Have you heard anyone say, “it’s a small world” lately? The phrase has been around for a long time, but people seem to be saying it more often as the 21st century rolls ahead.
Who can blame us? Even though the earth’s circumference remains a constant 40,075 kilometers, the world really does seem smaller. It’s no longer unusual to meet someone who has visited five or six continents. The hotel you checked into last month—that beach property with hundreds of glowing customer reviews—has probably been viewed (or even booked) by someone else in your neighbourhood.
Technology has transformed travel and hospitality in astonishing ways—especially when you consider the fact that 25 years ago, a brochure from a travel agent was a key source of information.
Customers now leverage the power of cyberspace to make the industry do more for them. They have adapted to this new, smaller world. But has the industry itself?
One of the most relevant challenges for any professional inside the industry—whether it’s a developer, owner, operator or investor—is staying ahead of the technology curve. Just like customers, industry professionals must engage technology to make their resources work harder. They must do this in ways the customer can see, and in ways they cannot. Here are a few basic examples.
1. Next generation air, water and Wi-Fi
The beauty of more efficient air and water systems is that they can, at least theoretically, reduce operating costs while offering the possibility of brand enhancement. Social responsibility is a factor in brand positioning today, and the hospitality industry has even more to gain from possibilities of lower operating costs.
Research shows, however—and common sense would confirm—that gains in brand perception are precarious, and can be lost in two ways:
1) The customer perceives the sustainable initiative as self-serving, i.e. “branding”
2) The sustainable initiative lowers the quality of service
The important thing is that basic elements of service remain impeccable. Unless your property is a rustic eco-resort, the appeal of sustainable initiatives will quickly diminish if the rooms are cold and the water doesn’t run.
Fortunately, properties around the globe are creating systems that reduce costs without compromising functionality. Even before 2008, The Hotel New Otani in Tokyo was a shining example, with upgrades that delivered 14% energy savings, reduced carbon emissions by 30%, and saved 1,000 tons of water daily. Such measures should be researched thoroughly by existing properties, while development groups should consider adding innovative systems to maximize resources from the start.
It may seem strange to take about Internet connectivity in the same breath as air and water, but the days of Wi-Fi being a “perk” are over. A recent case study showed that a certain four-star hotel lost approximately $120,000 in annual revenue because of poor Wi-Fi networks. Another survey, conducted by hotels.com, found that 38% of customers give Wi-Fi more importance than parking and free breakfast! No doubt, investing in a strong, fast network that covers all corners of the property is a vital measure.
2. Online reputation management
When it comes to maintaining reputation in cyberspace, the statistics speak for themselves.
• Travelers are nearly four times more likely to choose a property with high review scores over an equally priced property with lower scores
• 87% of TripAdvisor users have an improved perception of the property when management responds appropriately to negative reviews
• For every 1% improvement on your TripAdvisor score, you could expect a 1% improvment on your RevPAR.
Properties with skyrocketing review scores aren’t just lucky. Beyond providing an excellent service that merits good reviews, they actively monitor their online reputations. They engage comments—both negative and positive, but especially negative—on public forums like Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor. Worried about the time and effort this will take? There are services and software that simplify it, making it easy for staff to keep up.
3. Digital concierge & personal touch
Searching and booking online are here to stay, and intelligent marketing initiatives like Dynamic Rate Marketing (DRM) are worthy of an entire post. But staying in touch technologically involves bringing that same mindset into the property itself. Instead of traditional pay-per-view systems, for example, many properties are fitting guest rooms with internet TV devices, allowing customers access to their own accounts with providers like Amazon and Apple.
Mobile apps are another trend that seems more than just promising. With proper back-end infrastructure in place, properties can offer a free app that allows them to order room service, arrange a wake-up call, place a “do not disturb” message on the door, and even control the TV and lighting from their mobile device.
The meeting of technology and hospitality is a big conversation. This post only scratches the surface. But no matter what new horizons open up, the trick will always be to explore them without losing the personal touch. Consumers in many industries are trending away from cold, impersonal business models. They’re craving more personal connection. This is where balance must be maintained. New technology can replace old, but there’s no substitute for a friendly face.
What is an element of hospitality that you don't feel will ever be replaced by technology?
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