LAS VEGAS—As travelers continue to demand unique, well-thought-out hotel experiences, hoteliers must keep pace with the speed of innovation to leverage opportunities in the mobile and social space, according to panelists at the opening keynote session of the EyeforTravel Distribution Summit North America in Las Vegas.
“It’s becoming really difficult to focus on,” said Dave Madden, GM of LivingSocial Escapes. “What keeps me up at night is where to focus limited resources in order to keep up with that change.”
However, there are areas hoteliers can focus on within the mobile and social space to enhance the guest experience.
Personalizing the guest experience
Eighty-eight percent of CEOs surveyed by IBM this year reported their top priority within the next five years was to get closer to their consumers.
But how do they do it?
“There are plenty of technologies to help you do that,” said Mark Simpson, founder and president of marketing consulting firm Maximyser—although it isn’t easy, he said. “There are too many variables and each visitor profile is dynamic.”
“What happens when you get to six, seven, 12 segments with different attributes of customers? It gets really, really complicated. It’s not that easy to do it in a really slick way among travel ranks,” Simpson said.
But hoteliers can make the process simpler by first taking visitor data and profiling each individual guest, he said.
“You can now use Facebook data on your website and start personalizing the experience.”
And the outcome?
“Exciting (return on investment) driven by incremental revenue generation … and an enhanced visitor experience and engagement,” Simpson said.
The mobile platform is an ideal channel to build loyalty, said Sam Shank, CEO and founder of Hotel Tonight.
“If they had a good experience, they will go back to the app and loyalty is earned,” Shank said. And “if people are loyal, they’ll come back to you over and over.”
With hotel apps, it’s all about the ratings, he said. But hoteliers need to keep in mind that when guests rate an app, they are not just rating the technical aspect; they are rating the entire experience of interacting with the company.
“Some of the most negative reviews of hotel apps are about the support experience,” Shank said. “Your weakest link brings down your rating—even offline elements.”
Focusing on the customer experience both online and offline will increase app ratings, he said.
“People are expecting such a lousy interaction … that if we provide them with something great, we’re going to blow them away.”
LivingSocial has found in its research that images are the No. 1 thing that inspire consumers to make purchases.
“With Instagram, Pinterest, with a number of apps—the rich imagery more and more is inspiring people to make purchase decisions,” Madden said.
“Travelers are making their decisions to buy a trip in less than 60 seconds, and that’s because they are looking at the imagery,” he said. From there, all the details and fine print only serves to convince someone not to take a trip.
Hoteliers must keep in mind that they have a short time to capture a would-be guest’s interest, he said.
“My advice would be to invest and use rich imagery,” Madden said.
Integrating social-media networks with mobile apps is a unique driver of new consumers to HotelPlanner.com, said Tim Hentschel, CEO and founder of the group travel planner.
The company has partnerships with several professional sports teams throughout the United States who use HotelPlanner.com for group travel, which the company uses to its advantage, Hentschel said.
Whenever there is big game and a player scores, HotelPlanner.com releases a code on its Facebook page that allows fans of that sports team to book free hotel rooms.
“It’s a little technical; it’s not easy,” Hentschel said, but it is worth the challenges. “People really associate your brand with good times, and that has to do with the love of the sport. They’re emotionally attached to the sport.”
HotelPlanner.com’s strategy of giving away free inventory works, he said. “You pull people in through your freebies and you make them loyal through your … service.”