by Robert Rauch
No, for those of you who appreciated Alvin Lee and Ten Years After as a kid, this is not about music. This is about the 10 year anniversary of the technology explosion caused by Facebook, Twitter, iPhone and Android. Technology has finally been applied to hotels – it’s about time! Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Text, Chat and much more are here to stay.
The rise of digital technology has molded a new kind of traveler, one who embraces available tools and uses them to jump across industry-defined silos. These new travelers do not need handholding; they need the resources and technology to be able to be self-sufficient. They want to be able to make reservations, check-in and plan their trip via a virtual concierge, all while sharing their experience on their social media outlets.
Although today’s traveler demands a high degree of personalization, increased technology use has created an interesting paradox: the human part of the service economy may diminish in importance with the rise of the independent, digital traveler forging his or her own way. Big data offers a way for travel companies to provide that invisible pillar of support to balance the inevitable expectation of a customized experience while simultaneously enhancing the need to remain independent.
The boundary between professional and private worlds is increasingly blurred as a result of mobile devices that are changing business travel as we know it. Business travelers, especially Millennials, want to access readily available deals and tools when they travel. A recent survey by Pullman Hotels reports that:
- 43 percent of international travelers always take their mobile professional devices with them on holiday or on weekend trips.
- 89 percent of seasoned international travelers say mobile professional devices are a means of staying in touch with their loved ones.
While there is a real conflict between personal and professional lives of travelers, business travelers are more upfront about adding on leisure time at the end of business trips. This traveler is known as the “bleisure” traveler and is now becoming a target for many properties. This presents new opportunities for airlines, hotels and destinations alike, all of which have to configure their services to be flexible. Conference and meeting planners also need to be cognizant of these changes.
In addition to mobile devices changing business travel, they have created new sources for bookings. Travelers are overwhelmed by choices when booking online and mobile is creating the need for a better-curated experience. Booking providers can deliver well-targeted information to travelers due to their mining and analysis of all kinds of data. The growth of HotelTonight is an example of a mobile solution that focuses on the user experience and provides a quick and easy booking opportunity.
With the mobile explosion has come the launch of apps that are helping merge customer service with the digital age. Apps are being used for everything from a digital concierge experience to accessing big data. Geo-location can make it easy to sell guests something that is literally right in front of them. A prime example is 1App, which sends guests deals to eat, shop and play in accessible areas. While we tried it as a beta test for hospitality, it has found a place in the retail sector.
When thinking about how apps are changing the industry, it is also important to remember that the days of “walk-in” reservations are dwindling. With today’s technology, guests rarely walk in to inquire about room availability. Instead, they turn to mobile tools to make their reservation. Mobile is the new walk-in. And, as most have heard, many hotel guests are checking in via mobile phones this year. While it is only effective for a party of one, (your significant other will not be able to use the smart phone key as only one at a time can be issued) this is available at select Marriott and Hilton properties.
In addition to using apps to increase reach, hospitality businesses are utilizing the power of social media to grow. Facebook improves brand reputation, enhances listings and allows businesses to offer unique deals. Twitter lets hotels connect with guests in real time. However, it is not easy to set up and optimize your Facebook page and maintain your Twitter account without paying someone qualified to do it. Social media must be a crucial component of the marketing mix. Think of your property’s Facebook page as a second website with the option for guests to contact hotel staff and make reservations.
Technology and the importance of mobile sites are not just a trend, they are the new reality of hospitality. Having an understanding and a strategy for digital technology and mobile sites is key to successfully being able to reach the “new” traveler. Now is the time to tighten up mobile sites and find a balance between customer service and the self-sufficient traveler. Millennials have arrived and many other travelers have a millennial mindset. Yes, ten years after the tech explosion, times have changed. Embrace it – and enjoy a great remainder of 2017!