Hospitality, Qualtrics-style!

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & Hospitality, University of South Carolina | June 17, 2018

Every year, some of the world's brightest minds and most iconic celebrities assemble in Salt Lake City, Utah, to impart their knowledge, network on the surrounding ski slopes, and dance the night away at a private concert. The annual summit, put on by Qualtrics - one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world - achieved record highs in attendance in 2018 with 7,000 delegates, perpetuating the company's mandate to improve the quality of the conference content and the overall experience.

CEO Ryan Smith has taken the company from his parents' basement to the pinnacle of the business world with a focus on making data collection quick and easy for researchers who want to enhance their customers' experiences. The company, which got its start in 2002, originally focused on providing innovative survey and data analysis tools to academic researchers, but has since grown into a technology giant, creating its own product category and acquiring some 9,000 clients and 99 of the top 100 business schools along the way.

Smith says evolution of the business world has led to the current environment where maintaining a focus on a positive customer experience was no longer a perk provided by a select few, but a survival necessity. "There used to be only a handful of experience brands," Smith says. "But today we live in a different world. Companies are disproportionately awarded when they deliver an amazing customer experience but absolutely punished when they don't."

Smith applies the same customer experience philosophy to the Qualtrics' annual summit, where the focus is on the attendees and providing them with the best possible satisfaction. "The goal of our summit is not to create an event for thousands of people – it is to create thousands of individual experiences within the context of one event," says Kortney Osborne, Qualtrics Insight Summit Event Director. "Customer service is at the core of why our conference is so different from other conferences. I really think that customer service is part of Qualtrics' DNA. It is something we have evolved and made stronger over the years, but customer obsession and customer experience is at the core of our culture, so from day one that was always a focus for us. It is not something that has had to be learned – it was always there and we have just built on it over time."

The Qualtrics summit always includes sensational speakers - not least of which is company founder Ryan Smith - and cutting-edge catering and evening entertainments (2017 included a private concert with Elton John). The conference culminates with a ski day at Park City, that in 2017 involved an appearance, autograph signing and skiing with US Olympic skier Bode Miller. "It was a last minute add," says Osborne, "as we weren't sure if his schedule would be able to accommodate it, and we didn't want to promise something that might not happen. But when we found out for sure, we decided to make it an extra element to wow our attendees. Feedback has been phenomenal, with those delegates who happened to be in the right place at the right time thrilled to be able to interact with such a high profile skiing celeb in a very personal way. It gave that lasting impression at the end of the event to really make it a great experience".

The 2018 Summit, held for the first time at the Salt Palace Convention Center, included appearances from NBA-great Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Huffington Post founder and Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, composer, lyricist and creator and star of Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, and a private performance by Maroon 5. Just before the summit, Ryan Smith said: "At this year's Qualtrics summit, we are bringing some of the biggest names in the world to Utah. But most importantly, we have 7,000 people coming from 45 different countries. This is a great indication of the growing tech scene here in Utah and the most exciting part is that we are just getting started. There is so much more to come."

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.