A 2014 survey found that travelers aren’t as loyal to a brand as loyalty membership programs suggest. Increasing personalization is the best method to make your product stand out in an overcrowded marketplace.
When do you suppose your guests last had difficulty finding a place to stay when traveling?
I don’t mean difficulty choosing a place to stay (though with all the options available to travelers today, that’s not always easy). Instead, I’m just talking about finding an available room that met their needs for a given trip. It probably wasn’t that recently, right?
After all, the single greatest benefit the Internet offers travelers—whether they’re using desktop, mobile, social media, apps, or what-have-you to plan their trip—is essentially unlimited inventory. Online travel agencies kicked off this new reality back in the
early days of the web, providing a diverse store shelf stocked with every available option a guest could possibly desire. Airbnb and its fellow alternative accommodations providers have only accelerated the problem.
Sure, special cases exist, such as major events like the Super Bowl, key industry conferences, that sort of thing. But by definition, these “special cases” hardly represent everyday occurrences.
Put simply, your potential guests can choose from more hotels and more destinations than they’ll ever have the opportunity to visit. Guests face no real risk that they’ll ever not be able to book a stay that meets their needs. That’s good for guests, but not so good for you, making it harder and harder to separate yourself from the pack—to stand out on the shelf—and attract attention and action among your target guests.
The importance of guest data
Here’s a significant statistic that underscores the challenge: according to a June 2014 study by Google titled “The 2014 traveler’s road to decision,” 85% of leisure travelers have no specific brand in mind when beginning to shop for travel. We’ve taught guests for years to be comfortable with choosing whatever property meets their needs for that particular trip. And they’re taking advantage of the situation.
According to a panelist at HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Strategy Conference in February, there are almost 3 billion loyalty memberships in the United States spread among its 319 million citizens. With almost nine reward and recognition programs available to every man, woman, and child in the country, that’s really stretching the definition of “loyal” past the point of absurdity.
When confronted with this rapidly evolving, ridiculously competitive marketplace, the question you should be asking is “How can I cut through the clutter effectively and efficiently to show potential guests that my property is the perfect choice for their next stay?”
The answer? Put your data to work. Use you hotel’s guest data to provide a more personalized experience to guests at every opportunity throughout their journey: pre-stay, on-property, and post-stay.
OTAs and intermediaries have embraced this approach in a huge way. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Priceline CEO Darren Huston said, younger travelers “don’t want to be bombarded with choices but prefer hotel searches closely tailored to their profiles.” Expedia has invested more than £500 million ($713.6 million) researching how to apply data to guest experiences. And I strongly suspect at least one of the reasons behind Airbnb’s rapid rise has less to do with the quality of the experiences the reservations platform offers and much more to do with the fact that guests can choose precisely the style of accommodation that suits their specific stay.
Put simply, you need to embrace this approach, too. Data-driven personalization is no longer a “nice thing to have,” it’s a need. And it’s a need right now. It’s time for you to take a look at whether your people, platforms, and processes are ready to provide a more custom, personalized experience for your guests—or risk losing guests to those that do.
Using data effectively
Though it may seem daunting, you can definitely start small. In fact, that’s almost certainly the smartest approach. It’s more important to actually start moving in this direction than sitting on the sidelines until it’s too late. Not sure where to begin? Here are a few ideas to set you up for success:
- Take inventory. Take a good look at how you, your team and your vendors currently collect and use guest data. What data do you already have, how are you using it, and what data do you still need to present a more personalized experience to your guests at the various steps in their pre-stay, post-stay and on-property experiences?
- Use samples for trials. Explore options for improved use of your data to enhance the guest experience. Using data you’ve already got, run a simple test, providing a more personalized experience at just one step along their journey.
- Crunch the numbers and view feedback. Measure the results from your test and then incorporate learnings into your next campaign or customer touch point.
- Prepare your employees. Perhaps most importantly, start training staff on the appropriate use of guest data. Guest privacy and data protection really matter. Your employees need to know how to treat guest information as the critical business asset it represents—and to respect guest privacy as they should.
Your guests have lots of options for where to stay. That’s clear.
What’s also clear is that you need to begin offering a more personalized experience if you’re going to stand apart and compete in an overcrowded marketplace. Your guests have many options here. You have just this one. And that makes your choice pretty clear, too. Embrace the choice and employ your data to improve your guests’ experience—and to improve your business results.
Tim Peter helps hotels and resorts put digital to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs designed to increase sales and revenues. An expert in e-commerce, digital, and marketing strategy, Tim focuses on influencing customer behavior and delivering business results. Prior to founding hospitality digital marketing strategy consulting firm Tim Peter & Associates in 2011, Tim led the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm in using digital to help hotels and resorts around the globe drive billions of dollars in revenue. He can be reached at timpeter.com/hotelmarketing or email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that might be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.