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Hospitality

Hoteliers Gearing Up for Near Field Communication (NFC)

Thanks to the rise of Near Filed Communications (NFC), it is possible to have a chip embedded into smartphones that can handle all aspects of a guest’s stay. In the near future, hoteliers will be able to offer guests the option to open door locks, process credit cards and checkout through their mobile devices.

Driving much of this new change are younger travelers – Gen Y – who are mobile-dependent and seek travel opportunities that are effortless. Gen Y travelers represent a major segment that spends up to $240 billion each year on travel and want to use their devices to skip the front desk.

NFC will ultimately serve as the foundation for this true shift towards mobility.  However, there are a few challenges that stand in the way today.  First, there is no unified standard for NFC interoperability.  Second, while Samsung has already embedded NFC chips into their smartphones, Apple has yet to achieve this with the iPhone.

However, this is not stopping some of major hotel brands from embracing NFC.  For example, Hyatt has room keys integrated with the new chips. If a guest leaves his or her room, an elevator will automatically be sent to the guest’s level. Best Western and Nordic Choice Hotels also have some properties that use NFC room cards to open room doors without any contact.

Two Starwood Hotel properties – W Hotels and Aloft – are also taking advantage of NFC. The system is being piloted at two Aloft properties and by the end of 2014, the company is hoping to introduce the virtual key at all its W Hotels and Aloft hotels, which represents 123 properties.

It is clear that mobility will be dominating the guest experience for hospitality in the near future.  We look forward to seeing how hotels will embrace this new frontier, which can help boost overall guest loyalty and up the stakes when it comes to competition in this sector.

 

Making Big Data Actionable for the Hotel Sector

For most professionals, Big Data means exactly what it states: managing large sets of data. But with the term reaching near ubiquity, in many ways, the word has already lost its meaning.

Although collecting and managing a tidal wave of data is one thing, making it easy to consume, understand and actionable is a completely different story.

Converting data from any source into a simple “one-button” like system with all of the answers has become very important for the hotel sector. Fortunately, hoteliers now have the capability to capture any type of data on their guests, as well as information regarding their business processes and vendor activity.

The key to success in this emerging frontier is being able to access the data – no matter where it resides – and turn it into simple solutions for driving business results. For the C-suite, this means simple dashboards and interfaces that can provide high-level information on how a property is performing, what services are most popular, how guests prefer to book their stays and much more.

IT professionals at hotels need to develop the right systems and architectures for delivering this solution to their internal clients, which is ultimately the C-suite itself.  While it is always “easier said than done” when it comes to developing these types of systems, effective solutions and partners exist to help advance these types of efforts.

For example, one major hotelier implemented a comprehensive system for tracking the performance of their advertising agencies based on click-through responses and conversion rates to the individualized campaigns spread throughout the globe.

Prior to developing the system, with the help of an outsourced IT provider, all of this was done manually through spreadsheets that every ad agency provided to the hoteliers.  Gaining the performance insights needed was highly time-consuming and cumbersome.

The new system now integrates all of the advertising agency data directly into the current marketing analytics dashboard.  The hotelier can actually see which agencies are the high performers in near real-time.  Based on these insights, a hotelier can terminate its relationships with the lower performing agencies, which translates into tremendous cost savings.

This is merely one example of how hoteliers can embrace Big Data analytics in ways that instantly transforms business performance and provides true competitive advantage.

We believe that the sources of data for hoteliers will only continue to grow over time.  As such, now is the time to determine how to harness this data for business growth.

Next Evolution of Hotel Brands Reinforces Need for Innovation

As we often highlight, the way guests interact with hotel brands is evolving at a rapid pace.  What used to attract guests – stocked mini-bars and high thread counts – is just not as important to travelers anymore as innovation.

Guest room entertainment has even evolved. Today’s traveler is much less likely to watch pay-per-view in their room with the rise of laptops, iPads and the Internet. A survey conducted by USA Today found that following a decade-long decline in hotel movie rentals, 81 percent of the 2,357 people who responded said they don’t order hotel pay-per-view movies.

Being more “guest-centric” is what is really creating true brand differentiation.  Without personalized experiences for guests, it is challenging for hoteliers to capture the loyalty of the fast-moving, technology-savvy traveler. That is why price is no longer the most important factor.

Travelers prefer to interact with hotels on their own terms in a ubiquitous environment – from the lobbies to the social media and mobile arenas. This requires not only a change of mind-set for hoteliers, but also a significant shift in their technology landscape.

For example, Holiday Inn Express recently introduced the next evolution of its brand, which is expected to deliver even better on meeting their guests’ changing needs, and driving value for owners. A few examples of updates include more functional and flexible workspaces, individual check-in pods in the front lobby and stylish and welcoming areas conveying spacious, comfortable seating.

While these updates are “guest-centric”, there needs to be an innovation/bandwidth component built into this new offering. Hoteliers must be prepared to offer the latest technological advancements and provide a “frictionless guest experience” – from booking to checkout and beyond – to not only survive, but also beat the competition.

Holiday Inn Express is smart to engage with their guests in the next evolution of their brand, but may want to consider a complete technology solution – founded on enhanced bandwidth and more – to drive sales and increase guest satisfaction.

 

Bandwidth Should Be The New “Thread Count” for Hotels

For many years, hoteliers engaged in the “thread count” war, where providing sheets with the highest thread count was a sign of luxury.  While offering comfortable sleeping arrangements is important, there is a new war that is being waged and should surely trump thread count: bandwidth.

A main driver for this is the simple fact that guests are no longer hitting the “pay” button on their TV remote controls.  A recent USA Today survey found that 81 percent of guests no longer order pay-per-view movies. Today’s guests prefer to access content through their laptops or mobile devices, which is creating an increased demand for bandwidth.

Guest surveys are also showing that spotty Internet service is near the top of the list when it comes to customer complaints. Fast Internet is no longer considered a luxury – it’s a necessity – and it can impact the bottom line of a hotel.

Hotel technologies are evolving at a mind-numbly rapid pace.  A little more than a decade ago, hotels installed their first networks so guests could send and receive email. If you rewind back to five years ago, the iPad did not even exist.

That is why hoteliers need to make bandwidth a priority for their meeting rooms, public spaces and guestrooms.  Although hoteliers are often thinking about replacing things such as carpets, mattresses and paint every decade, the cycle to upgrade technology is clearly much shorter if a hotelier wants to meet the demands of the next-generation traveler.

In addition, hotels often offer a group a rate, for example $200.00, for supplying bandwidth for the conference space. If the group decides they don’t need the bandwidth, the hotel still ultimately pays for the unused capacity.  With bandwidth being a vanishing commodity, the hotel would be better off studying how many groups opt in or opt out, and then adjusting pricing down to increase utilization and group ratings.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently named Hampton Inn as a “Top Hotel Brand,” with a core part of the recognition focusing on the consistent connectivity and placing outlets in spots where you can actually use them.  Simple solutions that can go a long way in the minds of travelers, but they also ensure guest loyalty. However, to accomplish this, hotels must reinvest in their networks on an annual basis to insure that they are meeting guest expectations.

The Internet is now ingrained in our culture – more users, more devices and more demand all equal more bandwidth. But even if you offer free Wi-Fi to your guests, if it is slow, guests will not be satisfied. Hotels need to have the right technology in place to make sure they don’t lose revenue over spotty connectivity.  And, as we have seen, the shift of guests accessing content through their own devices will only increase.

 

How to Respond to Online Guest Reviews & Reduce Available Room Inventory

When a prospective guest asks the question, “Should I stay at this hotel?” more than 65 percent of the time they turn to a social media review site in the decision making process.  Studies show that hoteliers participating in and responding to reviews on social media sites such as TripAdvisor reduce available room inventory more than those who do not. Surprisingly, after all the discussions that take place on the importance of web reviews in guest decision-making, many hoteliers are still not making how they respond to guests online a priority.

In today’s already-established social media era, which enables a mass number of consumers to have a voice, properly responding to guests makes them feel heard, which ultimately helps to improve sales and guest loyalty. A study from Forrester and TripAdvisor revealed that 71 percent of travelers think that hotel responses are important.  Clearly, this is a significant statistic and is something that should be on hoteliers’ priority list.

However, according to this study from 2012, only 32 percent of hotels worldwide respond to online reviews. That means that 68 percent are silent, which can negatively impact their bottom line. Conversely, for those that do respond, it boosts sales.  Hotels that respond average 6 percent higher review scores than those who give guests the silent treatment. In addition, it doesn’t matter if it is a negative or positive review.  Even when a hotelier responds to negative reviews, 79 percent of guests feel more comforted in getting a simple response.

So, why do many hoteliers not respond to online reviews? The reality is that many hoteliers do not have the right plans and language in place for effectively responding.

TripAdvisor offers the following tips to get started:

  • Remain kind, professional and genuine. If responding to a negative review, do NOT get defensive.
  • Respond in a timely fashion. Responding months later is almost as bad as not responding at all. Using reputation management software can help streamline the process.

Key ingredients to a response to a negative review:

  • Thank the guest for their stay
  • Apologize for their problem or complaint
  • Address the specific problem mentioned and offer a solution/explain how the hotel is taking action
  • Invite the guest back to the hotel

These are solid tips that should be implemented by all hoteliers.  Remember, not responding is a response – just not the one you want. Hoteliers need to build in the right systems that provide consistent, real-time feedback to and from guests and empower them to interact with hotel brands in customized ways.  This will boost your brand, sales and guest loyalty.

 

 

Next Generation of Hotel Review Sites Poised for the Future

Up until now, TripAdvisor has unquestionably been the leader in hotel review sites. In fact, it gets more than 32 million visits a month. However, one of the challenges of being a category leader is keeping up with the smaller, more nimble competitors who are breaking innovation boundaries.

By taking a more personalized approach to influencing travelers, there are some new emerging players who have the potential to change the way we research our guest experiences.

For example, Raveable quantifies reviews that consumers have posted on TripAdvisor, and elsewhere, to pull out keywords and phrases from commentary. It will then give consumers a snapshot of opinions from a highly personalized text to help consumers avoid combing through a mountain of reviews.

Here’s what it hopes to do one day (and soon):

You’ve just arrived at the JW Marriott when your phone dings. The GPS has tracked your location, and now this message appears: “You’ll like the Marriott, especially if you get a city view. Ask for an odd-numbered room above the seventh floor. Cindy at the concierge desk will have the latest info on restaurants. But make sure your rate is under $200. For $209, you can get in at the Westin, which is seven blocks closer to tomorrow’s meeting.”

This peek into the near future would absolutely give guests an excellent “feel” for a hotel, which goes well beyond consumers making a decision based on price for a hotel.

Another new company to watch is Oyster, a website that resembles an online, real-time version of a guidebook, but has paid professional reviewers. The founders believe that travelers value expertise over the “advice” of consumers.

In addition, TravelPost, another online review site, was recently bought by Greg Slyngstad — who serves on the board of Kayak, and Rich Barton, who founded Expedia. The plan is to modify TravelPost into a hotel-rating tool that taps into social media. Consumers would be matched up with friends and acquaintances that have recently visited an interested destination – essentially a mix of Oyster and TripAdvisor.

With emerging next-generation of review sites, consumers are on the verge of yet even more personalization and information in the palm of their hands.

Hoteliers must be prepared to offer the latest technological advancements and provide a “frictionless guest experience” – from booking to checkout and beyond – to not only survive, but also beat the competition in all of these types of review sites.

The combination of improving reviews and loyalty, while implementing systems that decrease guest friction, will allow hoteliers to enhance their business models and be on the forefront of innovation.

 

 

 

HFTP Event: Recognize the Signs of Human Trafficking at Your Hotel

Unfortunately, hotels are a frequent location for illicit human trafficking activity and may be targeted by perpetrators. It is prevalent everywhere and not restricted to certain areas of the world. It’s a growing billion-dollar industry and is something that hoteliers clearly want to avoid.

But you can play a big part in helping to address this crisis.

Hotel managers and staff throughout a property need to be alert to the signs of potential child and adult trafficking, as well as sex trafficking and know how to respond in ways that will keep victims, guests, and the property safe.

Front desk, housekeeping, security and restaurant servers may be in a position to witness suspicious behaviors that indicate illegal trafficking activity, while managers must know how to appropriately respond to the situation.

On March 27th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hilton Alexandria, please join HFTP for a special presentation by agents from the Department of Homeland Security on this important topic.

Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, at NetLink, is the Chapter Director for HFTP D.C. and helped to organize this informative and important event.

Speakers include:

  • Carl Stiffler, Special Agent, Homeland Security Investigations. Responsible for investigating all forms of human trafficking and regularly provides training to law enforcement, social services, private sector, and community members across the U.S. and abroad.
  • Deanna “Dede” Wallace, Victim Assistance Specialist, Homeland Security Investigations. Works with victims of human trafficking, child exploitation and victims harmed by gang activity. Assists with crisis intervention, locating resources for the victims and ensuring a victim-centric approach is utilized during investigating cases with victims.

Bring your GM, FOM, Sales Director, Catering Director and Director of Housekeeping to the event. Everyone in the industry is welcome.

Click here for more information on the event.  In addition, please RSVP by March 25 by emailing hftpdc@gmail.com.  Please be sure to include your name, any guests, property/company, and whether you would prefer steak or sea bass in your RSVP.

 

Although Mistakes Happen, It’s All in the Response of Hotel Employees

In today’s social media driven world, anyone can share their hotel experience online. In fact, on many travel sites, the number of “stars” given to a hotel is no longer awarded by professional critics, but by the guests themselves.

This means hotels need to work harder to ensure a hotel experience goes smoothly to prevent any negative online reviews in the first place. However, sometimes mistakes do happen and we know that guests are much more apt to put their negative experience online than a positive one.

The best way to immediately mitigate the problem is for employees to address it head-on in a manner that is highly positive. Hotel guests can become easily angered when a problem arises and it is not managed with respect.

Here are the three simple steps that hotel employees can do to mitigate a problem:

  1. Respond with sympathy
  2. Apologize
  3. Correct the issue

These three actions should be ingrained in any good marketing plan in order to ensure a hotel’s good reputation is maintained.

Although good customer service starts with hiring the right people, it goes deeper then that. An employee needs to feel valued and empowered, which starts at the top of the organization.

Fortunately, new tools are emerging that provide a “frictionless guest experience,” which improves reviews and loyalty overall.  These new innovations also empower guests to interact with hotel brands in customized ways.  In addition, as we have highlighted before, it will fully counter any bad reviews that may come about on the Internet.

Mistakes happen. We are after all, human. But how we respond matters tremendously. Start by hiring good people, train them with the right attitude for fixing problems and make sure they have the power to correct an issue without having to always go to the top.

By treating employees well and embracing the latest guest satisfaction innovations, hoteliers will be more armed in dealing with guest problems, which will translate into long-term brand loyalty.

 

Travel Industry Rebounds to Pre-Recession Levels – Time to Innovate

While the impact of the “Great Recession” of 2008 varied by industry, one sector has already bounced back to pre-market downturn levels – the travel arena.  The reality is that many sectors have yet to fully rebound as others, such as the government contracting industry, are dealing with a second-wave recession.

This is not the case with the travel industry.  The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the travel industry added 7,000 jobs in January, reaching a total of 14.6 million. Much of this growth is due to growth in international travel to the U.S., especially from countries like China, Brazil, Japan and Australia.

In addition, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the travel industry has added jobs at a rate 19 percent faster than the economy as a whole.

So what does this mean when it comes to innovation and hoteliers? Now is the ideal time to invest in next-generation innovations that provide fully personalized experiences for guests. With increased competition in the battle for brand loyalty, the right innovations can provide true differentiation, enhance word-of-mouth referrals and drive additional revenue.

Much of this comes down to a philosophical approach where hoteliers aim to provide a completely frictionless guest experience. This includes leveraging the right data insights to anticipate a travelers needs before, during and after their stays.  It also involves providing travelers with the right information when and where they want it – whether on mobile devices or through traditional desktop experiences.

It is surely a good sign that the travel sector is rebounding at a rapid pace.  With the dark days being potentially behind us, now is the right time for hotels to look ahead and innovate in ways that allow them to stand head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Independent Hoteliers Seek to Provide Unique Experiences

Today’s independent hoteliers are seeking to create unique experiences to help drive more group business.  From providing culinary experiences to partnering with local convention centers and national publications, hotel brands are seeking out new ways to establish competitive differentiation.

“From an experience standpoint, we try and create experiences that are extraordinarily unique so that we have a competitive advantage against the other people they are looking at,” said Jeff McIntyre, partner at Gemstone Hotels & Resorts, in a recent Hotel News Now article.

In today’s highly competitive travel industry, we believe that these independent brands are doing the right things to help drive true differentiation from the larger players.

However, in addition to providing experiences to remember, we believe that innovation should be the foundation for making a smaller brand truly stand out from the pack. This includes embracing new mobile solutions for connecting with guests to leveraging data analytic offerings that allow hoteliers to make personalized offers to guest before, during and after their stays.

It is possible to marry both a real-life experience with technology that will both enhance word-of-mouth marketing, positive online reviews and create long-term loyalty, which is very difficult to attain in the travel sector.

As we see in the music industry, it is often the independent musicians who are creating the most innovative songs and business models for promoting their music.  The mainstream music business often copies these sounds and business models for one simple reason: people like original and new things.

We will surely see larger brands taking a page from independent hoteliers by providing custom experiences.  Once again, if innovation is part of the equation, then the sky is the limit with what you can achieve in terms of attracting and retaining life-long guests.