Hoteliers are at risk of losing their connection with their customers. And it isn’t because there are fewer customers or because they are travelling less. Budget airlines and the uprise of the ‘sharing economy’ with businesses such as Airbnb springing up across the globe have meant that travelling is more accessible to more people.
Innovation delivered by developments in consumer technology is giving with one hand and taking away with another and hotels are at risk. Along the entire travel process, hotels are losing the connection with its customers. Travellers now book using aggregators or ‘OTAs’ (online travel agencies) rather than direct. They plan a trip using TripAdvisor or by asking Facebook friends for recommendations rather than the hotel concierge. They ‘Uber’ it to the hotel from the airport rather than booking a hotel car. They launch their Spotify connected to their Jawbone travel speaker or watch Netflix on their iPad rather than pay for in-room entertainment. They browse ClassPass for local exercise groups rather than use the hotel gym. And there are countless apps to tell them where they can eat for less money within a one kilometer radius of the hotel restaurant. To top it all off, they record every moment and broadcast it on SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook or any of the millions of travel blogs. And bar a cursory ‘check-in’, the hotel is left out of this transaction almost entirely.
The hotel industry, having let the internet steal a significant part of its lunch money when it comes to booking travel, is scrabbling to create a compelling mobile offering to keep its customer close. Major hotel groups are ploughing millions of dollars into global mobile strategies creating apps that allow you to find information on any of its hundreds of properties or track loyalty points. The problem is, the customer engagement on these apps is woeful. Quick analysis of the download numbers in the various app stores compared to average occupancy suggest customer engagement is somewhere around the 3% mark. So millions of dollars invested and 3% of your target customers downloading and using the app. The numbers don’t add up.
Technology and one-to-one communication
At World Travel Market in London this Autumn, Facebook’s Head of Travel, Lee McCabe, made some interesting observations. According to Nielsen, the average smartphone user has 27 apps on their phone. Only a small proportion of these will be dedicated to travel. Any app that has made it onto the smartphone and has stayed there is 100% useful and relevant. In fact, there were three key pillars; connection, convenience and context. Connection with the company, convenience meaning the app makes life easier and context meaning a completely personal experience that shows the company understands that individual user. He also spoke of the move to one-to-one communication between a business and its consumers and the fact that technology is going to further change the travel industry and quickly. Virtual and augmented reality will mean you can explore a hotel room, local markets, temples, beaches and even the locals themselves before you even step on the plane.
My view however, is that major groups and the individual hoteliers, GMs and owners still have a fantastic opportunity to turn customer heads. Hotel customers are more likely to be loyal to individual properties, will return on holiday year after year or for every business trip and will happily and vocally recommend to their friends and associates. Dubai’s hoteliers are particularly visionary when it comes to adopting this strategy. They understand that hotel patrons buy-in to the property culture, service standards and staff regardless of the logo printed on the hotel napkins. Mobile by its very nature is personal so the individual hotel needs to be reflected within the mobile app – imagery of the staff, recommendations and reviews by the concierge, personal promotions and offers delivered through the app and booking and billing integrated to make one, seamless, personal experience.
To gain and retain the customer connection and achieve engagement levels worth investing in, a hotel’s mobile strategy needs to be utterly personal. A well designed, content-rich, relevant mobile app will allow hoteliers to reconnect with its customers. And the information flow isn’t one way. Customer data gathered and analysed through mobile apps can give GMs an invaluable view of customer movement, preference and and behaviour. The mobile train hasn’t left the station yet. But the engines have fired up and a ‘one size fits all’ generic offering simply won’t do.
About the author
Thomas Martensson is the CEO of Go Find It Technologies, the world’s number one provider of mobile solutions and apps for leading hotels. Go Find It has over 100 customers including Raffles, Paris, Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London and The Palm, Park Hyatt, VIDA and the newly opened Palazzo Versace in Dubai.