driver of economic growth will be how hoteliers embrace innovations, and the most forward-thinking organizations will see the most optimal results.

For example, some budget hotels are winning the battle over luxury hotels by implementing innovative technologies that have essentially leveled the playing field when it comes to providing completely “frictionless” environment for guests. These hotels stand to make big gains in the upcoming year thanks to increased traveler confidence combined with new innovations to enhance brand loyalty.

With a new tide of travelers entering the marketplace – especially as the travel sector rebounds – it is the ideal time for hoteliers to use the right innovations to establish true differentiation and gain loyal guests who will be more than happy to support the brands they admire as they open up their pocketbooks to spend more on travel in the coming year.


Striking a Balance Between Selling on Price and Advancing Your Brand

It is no surprise that many potential guests base their travel bookings on price alone.  In this highly competitive marketplace, price can be a true differentiator, but it can also cause friction for hoteliers who are looking to enhance their brands with new innovations.

For example, with the rise of mobility, there has been an increase in mobile apps that are geared towards providing last-minute bookings at the right price.  Of course, these mobile apps help hoteliers fill rooms that may be vacant, but it could also contribute to compromising a hotel’s brand.

Most forward-thinking hospitality providers know that these mobile apps and other online travel agencies (OTA) fill a major void when it comes to helping with guest lead generation.  However, the challenge is that many OTAs and mobile apps have the potential to erode a hotelier’s profit margins and one cannot rely on price as the dominating factor for the brand.

“Hoteliers struggle to find a balance between selling on price and differentiating the brand based on key innovations,” said Tobias Bray, Innovation Strategist at NetLink Resource Group. “The key is being able to create brand loyalty that will last even if a hotel is not the most cost-effective option available on the web or on a mobile app.”

As we have highlighted before, it is all too easy for hoteliers to fall into the trap of viewing guests and customers as being ‘transactions.’  We believe that the world of data that is available at any hotelier’s fingertips provides unique ways for influencing potential guests in ways that extend way beyond price alone.

Selling on price certainly works when developing last minute deals in partnership with OTAs and new mobile apps.  Filling up surplus rooms at any given time is a good thing.  Though by focusing on price alone, many hoteliers are missing out on the opportunity to establish long-term brand loyalty that will supersede price – and innovation can be the driver of this effort.

Pushing Innovation and Role of IT to Forefront of the Hotel Industry

In every industry sector, we are seeing the pace of innovation moving at fast speeds. Fully leveraging all of the mobile- and cloud-based solutions – in ways to help organizations stay fully ahead of the curve – can be tremendously challenging.

The hospitality sector is going through its own information revolution where new innovations make it possible to not only mine guest data more effectively, but also serve up offerings that please guests in highly individualized ways.

This is all very exciting, but how can large hospitality providers keep up with the pace of innovation?

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, the new ‘digital title wave’ should cause organizations to move the function of IT from the ‘back of the bus to the front seat.’   The article also underscored how this hypothetical bus is moving very fast.

For many years, we have believed and supported client projects that only provide direct business value to an organization.  This new fast-paced digital frontier reinforces our long-held philosophy about IT being a business catalyst, but takes it to the next level.

Rather than just pushing for IT to have a seat the management table, it is time for this role to be the ‘bus driver.’ This requires IT professionals to have a strong business knowledge base, along with the ability to embrace and procure the most bleeding-edge innovations.  Simply put; IT leaders needs to wear many hats – some that will push them out of their comfort zones.

This is no small challenge for hotel IT professionals.  The stakes have become much higher for technology and everyday we are seeing new examples of how it can be the foundation for true business differentiation.

“The challenge for every business is to look across the enterprise to see how silo-based operations are impacting the guest experience,” said Tobias Bray, Innovation Strategist at NetLink Resource Group.  “Guest expectations are being shaped by the efficiency and innovation they find in personalized interactions on mobile platforms outside hospitality.  Brands are making the transformation, but have to walk carefully around the deep cultural expectation of high-touch services that are common today.”

We believe that this is one of the most exciting times in technology.  Yes, things are moving very fast, but it’s time for all of us to adapt and take a ‘smart, fast’ approach to implementing the most cutting-edge innovations.

Going Beyond Viewing Hotel Guests as ‘Transactions’

In any business, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of viewing guests and customers as being ‘transactions.’  With revenue goals often being the dominant business strategy, these pressures can cause any major hotel property to focus only on increasing guest transactions.  When this happens, the guest is reduced to a number on a spreadsheet.

But, is something missing with systems that lack integration across properties and brands?

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 wish a guest a happy birthday, correctly pronounce a guest’s last name, or make local restaurant suggestions based on real preferences.

While this level of personalization can be a challenge for large organizations – with unrelated systems across multiple touch points throughout a property – it is possible to mine this data and make it personalized and actionable for guests.

From a guest feedback perspective, Hospitality Technology recently ran a story about how hoteliers need to create measurable guest feedback programs – that expand beyond capturing online ‘rants and raves.’

As structured guest feedback program needs to be implemented to gain insights on where guests have been, where they are now, and what needs to be done to drive them to where they want to be.  A core component of this is tracking and understanding historical guest data, which can be tied to a valid goal-setting program.

A proper program requires statistics be collected on a consistent basis from a valid sample of guest experiences to determine the efficient use of its resources and a strategy on how to improve operations.  This is where hoteliers should consider extending beyond just analyzing online reviews, because it just does not provide the statistical validity needed to analyze guest experiences before, during and after a visit to a hotel.

A hotel’s ability to access its historical data and make connections to trends are imperative to operational issues and short- and long-term investment decisions.

By implementing a proper guest feedback program, a hotel will gain deeper knowledge of their next move and gain an advantage over their competition – especially to those hotels that rely only on transparent online feedback.


New Era of Guest Data Analytics Ushers In Need for Improved Security

The rise of big data in the hospitality industry is ushering in a new era where striving to achieve a balance between leveraging and protecting data is paramount.

As many hotels use non-anonymized personally identifiable information (PII), data vulnerabilities increase exponentially and many hoteliers have yet to embrace key strategies for protecting this type of data.

A recent Hospitality Upgrade Magazine article pointed out that, “The real threat to information security is what is known as a PICNIC (problem in chair not in computer.)”

Although hotels use firewalls, antivirus systems and other security technologies, severe information security breaches keep happening and the problems are getting worse, not better, because of the PICNIC problem.

Essentially, hotel staff and outside contractors have access to non-anonymized data and without proper training, which can jeopardize both the guest and the hotel. Educating hotel staff about privacy issues is the first step in ensuring a culture of security.

In addition, guests are rightly concerned about data security.  According to the article, Forrester Research found that one in three consumers were concerned about companies having access to their behavioral data. More than 40 percent said they had stopped short of completing a transaction on a website because of something they read in a privacy policy.

To address the issue, the Hospitality Upgrade magazine will be doing a series that will cover the crime of identity theft and how it impacts both victims and the hospitality industry. We urge all hoteliers to follow the series in order to stay on top of the latest techniques and legislation to keep their guests’ data private and safe.  Not only will guests appreciate it, but hoteliers can also avoid many PR and social media headaches that come with a data breach.



Mobile Apps Provide Tremendous Opportunities to Delight the Guest

Imagine ordering room service via your smartphone from any location and having it ready when you walk in your hotel room.  This is now a reality and hotel guests are embracing hospitality mobile apps now more than ever.

According to the recent ForeSee Mobile Satisfaction Index, travelers showed higher satisfaction in using mobile apps than accessing information through a mobile website.

Currently the most popular app requests are for ordering room service, wake up calls and having the room serviced. However, the app space is becoming more sophisticated every day.

First and foremost, many hoteliers have learned that the user must have something in exchange for downloading their app. In the past, a mobile app could hardly offer much convenience to guests. But that is changing. Hoteliers are branching out into mobile apps for ordering food from local restaurants, as well as for communicating with the shuttle bus service and hotel staff.

As this Hospitality Technology article highlights, smartphones will eventually provide a complete picture of the guest’s behavior – from emotional state and beyond.  This type of business intelligence will allow hoteliers to create the most customer-centric solutions that will please the guest based on their current mindset.

In addition, new mobile apps are allowing guests to experience a new location in completely innovative ways.   For example, the MGM Mirage’s app allows users hold up their phone, and they will immediately see interactive information displays about area resorts, casinos and points of interest.  In addition, with one touch, they can book shows and restaurant reservations.

We believe that mobile apps provide a new frontier for hoteliers to better please the guest, which extend beyond just providing the basic services.  By combining the right analytics with cutting-edge-innovations, it is possible to fully know the guest and provide the services that will create lasting brand loyalty.



Group Travel on the Rise Reinforces Need for Key Innovations

As another indicator that the travel industry is rebounding, the group travel segment, which can be anything from convention goers to group golf trips, is poised to experience tremendous growth.

According to a recent TravelClick North American Hospitality Review (NAHR) study, while individual business and leisure travelers are still driving growth in both occupancy and average daily rate (ADR), the group outlook for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014 is stronger than it has been in past months.

For the next 12 months, TravelClick forecasts an occupancy increase of 1.6 percent for the group travel segment, and an ADR increase of 1.8 percent, compared to the same time last year.

Other Key findings

12 Month Outlook (June 2013 – May 2014)

  1. Overall committed occupancy is up 2.3 percent versus this time last year.
  2. ADR is up 3.4 percent based on reservations currently on the books.
  3. Transient bookings are up 4.1 percent year-over-year and ADR for this segment is up 4.1 percent.
  4. The transient leisure segment is showing occupancy gains of 4.7 percent and ADR gains of 4.3 percent.
  5. The transient business segment is showing occupancy gains of 3.0 percent and a 3.9 percent rise in ADR.

The study looked at group sales commitments and individual reservations in the 25 major North American markets for hotel stays that are booked by May 26, 2013 for the period of June 2013 to May 2014.

Although in the third quarter group travel declines, as most people are taking time off to vacation as opposed to attending large meetings and conventions, overall it is a sign that group travel is on the rise, which can be an indicator of a larger economic recovery happening now.

We believe that this study underscores the need to develop and implement the right innovations that will better cater to the needs of group travelers.  This can be customizable mobile app for specific conventions and groups, or next-generation concierge services that are designed to meet the unique needs of each group.

With group travel rebounding, it is a clear sign that the hospitality sector can develop new strategies for creating brand loyalty – through the use of innovation – that will allow them to full capitalize on this new trend.




Hotel Guests Are Happier Now, But There Are Many More Opportunities to Delight Them

Over the past several years, hoteliers have made tremendous strides in meeting the needs of guests. Previous issues that proved to be bothersome, such as booking reservations, check-in/check-out and other fees, no longer cause friction for travelers.

According to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates, guests are now more satisfied than they’ve been in seven years with their home-away-from-home experiences at the nation’s hotels.  In addition, since 2012, this happiness ratio has jumped 20 points, even with guests not minding that that are now being charged 5 percent more for their rooms and services.

The study also found that the happiest travelers are those who examined online hotel reviews and articles about their chosen hotels prior to booking.

However, it wasn’t all good news. One area where guests are still dissatisfied is Internet usage and availability.  Slow Internet speeds; lack of availability and spotty connectivity caused the most dissatisfaction for guests.  In addition, being charged for Internet usage, especially when it is free in so many public places, turned off many guests.

We would like to congratulate the top hotels from this study, which include:

  • Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (for a fourth consecutive year)
  • Upper upscale: Kimpton Hotels
  • Upscale: Hyatt Place
  • Midscale full service: Holiday Inn (for a third consecutive year)
  • Midscale: Drury Hotels (for an eighth consecutive year)
  • Economy/budget: Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham
  • Upper extended stay: Homewood Suites
  • Extended stay: TownePlace Suites

While this news is certainly encouraging for the hospitality industry, we believe that it is a sign that more can be done when it comes to innovations.  From enhanced usage of mobile solutions to next-generation concierge services, it is possible to make guest even happier with technology.

Just as technologies evolve at a rapid pace, so too can hoteliers when it comes to being on the cutting-edge of delivering services that completely reduce all friction for guests and builds long-term brand loyalty – which is often hard to establish and maintain in the travel industry.