|by Jitendra Jain, March 2008
Are you a hotel eMarketer looking for ways to better communicate, educate
and develop the role at your property/ies? This article explores some of
the issues surrounding these efforts, complemented by a dose of perspective
and a generous helping of best practices, all garnished, hopefully, by
your own ideas and experiences.
Finding Meaning: Wikipedia attributes the word ‘evolution’ to
the Latin term ‘evolutio’ meaning "unfolding". While the tech and Internet
revolution have anything but “unfolded” upon us (“exploded” would be more
appropriate, given the short span of time over which most Internet-related
developments have occurred), there is something to be learnt from the nature
of these changes.
Impact and Perspective: According to the popular statistics site,
internetworldstats.com, at the end of 2007, we had 1 in 5 people on the
planet already connected to the Internet…and this number is growing fast.
While 80% of the world waits to jump onto the bandwagon, the 20% who’re
already on it are struggling to hold on for dear life. The Internet is
to business today what electricity is to industry and good living…without
it there would be chaos! That puts a little perspective on just how reliant
we’ve become on this relatively new platform…but also how much we stand
to gain from it in terms of breaking down communication, transaction and
education barriers. And the pace of development and the evolving uses of
the Internet have been dizzying to say the least. Marketers…and your average
Internet Joe have been forced to constantly re-learn and evolve.
It may be a challenge to stay on top, but the bigger challenge today
is to ensure those who are following you can catch up! In the hospitality
industry, the rift between tech-savvy users and those who’re just sitting
up and taking notice of the Internet revolution is even more pronounced.
E-commerce and e-marketing are just starting to make a mark in the industry,
much like revenue management did a while ago (revenue management is quite
indispensable in hotels these days, despite the slow initial uptake). The
level of emphasis and extent of experimentation varies greatly by hotel
group and location, but the growing importance, both for generating revenues,
lower costs and online visibility, is indisputable.
So the future of e-commerce in the hospitality industry is guaranteed
to be a bright one. And the savvy hotel emarketer has a lot to gain, including
room to grow, experiment and “wow” (from SEO to SEM, blogging to social
networking, there’s plenty to keep the eager hotel eMarketer busy experimenting).
But what about those in the industry just climbing on-board, especially
employees in hotel operations and those struggling to make sense of the
opportunities and challenges presented by the Internet? What can hotel
eMarketers do to ensure interest and support at hotels? How do you create
a culture of understanding and mutual growth?
The answer is simple…create interest, excitement and buy-in at your
hotels. The path to achieving these lofty goals, however, isn’t quite so
simple. Let’s explore some of the issues and opportunities:
Create an online culture! Culture is defined as ‘the accumulated
habits, attitudes, and beliefs of a group of people that define for them
their general behavior and way of life; the total set of learned activities
of a people.’ The biggest challenge, then, is to change the habits, attitudes
and beliefs of your target audience at hotels (not an easy task, by any
Here are some real-world strategies we’ve tried and found effective in
the past in creating an online culture (while most can be applied at any
property, some applications may vary based on e-commerce emphasis at the
hotel/s and resources the eMarketer has at hand):
Habits: A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that
is acquired through frequent repetition. Habits at work may involve always
having done things a certain way (classic example “I’ve done this the same
way for 20 years…it works…why should I change?”) – changing habits may
involve patient education, assistance and reminders on the use of new tools,
techniques and channels previously unavailable, hopefully till they are
accepted. Assistance in understanding and using seemingly ‘complicated’
tools and techniques is another step in gaining acceptance among users.
This may be obvious, but reminders to use these improved techniques and
tools also work their magic in the long run (persistence!).
Attitudes: manner of acting, feeling, or thinking that shows one's
disposition, opinion, etc. Attitudes are hard to change…but results work!
A typical attitude may be thinking that eCommerce is just another fad…or
that not much can be achieved by changing the business model and hotel
distribution strategies. Attitudes take slow, persistent efforts to change:
buy-in from decision makers, communicating progress and delivering results
are failsafe approaches to this challenge.
Beliefs: Assumptions about what is true or false that can be testable
(family preservation works) or not testable (God exists). An example for
Hotel eMarketing – ‘Investing in online research, tools and projects is
a waste of money’…or ‘our customers have always been loyal and want things
to stay the same.’ Testable beliefs are easily challenged with making a
case for change (with hard facts) and then delivering promised results.
Communication: The catalyst for it all. Hotel eMarketers are great
at communicating with external audiences…but often forget their hotel peers.
Constantly communicating and building internal relationships are the keystones
to success, acceptance and synergy.
Rinse and repeat. Persist. Enjoy. You may not accomplish everything
you hoped to…or get across to everyone, but each little success and each
new person who develops an understanding and excitement for the role is
another leap towards overall success…and satisfaction.
‘e’ducate: Take Stock! Audit yourself, identify key tasks and projects
that must be completed to bridge the gap between where you are as a hotel
and where you want to be in terms of eMarketing prowess. Identify teams,
cliques & internal communication flow before you start educating internally.
Start by creating a basic understanding of the tools, platforms, functions
and possibilities associated with the online marketing & distribution
/ e-commerce role. If you’re just breaking into the role at a new property,
try to clear any assumptions or misconceptions about channels & the
role at an early stage. Make presentations to senior management as well
as the Sales & Marketing team and each time a new concept, idea or
project is introduced, release an easy-to-understand overview, followed
up with a personal explanation. Another successful technique of gaining
acceptance and enthusiasm has been to introduce open “e”ducation sessions
where various Internet trends, tips, tools and fun elements are covered
in addition to business-related eCommerce issues.
Obtain buy-in, communicate and report: Ensure that the decision-makers
at the property/ies support all significant projects and hotel department
heads are involved if issues affect their department in any way. Implement
practices for daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly communication to keep
things consistent and regular. Identify what frequency works best for you
and inform the team about what you’re working on and what’s coming up!
Attend Revenue, Marketing and Management meetings if and when possible
to brainstorm and gain perspective. Present an easy-to-understand performance
and trend snapshot using web analytics and reporting tools every month.
Communicate the same verbally during monthly departmental meetings. If
possible, create and distribute a quarterly e-commerce newsletter (something
that goes to all hotel employees and gets people involved, with a quiz
Reach all levels: Perhaps the hardest thing to do in hotels is to
reach and communicate at most (if not all) levels of the organization.
One solution is to create an “eTeam”. We pioneered the first hotel eTeam
in early 2007, bringing together carefully selected volunteers (vs. nominees)
from each hotel department. The selection criteria? Eagerness to learn,
a superb attitude and great communication skills. The eTeam spends 40%
of its “e” time learning about eCommerce from the resident eCommerce Manager,
another 40% fulfilling their roles as departmental ambassadors for eCommerce
and 20% on special projects that help the hotel do things better, faster
and smarter (using technology or the Internet). The time spent by members
on eTeam activities? 10 - 12 hours per month, aside from normal hotel roles.
The impact? Huge! Not only does the eTeam get those who want to learn more
involved, but it also fosters an atmosphere of sharing, growth and possibility.
Here is a recent example of a fun eTeam activity, where members were tasked
with creating a movie illustrating how the internet has changed our lives:
Go back to basics: Why should an employee who doesn’t have access
to the Internet and has never used email concern themselves with the opportunities
the internet represents for the hotel? Communicating at all levels may
be a noble undertaking, but is the ‘message’ being received? Maybe its
time to step back from the trees and take a look at the forest? We conducted
the first ever “eVoice” survey in 2007 to find out just where we stand
as a hotel in terms of internet and computer use. The survey results were
then used to create and justify solutions for basic problems. Examples
Computer Access: if a majority of employees know how to use computers
and most access the internet but at a cost, what can be done to offer free
or discounted access to these resources? Aim – to promote use of the Internet
at the hotel and provide access to learning resources and sites that can
be used for guest referral and better job performance.
Understanding the role of the internet in the hotel business - making
an introduction to eCommerce a part of the hotel induction process for
all new hires to start them off on the right foot.
At the most basic level, learning what the Internet is and how to
emails to family and friends. We all respond better to information if we
have sort of emotional connection or personal meaning system attached to
it… basic training can create an emotional link to the Internet so base-level
users are more receptive to other “e” news and information that is communicated
to them. This base level training also helps them boost their “e” readiness
All things considered, YOU create culture by contributing to it. And
remember that eCommerce / eMarketing is just part of a much bigger trend
that has changed society and the way we live, work and communicate. Help
others see the big picture and their role in it. And remember…if it isn’t
fun, it just isn’t worth it. Infusing passion and love into everything
you do is the most infectious way of gaining acceptance, understanding
and great results!
the Author: At work, Jitendra Jain (JJ) is employed with Starwood Hotels
& Resorts in Dubai as an E-Commerce Manager and handles hotel online
marketing & distribution. At play, he is the founder of various online
initiatives and free platforms like www.thetalentjungle.com, www.younghotelier.com
(among others) that aim to connect, educate and shine the limelight on
the true stars of the industry – the people that run it!