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Connecting with guests must be a long game for every hotel

By Karla Brooklyn, Global VP, Enterprise at SiteMinder

  Posted in Opinions



Karla-Brooklyn-SiteMinder

If COVID-19 was the disruption no one wanted, the crisis has also been the push hoteliers have needed to reconsider their long-held beliefs about retaining their existing technology systems for their businesses.

While the current crisis will come to an end, many things will be different, from work and shopping to business and travel. At the very least, hotels will need to reconfigure guest services, while the very role of hotels may be reimagined to incorporate remote work hubs, leisure and wellbeing facilities, and new food and entertainment services.

Over the past year, hoteliers have heard it many times: they need to innovate to stay relevant. But the truth is that many remain hindered by short-term decision making and a fear of embracing new technology. Outdated technology can feel like part of the fabric of the organisation, in spite of becoming a significant cost on an already constrained budget, and a major contributor to a lack of clean, consistent guest data intelligence. Perhaps, more so than the fear of embracing new technology, there is a fear of accepting the heavy investment that came with introducing systems which quickly dated and are still yet to prove ROI.

Despite the upheaval of the Covid crisis, now is the time to truly transform. Indeed, hoteliers must think differently. The days of band-aid fixes need to stay in the past, and the approach that hotel leaders take now will set the course for their survival in the changing world of travel.

Now is the time for sales & marketing teams, in particular, to introduce new systems to streamline processes, provide valuable insights and reduce conflicts throughout the network. It’s an opportunity to build brand visibility, promote direct bookings and enhance the guest booking experience that drives operational integration and leads to improvements in the bottom line.

Positioning for growth

With vaccines rolling out in many countries, there’s a growing sense of anticipation about once again moving beyond our own shores. According to the SiteMinder World Hotel Index, hotel bookings in the United States are now at over 80% of 2019 levels, despite corporate travel not returning in the same volume and with remote collaboration now more than a proof of concept.

Not having the right technology impacts the ability for hotels to compete effectively for fewer travellers. This in turn reduces hotel revenue streams, leading to budget pressure, staffing constraints and stunted growth in a highly competitive, volatile environment.

In these unpredictable times, no hotel can afford to be left behind and not be in the strongest position for growth.

Knowing the customer as the guest

The opportunities for hotels to reimagine how they operate and measure success are vast, but the challenges can’t be underestimated. They will require a whole-of-organisation approach to transforming the hotel business – from the systems and how they glean their data and insights, to how they market themselves and meet changing guest expectations.

Indeed, hotels facing the reality of running multiple systems across bookings, guest experiences and business processes that are not interconnected will struggle. Siloed data, conflicting data sets and lack of actionable insights can see them lose valuable competitive advantage. Manual, repetitive tasks are inefficient and can waste fixed time and resources.

Contrast this with the benefits of overhauling many of these processes that can transform operations, from reimagining housekeeping, front office and F&B services to generating actionable guest intelligence, valuable predictions and insights that tell you the true value of a recent marketing promotion.

While every business has customers, what is unique about the hotel business is that it welcomes guests who stay in their surrounds, and invest some of their most personal and important parts of their life to the venue. This starts long before the event, from choosing and booking accommodation, and extends all the way to the post-stay experience and even the memories people hold.

Choosing the right technology is an opportunity for hotels to be closer to their guests, and to focus on creating those memorable experiences. The right technology functions as the vital backbone supporting the operations of the hotel geared toward knowing and servicing guests as the number one priority.

Becoming a savvy hotel marketer

As the number of travellers grew over recent decades, it was easy for hotels to ride this growing wave of demand. By contrast, hotels today are faced with fewer guests and new ones they may not have thought to target before, who are their untapped potential customers.

To capture these guests, hotels will benefit from being digitally savvy and putting their brand where the customers are. It comes as no surprise that the number of digital consumers has grown and shopping online has become ingrained in daily life during Covid lockdowns. What this means is that hotels of every description need an optimised digital platform that hooks guests from the first touch.

Marketing budgets may have been cut in the aftermath of the crisis, but that mustn’t hinder hotels from exploring cost-effective or otherwise free strategies of reaching their guests, such as social media. Taking a short-term approach can have long-term consequences for hotels that have gone dark when others have stayed visible during this time.

No business can survive, and thrive, in this era of digital commerce without guest data intelligence across the entire customer experience.

Reassessing every aspect of the customer experience

The heightened awareness of health and wellbeing among consumers presents hotels with an opportunity to develop and market guest services and differentiate themselves. Hotels may want to develop a package of services under one roof where guests can remain in a declared Covid-safe environment, for example. Minimising physical touchpoints using technology, from payments to digital keys and in-room voice-activated digital assistants, can be a key selling point.

Being visible and therefore top of mind when customers are in the consideration and booking phases, takes a long-running campaign supported through sales and marketing. An audit of all digital assets including external listings, social media and website content, such as blogs, photos and videos, is the first step in putting marketing to work. Is SEO up-to-date and targeted towards new and existing customers with the right keywords and strategies? The hotel’s website must also have the relevant COVID-19 safety and cleanliness procedures clearly spelled out to comply with requirements and ease any guest concerns.

Look to new ways to connect with guests using an inventive approach to technology such as a guest booking buddy in the form of a chatbot that can answer customer queries, or optimise for voice-activated search queries with natural language information in FAQs and other content.

Remarketing about new offerings and developing a new lead magnet around the hotel’s health precautions and new packages can help capture website visitors. Additionally, review loyalty programs to craft compelling benefits that give back to customers in this time.

In all of this, the key is to communicate consistently with customers, be a source of trusted, reliable information and be the value proposition guests want in this recovery phase.

Curating the brand story

Specialisation is the lifeblood of a successful business. While one business can never be all things to all people, neither can a brand expect to be an expert at everything. It seems obvious to point out that hoteliers are experts in providing guest experiences. However, all too often hotels are managing the guest experience as much as the technology systems. In some cases, hotels are actually constrained by outdated technology from a time when online bookings, guest expectations and the need for guest intelligence was not so great.

As hotels look to reposition their brand to appeal to and capture the new wave of travellers set to come, marketing will tell the story, but it must be one that speaks the guest’s language. Knowing what customer segments to attract, understanding where and how they interact with hotel brands and identifying the opportunities to connect requires a comprehensive platform of customer data insights.

Every element of the business has a role to play when it comes to embracing innovation and transforming the systems and processes within the hotel. Technology can provide the granular metrics like measurement and tracking and along with vital customer acquisition insights and retention to grow future and repeat business.

Differentiating in a competitive market and conveying the brand story in an authentic way requires putting the customer – the guest – at the centre of the story. This is only achieved by knowing the customer through guest intelligence and having the technology to drive these insights through the system.

Seizing the opportunity in the recovery

Looking ahead to the COVID-19 recovery, hotels showing leadership and taking a bold, confident approach to pivoting their strategy are best positioned to achieve growth in this disrupted market. It also requires having the right technology.

Hoteliers are facing the choice between transformation or an austerity-minded approach with a singular, short-term focus on reducing budgets in the hope of making up for lost revenue. However, they may learn to their detriment that this is not a viable solution to finding growth in these volatile times.

The alternative is to embrace the opportunity of transformation and reap the benefits of reducing manual processes, building guest data and booking analytics, and connecting to a large, open ecosystem of channels and applications. By consolidating their technology and processes, hotels can look to create efficiencies, utilise multiple levers for customer retention and expand their segments to increase revenue and benefit from the expansionary effect of sustained growth.

Hotels that choose a creative, agile path will be poised to capture the new era of guests, achieve high recurring revenue, streamline their business processes and lower their operational costs. This is an opportunity to invest in modern, cloud-based infrastructure to transform hotel systems and be perfectly positioned for the new wave of travel as the recovery starts to take off in 2021.

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