Reposition marketing and focus on customer experience, says Thuan Dao, chief executive BedLinker
People’s expectations have changed significantly when it comes to travel. Travel is no longer about visiting the places we have on our wish list and ticking boxes, it’s about experiencing them. This goes right across the board, from extreme adventure holidays to luxury spa breaks and the same can be said for the hotel industry. Today’s guests want more than a standard, tidy hotel room, they want a level of personalisation an attention to their needs and a great experience.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2008, Airbnb has become a big game changer for hoteliers, taking more and more of the hotel market by offering experiences as part of its services. Add to that the fact that prices can be significantly cheaper than hotels, the problem for hoteliers has turned into a very real threat. As margin pressure increases from Airbnb properties, hotels are being forced to step up the competition even more. Just as the hospitality behemoth is adding experience packages to its offerings, with reasonably priced entertaining outings, hotels must go head to head with them as well as each other in order to compete and stay relevant. They need to offer guests something different, or in many cases something more.
One big advantage hotels have over Airbnb is the very reason they exist and it’s why travellers stay in hotels rather than go self-catering. Hotels offer luxury and convenience, they have well trained staff on hand to respond to visitors’ needs, with food and drinks offered plus a raft of additional services such as a morning newspaper service and more. Airbnb rarely offers this kind of service. Most hotels also develop partnerships with local businesses such as restaurants, theatres and so on and get good deals for their guests.
The problem is much of this goes unnoticed. Hotels need to make more noise about these services and offers while encouraging visitors to share their experiences online. They should reach out to more local businesses and secure deals on other activities such as tours, fun activities and museums. A concierge has a knowledge of local area like no other and hoteliers need to make this valuable information work harder for them.
Hotels need to appeal to today’s experience seekers and position their product as much more than just a stay in a room. Facilities such as a gym, a pool or a concierge should be highlighted on the hotel site and built into all marketing campaigns.
Airbnb conducts everything from discovery to booking to trip reviewing on one site. The company has massive amounts of data on guests which it utilizes to make the platform more engaging. Hotels are also using data, but many lack a centralized, data-driven platform. They need to collect more data from more touchpoints and translate it into insightful guest profiles. It makes it easier to deliver excellent guest services and relevant amenities. How great to greet your guest, who has a taste for Gin, by informing them that tonight the bar is stocking a very nice bottle of Herno.
Make booking easy
Airbnb excels at helping travellers discover the right property with a seamless reservation system that makes booking very easy. They are also transparent about costs, amenities and policies. The booking process for many hotels can be confusing and cumbersome, leading to high rates of abandoned bookings. Guests are increasingly searching and booking via their mobile. In 2016, Google confirmed that mobile search had officially surpassed desktop searches worldwide. It is therefore imperative for hotels to have their own mobile presence and websites must be responsive. Mobile apps are also a great way to improve the user experience, enabling mobile loyalty schemes and push notifications.
Bringing AI into the equation
A big challenge facing hotels in 2018/9 is real-time engagement. This includes digital messaging channels such as texting, loyalty app messaging or live chat. Many customer service tasks such as booking taxis or ordering room service can be completed using AI, digital assistance and mobile apps.
Hotels will need to continue to invest time into how AI can help them improve customer service and provide different experiences. It also means that staff will be able to spend more time on the tasks that matter.
The fact is, most hoteliers have a fantastic product which is situated in some of the best locations and cities around the world. By repositioning how they market that product and delivering a better customer experience by using their local knowledge and utilising data and technology, hotels will continue to thrive in this competitive market.