By Benjamin Habbel
They’re tech-savvy, experienced-focused and expect a certain level of personalization from booking to check-out. Here are five trends shaping customer thought patterns right now, and how your brand can harness them…
1. Customers are prioritizing new experiences over consistency
“Access is becoming the new ownership… our bling isn’t our house or our car, it is the theatre of Instagram and the experiences we are having in the world.” So says Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, whose $30bn global rental giant is now offering a range of tours and learning experiences from truffle-hunting to pottery classes.
Hotel groups have been making moves of their own, such as Conrad’s Stay Inspired initiative, which offers a series of “under-the-radar experiences not found in a guidebook”. Similarly, Marriott has experimented in recent years with pop-up rooftop bars (London’s Roofnic), locally-sourced food and independent coffee shops in lobbies, helping to transform how the brand is perceived among younger demographics.
This isn't just an on-property challenge – it extends into the digital world too. Instead of just writing up experience initiatives in blog posts and events calendars, harness them in your merchandising. Identify the prospects that might be interested in them, and serve up related offers that will encourage conversions and drive up booking values.
2. Customers are increasingly empowered yet brand disloyal
The advent of one-click shopping, on-demand services and price comparison sites have all conspired to make today’s consumers the savviest in history. They expect same-day delivery, know where to hunt for the best deals, and demand more from companies than ever before. Despite becoming more discerning, their brand loyalty has slumped. A recent study by Accenture (pdf) found 77 percent of respondents admitted retracting brand allegiance quicker than they did three years ago.
Hoteliers can combat this consumer promiscuity by allowing guests to choose specific rooms, providing access to log in and save their preferences or employing a virtual concierge to deal with customer queries while booking.
3. They're willing to book direct – if you give them a reason
OTAs still wield significant power. On average 40% of independent hotel bookings go to an online travel agent, with digital direct bookings accounting for only 15% of the distribution mix. But there's clear evidence that consumers are willing to change their behavior, not least from the positive results of recent direct booking campaigns (which we looked at in detail in our last post).
The key is to give customers a reason to go direct, and deliver a great experience when they come to you. Hotel digital offerings could be working harder here. According to a study by SalesCycle, 29 percent of guests abandon online bookings because of difficulties with the booking process, so if you aren't already user testing and/or A/B testing your booking pages, get started now – Voyat's platform includes automated A/B testing on offer and booking cue overlays, and we'll look at some common pitfalls of testing in an upcoming post.
Incentives can also work, but there are questions about the long-term wisdom and sustainability of blanket discounting. Our intent-based targeting allows you to determine a traveler's preferences and automatically deliver suitable offers when they arrive on site – so you're immediately framing your incentives around hotel services and experiences, not unsustainably cheap room rates.
4. They're not afraid of personalization (quite the opposite, in fact)
You’re travelling to Montreal for a speaking engagement, and you fire off a tweet about it at the airport. When you arrive in your hotel room, there’s a ‘Good Luck!’ card from the concierge lying on the bed. Creepy? Not necessarily – it's par for the course in hotels that monitor customers’ social media feeds as a personalization tactic. One Hong Kong hotel places an Annie Leibovitz coffee-table tome in your room if they discover you’re a photography fan, and Marriott’s M Live (its “global marketing real-time command center”) can use geo-fencing to unearth guests’ Facebook posts about on-property birthday celebrations.
While this could be seen as eavesdropping, it appears many guests don’t mind – a 2016 Accenture report found 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from retailers who recognize them by name.
The information gathered about a guest’s language, occupation or hobbies through social media intelligence can help hoteliers offer more bespoke services. Likewise, data gathered on guests during their stay can determine whether they need a newspaper delivered every day or if their minibar needs replenishing with a favorite type of lager – or in the case of some guests, completely emptied. Hoteliers can also offer a customized experience online by observing customers’ browsing and on-site behavior. Voyat helped Florida’s Beachwalk Resort register an 88 percent conversion uplift on targeted traffic by offering selected visitors $50 food/beverage credits.
5. They want a fast, always-on digital experience, both in and out of the property
According to Google, 53 percent of mobile-users abandon their visit if a website takes longer than three seconds to load. With Google also taking ranking signals from page speed, it's more important than ever to ensure your digital offering performs well across all devices – particularly as you begin to layer on personalization and conversion optimization elements that can slow down load times.
Away from core websites, some hotel brands are communicating with time-constrained guests via mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and the Chinese giant WeChat. Fast, intuitive and trackable, mobile chat platforms aren't just potential replacements for calls down to reception – they can also be a conduit for concierge services while guests are off-property, giving the hotel a greater role in the overall trip experience.