Just How High Is the Digital IQ of Major Hotel Brands? And Why?
By Gary Leopold President & CEO, ISM | June 12, 2011
Having spent over two decades immersed in hotel, travel and lifestyle brands, I've watched marketing trends come and go, and at times despaired at how much the hotel and travel industry has clung to its legacies and failed to embrace innovation and change. Fortunately, that's not been the case with the world of digital. In fact, the travel industry has been transacting online for years, well ahead of other industries, and today a full 39% of U.S. travel brands engage in e-commerce. But taking reservations electronically doesn't mean that a brand has truly capitalized on the power of the digital marketplace, so I thought it would be interesting to see which brands are especially adept at engaging and serving their guests online, and to benchmark their performance by creating a Digital IQ.
So my travel and lifestyle marketing company, ISM, partnered with digital think tank L2 and George Washington University School of Business (GWSB) to conduct the first-ever study of digital competence across the travel industry. The study, called the L2 Digital IQ Index®: Travel, evaluated the digital effectiveness of 89 prestige travel brands in terms of their website, digital marketing (search engine optimization, email marketing and display), social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) and Mobile (compatibility and applications.) Each brand was scored against more than 350 qualitative and quantitative data points and the study assigned a digital IQ ranking of Genius, Gifted, Average, Challenged or Feeble.
Interestingly enough, airlines took the first three of the top ten spots in the rankings, especially proving their ability to leverage social media to enhance the overall flying experience. Five hotel companies, however, also found their way to the "top ten" list: W Hotels (#4), Hilton Hotels & Resorts, (#5) Westin Hotels & Resorts (#6), Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (#9), and Inter-Continental Hotels & Resorts (#10.)
The study concluded, among other things, that there is a direct relationship between the Digital IQ® of hotels and growth in Average Daily Rate. That's a significant finding when you consider the extent to which even high-end hotels have slashed and burned their rates during the Great Recession and the role therefore that digital prowess can play in helping them rebound and recover rate at a much faster pace than their competitive set.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, is the study's finding that Facebook is the new preferred platform for hotels, and, in fact, the travel industry at large. The iPhone is, similarly, the portable electronic device of choice and 48% of the brands have their own iPhone apps that include everything from booking the next flight home to making dinner reservations at the hotel's restaurant. As "smartphones" have become almost the norm for consumers and are no longer just for executives, the travel industry has responded and 56% of the brands are currently hosting a dedicated mobile site. With the new found popularity of tablet computers, thanks in large part to Apple's iPad, brands are just starting to roll out dedicated apps that make use of the tablets bigger screens to display photos and videos.
Looking closely at the hotel brands that fared well in the study, there are compelling lessons to be learned. Starwood, for instance, provides the best example of an organization-wide approach to digital. Each Starwood brand occupies the same site platform, enhancing SEO, cross-selling opportunities, and customer service without compromising the distinct identity of each hotel. With Facebook as well, Starwood boasts a page for every property, spotlighting its uniqueness and destination while leveraging content and community engagement from across the Starwood organization.