Friday, August 29, 2014

Cloud Computing For The Hospitality Industry - 1

What is Cloud Computing?

 

There is no question that cloud computing technology is beginning to gain traction in the hospitality industry. However, there is a lack of full comprehension, accompanied with a number of misconceptions, regarding this technology. In this three part series we will attempt to explain cloud technology in the most non-technical terms possible, weigh the benefits the cloud can bring to hoteliers, and examine how computing in the cloud can be applied to the hospitality industry.

The “cloud” is a computer system that has its data distributed across the Internet and stored by a hosting company or Internet provider. The data can be distributed as part of either a public or private network. The Internet host acts as a traditional hard drive that, in a sense, can be thought of as being in “the clouds.“ Whether people recognize it, or not, most have used cloud services many times already. Facebook accounts, Google Gmail, and Apple iTunes are all examples of commonly used cloud services. For example, a photo on Facebook, an email from Gmail, or a song from iTunes are actually not stored on a user’s computer, but are accessed from the host in the cloud. A person’s photos and music at one time were stored on a computer hard drive, CD, or a floppy disk; now they are predominantly stored in the cloud.

Data stored with a cloud vendor can be accessed from any user’s device with an Internet connection. Users can utilize cloud services from anywhere and are no longer tied to a desktop computer. There are a growing number of cloud vendors available to the hospitality industry with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Oracle among the major players.

Hoteliers have, as a matter of course, relied on locally stored data infrastructures, but the industry can no longer bear the cost of such outdated technologies. Cloud technology is the future of computing and data management. Hoteliers can embrace to the benefit or lag behind the innovation curve to their detriment. The next part of this series will examine specific benefits to be gained by the hospitality industry in the adoption of cloud computing.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Hotel Revenue Management - 3

Effectively Implementing Revenue Management For Hotels

To remain competitive today, it is important for hotels to implement a strategy for revenue management. This applies to properties of all sizes, whether chain or independent. For any hotel property to derive a specific price point, on a given day, for any individual customer, the collection and analysis of an immense amount of data is required. These tasks are most efficiently realized through the utilization of hotel revenue management software. For hoteliers to sell hotel rooms at the optimal price, asking and answering a few key questions is a necessity.

 

1. Who is staying at my hotel? (Segmenting Markets)

Determiningprecisely who is staying at your hotel and when is a vital first step in the process of revenue management. Guests should be categorized by business or leisure, whether they are group customers or individual, etc. It is entirely up to the hotelier how many distinct market segments should be tracked for their property.  However, each segment must be unique in a way that makes them distinctive from the rest.

 

2.  What did they pay? (History)

To maximize the room rates across the span of an entire year it is indispensable to track past rate histories. Historical rate results, for the last year at minimum, must be considered as part of the equation.  Patterns will be revealed which can be useful in planning for the future. Average daily rates and number of rooms sold for each date, and by market segment is invaluable data for establishing a rate strategy going forward.

 

3. How far in advance did they book? (Booking Pace)

Looking into the future is also an essential element to a revenue manager. This is the amount of reservations that have been booked for any specific future date. This, combined with past historical rate data, gives an indication if demand for your property’s rooms is up or down. From this vantage point decisions can be made regarding whether sales initiatives should be implemented if demand is down, or room allocation should be put into action if demand is stronger.

Future rate forecasting is at the core of any truly effective hotel revenue management program. The goal is to achieve the proper balance to entice future guests to book as early as possible. As any given time approaches, rates can easily be adjusted according to supply and demand. In the last part of this series we will see how other factors, such as, monitoring the competition and the management of sales channels, complete the revenue management equation.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Hotel Revenue Management?

The peak and valley nature of the hospitality industry is extremely conducive to revenue management techniques. This applies to both smaller, independent properties and large chains equally. All hotels share the combination of high fixed costs balanced against low marginal costs. The cost of the property itself and all expenses associated with it is high, but the cost of gaining each new hotel guest is relatively low. This gives any hotel a degree of latitude in setting their rate structures.

Revenue management techniques will therefore help even the smallest of hotels capitalize on the flexibility that allows them to sell rooms for the maximum rate possible on any given day. This is why revenue management is so crucial to all segments of the hospitality industry, no matter the size. Most smaller properties cannot afford a dedicated revenue management specialist, however the investment in software designed to assist in that regard could be most beneficial to them.

Effective revenue management can also benefit hotels in ways beyond the implementation of a more profitable rate structure, although that should be reason enough. Revenue management empowers hotel properties to ensure their rates are not only profitable, but competitive within their market as well. The research required for revenue management provides valuable market intelligence in the form of a clearer picture of the hotel’s customer base and their expectations. This offers hotels the opportunity to get to better know their guests. The data extracted can reveal to hoteliers exactly what are their property’s market segments and even point out new segments for future growth. All of this information will additionally lead to enhanced coordination between the efforts of sales and marketing with their service counterparts who interact directly with hotel guests.

The hospitality industry is built around servicing the needs and desires of their guests. Revenue management is a tool which will enable hoteliers to better anticipate and meet the wishes of their customers. In the third part of this series we will explore courses of action to best utilize revenue management in a hospitality setting. 


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Is Hotel Revenue Management?

 

Long practiced by the airline industry since the 1980’s, revenue management has since become increasingly utilized by the hospitality industry as well. In the case of hotels, revenue management is a tool designed to maximize revenue earned by any given room. It accomplishes this goal by charging the highest room rate that any particular type of customer in question would be willing to pay during a specific time frame. Ultimately, the goal is to book every room for the right price, at the right time, to the right customer.

Using the basic economics of supply and demand as a foundation to gain the optimal rate for each guest everyday, revenue management is a great fit for the hospitality industry. Hotels only have a fixed number of rooms available at each property. Each of those rooms can be thought of as being a perishable commodity, almost like fruits and vegetables at a supermarket. If a room goes unsold on a given day that revenue cannot be made up again, it is lost forever.

 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Improving Hotel Ratings With Review Responses

It cannot be overstated how vitally important it is for hotel management to respond, directly and quickly, to online hotel guest ratings and reviews. Besides providing guests with good customer service, direct responses to their comments, reviews and ratings can directly benefit a hotel in the form of an overall higher rating. This is because studies have clearly shown that direct responses from management showcase the fact that hotels which respond are more highly rated, whether the initial review was positive or negative. The public perceives the responding brand as truly caring about their guests and practices outstanding customer service.
There is clearly a correlation between direct responses to guest reviews from hotels and higher overall ratings. Therefore, hotels which practice customer service excellence through review responses will see an additional boost in brand visibility through higher SEO rankings, which in turn drives up website visitation by potential guests. With the gravity of hotel review responses most assuredly established, it is crucial for the hotel’s comments to always be polite and professional in nature.

In responding to any online hotel review, whether good or bad, always begin by thanking the reviewer for their comments. If the review is negative, apologize for any aspects of the guest experience they reported to be less than satisfactory, and then explain what the hotel will be doing to correct their issues. If the reviewer mentions any positive facets of their hotel stay, try to focus on those points while assuring them that their bad experience is outside what is normally found by guests at the hotel. Keep a dialog open, but steer the ongoing conversation offline by offering an email address and phone number.
Responses to all reviews must always be made in a timely fashion. Remain positive and maintain an upbeat tone throughout all replies to online hotel reviews. Taken with a proper attitude even negative reviews can provide hoteliers with valuable feedback, marketing intelligence, and the tools needed to make constructive changes to their properties where and when needed.
A correct response to a online hotel review can clearly illustrate to a unsatisfied guest that the hotel and its management truly care about their experience enough to make changes, gaining their hotel brand loyalty in the process. Responding, rather than ignoring hotel guest reviews can only result in increased revenue for any hotel, despite the efforts required.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Improving Hotel Guest Star Ratings - 2

Improving Hotel Ratings With Social Media

 

The benefits and usage of social media to promote hotels have already been firmly established. However, the use of social network engagement as a customer service tool has not gained industry-wide acceptance. Social media can and should also function as an extension of a hotel’s customer service to their guests. But surveys have shown many hotels and chains are much slower to respond to social media comments than the public has come to expect.  Any hotel which desires an improvement in guest ratings must commit to incorporating social media into their overall customer service strategy.

 

This commitment requires a dedicated social media staff in the case of the largest chains. Smaller chains and independents must designate someone, preferably management, to handle social media. In either case, social media mentions, comments, and reviews must be responded to in a timely and professional manner. Any complaint posted by a hotel guest on a social channel during their stay that is swiftly and politely responded to, and then promptly followed up with a call to the appropriate department to rectify the issue, can create immeasurable customer loyalty.  In turn, that guest will probably tell others on social media about the positive turnaround in their experience.

 

Proactively there are many things a hotel can do to provide outstanding customer service via social media, even before guests arrive or while they are off property. Simply knowledgeably answering the questions posed by future guests on social media can leave a favorable impression on them. Giving guests the option of booking their stay directly from their social network of choice, is another. Excellent concierge services can be extended to guests during all parts of their trip by making suggestions, and answering questions before and after their stay, not just when they are on the hotel property.

 

The seemingly endless discussion that is social media can be overwhelming for any hotel brand, large or small. Some chains have taken to shrinking down the available platform space for comments to one individual brand channel; one for each social network. For example, a chain of hotels could have one Twitter feed for the whole brand, rather than for each individual hotel property. Many hotels and chains are still experimenting and trying different approaches to social service, and there certainly is not going to be a one size fits all solution.

 

Using social media as a customer service tool is still in it’s infancy, but it isn’t going away, as it is now expected by the traveling public. Hoteliers that can find their own solution that works for them and their guests will surely reap the benefits of improved hotel guest ratings.

 

Part 3 will look at how a properly crafted guest review or comment response from the hotel can lead to overall improved hotel guest ratings.

 


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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Improving Hotel Guest Star Ratings 1

Hotel guest ratings, on TripAdvisor and other sites, have become the yardstick against which the traveling public measures up hotels while making their travel decisions. Hotels use these ratings to determine the areas in which they need to improve their guest’s experience. Furthermore, the ratings posted by past guests can inform hoteliers of everything a hotel is doing correctly.

 

Of course, hotel owners and management can dream of having their hotel ranked number one in their location, but that isn’t nearly as important as being ranked in or near the the top ten. Whether a hotel is in a remote location, without much competition, or situated in a large metropolitan area has a tremendous impact. Any hotel located in a major city and ranked number seven for example, is doing an outstanding job. Whereas a small market hotel, with only a handful of competitors, may not be as overly concerned about rankings. For the hotel which genuinely desires to improve the star ratings received by their guests there are a few specific facets to focus on; hotel service, social media engagement, and rating/review responses from the hotel.

 

 

Improving Hotel Ratings With Service

 

A hotel looking for a boost in their guest ratings should start by creating a culture of service throughout the company. From the top on down, providing outstanding service must be the priority to everyone. This can be initiated by giving each and every guest the impression of their importance to the hotel. Simple things, such as a welcoming smile and greeting or remembering a past guest by name can go far to instill a sense of service excellence in a hotel’s guest. Personnel with a true heart of service and passion for helping others is what should be sought out by the hotel’s human resources. Once hired, staff should be extensively trained to perform excellent service standards by senior personnel.  Service levels can be maintained with creative programs and employee recognition.

 

People will naturally feel more obliged to write about and rate a truly memorable experience, whether positive or negative. This explains the large numbers of five and one star ratings seen on review sites. People tend to remember and tell others about the extremes in their daily experiences, rather than their normal, maybe mundane, everyday lives. It is the task of the hotelier to provide guests with a level of service that exceeds their expectations. Service that is so remarkable that they will look back and remember their hotel stay fondly. So fondly that they will be driven to tell others, and maybe even write a glowing review of the hotel and give it a five star rating.

 

In part 2 of this series, we will examine how social media can become much more than a branding and marketing tool and be utilized by hoteliers as an extension of outstanding hotel service.

 

 


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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Role Of Images In Hotel Conversion

 

The Role Of Images In Hotel Conversion

 

The highly visual nature of the hospitality industry makes it imperative for hotel websites to feature high quality images of their properties throughout the site. Beyond merely showcasing the hotel’s property, these images can determine whether a website visitor converts into a paying hotel guest or books their hotel stay elsewhere. It is crucial for hotel website images to convey to users a sense of the guest experience at the properties that keeps them engaged with the brand. At the same time, these images must steer the website user to the appropriate calls to action and lead them to book their stay using the brand’s own internet booking engine. This can be accomplished in several ways.

 

Showcase The Hotel Property      

 

Show off the hotel with large high quality images, which draw the viewer into feeling they are part of the scene. The hotel “product” is what users need to see most in images. Potential hotel guests want to see what they are getting for their money before they commit to booking. A 2013 study by VFM Leonardo uncovered what hotel images are most important and useful to travelers in making their booking decisions, listed in order:

 

  1. Guest Rooms                                    6. Business Center

  2. Restaurant                                        7. Pool

  3. Recreation                                        8. Amenities

  4. Lobby                                               9. Exterior

  5. Map of Location                              10. Bar/Lounge

Hotel website images must include these items to give users what they need in order for them to make informed travel arrangements. Be sure to make images the appropriate size for the device being used, so users won’t have to strain to see them.The images should always feature real people, doing real things. Stock, canned images will not instill trust and build credibility in the minds of potential guests and website users.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Increasing Hotel Conversions With Rich Media

Increasing Hotel Conversions With Rich Media

 

The use of eye catching imagery in the form of interactive videos, animation, digital slideshows, virtual tours has become an increasingly important factor in driving hotel website conversions. Rich media website images featuring motion invite user interaction and offer hotels exciting new opportunities for directly engaging their guests. Rich media empowers hotels to bring their customers right into the guest experience in a highly persuasive manner. This in turn can result in more favorable booking outcomes and increased hotel revenue.

  

Travel Video

 

Utilization of rich media on hotel websites by the hospitality industry is clearly on the rise. According to PhoCusWright’s U.S. Consumer Travel Report Sixth Edition, 40% of consumers watched videos submitted by their fellow travelers during the process of trip planning in 2013. 40% also viewed videos that were produced by professionals. Both figures show an increase of 13% and 10% respectively over the previous year. However, more widespread adoption would undoubtedly benefit both consumers and the entire industry.

 

New Technologies

 

Video technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, providing hoteliers new and creative techniques to present their properties to their customers. The ability to now embed interactive controls in their videos allows hotels to truly personalize how website users experience the property. Mobile technology increasingly is the platform of choice for consumers to not only book, but explore their travel preferences before making a decision. Hotel websites and all media presented on them need to be compatible with both smartphones and tablets. Users should find their experience as equally rewarding across all platforms and devices.

 

Hospitality Rich Media Marketing Strategy

 

It is vital for any hotel embarking on a new video marketing campaign to first clearly establish what their goals are and how success is to be determined. This of course is necessary before any marketing effort can begin. Some self examination is also required to determine the needs and desires of the hotel’s target guest.  Then follow up with video and other rich media that the audience will find compelling and relevant.

Additionally, any videos produced must be hosted and distributed on one or more online channels. The viral nature of both YouTube and Vimeo offer hotels a tremendous place to begin. Linking videos to the website, social media networks, emails, and any other advertising possibilities will drive up viewership while maximizing the likelihood of videos going viral.  For the videos to become ultimately successful their promotion must be strategized as well.


In the end, only the hotel can decide if their rich media marketing campaign was a success. Whatever parameters necessary to measure that return on investment must be employed to decide the campaign’s outcome and empower any continued utilization decisions.


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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Increasing Hotel Conversion With Web Design - Part 2

Increasing Hotel Conversion With Web Design - Part 2

Call To Action

Getting traffic to the hotel’s website is only one facet of improving the site conversion rate. The presence of online users doesn’t guarantee they will stay long enough to be converted into paying hotel guests. Online visitors must be directed where to go to accomplish the reason they are there in the first place, either booking a hotel or enquiring about one. There needs to be a ‘book now’ or ‘make a reservation’ button on each and every page on the website. These buttons should be prominently displayed above the page fold, and in the upper right hand corner is optimal. The call to action should steer users to the conversion objectives of the site and then simply tell them what you want them to do.

Internet Booking Engine

Any hotel website without an internet booking engine (IBE) leaves their hard-earned website traffic no choice but to go elsewhere to make a reservation. If such a hotel is lucky, they will call the hotel on the phone to book their stay. The more likely scenario is that the customer will go through an online travel agency or other third party, with resultant revenue loss for the hotel. That is why it is a requirement for successful hotel websites to offer an internet booking engine to their site visitors. The IBE must be simple, straightforward and extremely user-friendly. Steps in the booking process should be kept to a minimum to keep the potential customer from having a change of heart or mind.

Content

The process of selecting a hotel and booking a stay more than likely for most people involves their emotions and feelings. Images and copywriting must tap into those feelings and invoke a positive emotional response and engage the website user. The emotions may be different between a business traveler and people traveling for pleasure, so knowing your customer base and gearing content to their emotions is key. All hotel guests like to see pictures of the accommodations, hotel amenities, restaurant, and business facilities. Special focus should be paid to the hotel’s location, including the surrounding area and local attractions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Increasing Hotel Conversion With Web Design - Part 1

Increasing Hotel Conversion With Web Design - Part 1

 

In the highly competitive hospitality industry today there are so many online channels available to the traveling public to book hotel stays. Studies have found that consumers will look at a variety of websites, including hotel sites, before making their final travel arrangements. It is therefore highly critical for hotels to leverage their websites to the fullest extent possible. Hotel website design must be geared toward the goal of converting those site visitors to book their stay on-site. In this two part series we will examine some of the web design elements which will maximize the conversion rate for hotels.

 

Navigation

 

How users navigate around the website to find the information they need to make an informed travel decision is probably what is most important to customers. If they find a site frustrating to use they will leave and book elsewhere, even if they prefer a particular hotel or chain. Simple, clean, clear and concise, these are all words which should describe a hotel’s website. The website must be easily navigated with information flowing intuitively in a logical manner. If the final objective of the website is to drive users to booking in house, then it must be an easy to follow process for them to get there. Everything a customer would need to see for booking the hotel, should be clearly visible on and navigable from the main menu.

 

Compatibility                    

 

The explosion in recent years of mobile technology and the myriad of different browsers used on the web today has created potential compatibility issues for any website. No longer can sites be designed solely around fitting on a desktop, or even a laptop, screen. Users expect to be able to view and book a hotel from any size device, especially smartphones and tablets. The answer lies in responsive web design which can detect and then conform itself to whatever device or browser the user chooses. Any hotel website which does not look and function properly on all formats will lose revenue as customers are driven to book elsewhere.

 

                                     

SEO

 

This is a touch and go area now with Google penalizing websites that use keywords in their sites. However, keywords centered around terms which customers find useful and add value to their experience are acceptable and encouraged by the search engine. This should include both broad search terms in addition to highly specific ‘money’ keywords. Use caution and restraint in their use to avoid conflict with Google. 

 

Testimonials

 

It is extremely important in the hospitality industry for guest testimonials to be displayed where they can be readily seen on the hotel’s website. This is crucial because it will instill trust in potential guests and build credibility for the hotel. Testimonials can be a powerful driving force behind increased hotel website conversion rates.


These are just a few factors to be taken into account on any successful hotel website. In part 2 of this series, we will consider some more elements.


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Friday, August 1, 2014

Increasing Hotel Conversion By Reducing Choices

Increasing Hotel Conversion By Reducing Choices 


With the intense level of competition in the hospitality industry and the rate drain from online travel agencies, it is imperative for hotels to gain as many room bookings as possible from visitors to their website. While attempting to increase the amount of traffic flowing to a hotel’s website may seem like the right answer, this is more often a difficult process due to other platforms competing for the attention of consumers. The most effective technique for gaining leverage on the hotel’s website is to increase the conversion rate of the site.

Hotel website visitors come to explore what the hotel has to offer and consider booking a stay. This is the critical moment, with a captive audience, which must be capitalized upon. Too often site users are confronted with multiple options leading to their confusion and indecision. A hotel website should be sharply focused on the true goal of driving bookings directly. Studies have shown conclusively that consumers will not make a choice if given too many things to choose from. Many psychologists have also stated that human nature actually has an aversion to a myriad of choices, which leaves people feeling overwhelmed.

How Less Choice Can Mean More Conversions

All content present on a hotel site should be designed with conversion as the only objective. Everything else on the website is diverting attention from what should be the focus, which is, driving direct hotel bookings. Once again, research in human behavior shows that people literally become overwhelmed and experience anxiety if given too many selections. Instead of confusion, website users should find a simple call to action, which makes booking their stay clearly their best choice.


The call to action, in this case, the reservation or book now button, should jump out from the page’s other content and grab the user's attention, above all else. This can be enhanced with the use of bright colors, such as, red for the button. Additionally, call to action buttons should be placed above the fold so it can be seen without scrolling and large enough to stand apart from the other page content. Another highly effective and desirable technique is to place the book a reservation button near stunning visual images that will steer the user toward the call to action.

Keeping the hotel website firmly centered on the goal of direct bookings should be the focal point of all hoteliers. The website must be designed to make it perfectly clear for users to see the wisdom of booking now rather than elsewhere at a later time. Small changes to the website, especially in the form of re-focusing users through a reduction in choices, can improve conversion dramatically, and lead to substantial revenue growth.


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