Adapting to the Ultra-Connected Guests - Are You in Sync?

By Michael McCartan Managing Director Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Duetto | June 08, 2014

Mobile computing has changed the world. Powered by exponential popularity of smartphone, by the end of this year, it is expected to overtake desktop internet usage. One in every five of world’s population, i.e. 1.7 billion, has a smartphone - half of them use it as their primary internet source. Information is available 24/7 and plays a determining role in how people interact and buy. According to a study by Google, the journey to book a vacation begins on the internet with the traveler visiting on average 22 sites prior to deciding on the destination. Consumers are better informed, better-connected and better-engaged across multiple platforms. Hoteliers need to be visible at every touch-point to entice them to their properties.

Multi-Channel Distribution

Clearly, the challenge for hoteliers today is not restricted to competition anymore, but goes far beyond that. Travellers today are spoilt for choice when it comes to information – they can research, price check, review and book the room at anytime from anywhere in the world through third party websites, social networks and direct booking engines. Hoteliers need to understand the consumer’s journey towards purchase, from research to decision to reservation. From traditional OTA to flash sites to meta-search to auction – everyone is in the race to get a share of the travel buying market, and thereby causing more confusion and challenges for revenue managers. The days of working with one agency are over, the industry is extremely competitive, and the concept of selling rooms has been replaced with selling an experience. The key to success lies in consumers’ attention time and being visible across as many popular and relevant consumer websites as possible.

Are You Connected to the Meta-Search Engine?

The hyper connected travelers want to be assured of the best prices and the greatest value. No matter what is being offered, they will compare rates; and will check at least six sites (Source: e-Marketer) to get the best rate. Meta-search channels, which have grown in popularity in recent years, send user requests to several hotel booking websites and aggregate the results into a single list and displays them according to the rate available on each source site. 28% travelers today use meta-search for rate shopping. Ignoring these channels would mean ignoring a sizable number of visitors who can be turned into direct bookers with little effort.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.