Friday, October 31, 2014

Disruptive Technologies And The Hospitality Industry - 1

A Short History of Disruption

The history of humankind is replete with examples of discoveries and innovations that proved to be so transformative, that life was never the same once the permanent change it brought about gained traction. Disruptive technologies come from developments that completely displace a previous technology considered the standard. Disruptive technologies can sometimes transform our lives, but always have the power to radically change markets or even create whole new markets. Over the last one hundred plus years these disruptions have become more frequent and undeniably profound.

 

The Airplane

Without a doubt the first flights by Orville and Wilbur Wright over the sand dunes of coastal North Carolina in 1903 amounted to one of the most disruptive technological developments of all time. It did not take very long after the Wright brother’s flights for airlines to be established that were not only flying people across country, but around the world as well. These disruptions made the world a significantly smaller place, with anywhere on the planet only hours away instead of the days, weeks or months previously endured by travelers. Not only did the airplane shrink down the relative size of our world, but also it also completely displaced two established industries. Since the advent of manned flight, railroads and ships have been predominantly used to transport only cargo and not people.

 

The Microprocessor

Measured against the timeframe of the history of humankind, the development of the microprocessor is a recent event. It was not long ago that the space required for the computing power of today’s laptop was a whole roomful of computer hardware. The microprocessor enabled everyone to have the computing capability that was previously only reserved for large corporations or the government. CPUs, as microprocessors are also known, continue to evolve by getting smaller while gaining in computing power. The ongoing developments with CPUs provide an example of what is called a sustaining innovation. With this disruptive technological advancement the groundwork of the future was truly laid.

 

The Internet

This disruption was made possible by the development of the microprocessor as well, but is a separate disruption unto itself. Also, like the airplane, the Internet has served to shrink our world even further from the perspective of shared knowledge and the free flow of information across our planet. The development of the Internet has had wide ranging impact beyond mere communication. The rise of eCommerce has changed the face of business forever. This in turn has caused the demise of some conventional sales methodology, particularly brick and mortar store locations. The best example of this probably is the business powerhouse, Amazon. This is a company with a stated a goal of selling and delivering virtually anything consumers would need or want to buy. Their ongoing success, entirely made possible by the Internet, has probably displaced innumerable businesses of all sizes.

The Internet has also made possible the social media explosion over the last ten years or so, with its own significant influence on our society. The internet continues to grow and evolve in areas unforeseen at its inception in the forms of mobile technology and the interaction between machines themselves, the so called “internet of things” The development of an electronic internet, which connects every corner of the world, may very well be the most dominant disruptive technology of the last century.

These are merely a few examples of importantly disruptive technological developments in relatively recent history, there are others from our past and there will be many more going forward. Each those mentioned has had far reaching repercussions for the travel and hospitality industries. In the next part we will look back at disruption specifically related to hospitality.

 


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Friday, October 24, 2014

Social Media For The Hospitality Industry - 2

Methods of Leveraging Social Media for Hotels

 

Social media is not at all like traditional marketing tools and is not conducive to being utilized for direct sales of hotel lodging availability. Return on investment for social media marketing is nearly impossible for hotels to measure, yet the alternative of not having a social network presence is almost an unacceptable situation in today’s marketing environment. That being a given, some other methods must be applied by hoteliers to effectively leverage the online social medium. These methods should be centered around building relationships between hotel brands and their customers through engagement and the sharing of content on both sides of the sales equation.

 

  1. Promotions and Offers

 

Facebook and other social networks are not effective tools for the direct sales of hotel lodging. However, they can make great platforms for the offering of special promotional deals for followers of the brand. This technique is beneficial for a hotel in several ways. To begin with, every time a follower clicks “like” for a hotel’s Facebook page or anything posted by the hotel, this is then passed on to the follower’s friends who in turn see the brand and the offer. This process acts as a recommendation coming from a trusted friend, rather than an in-your-face advertisement. Over time, promoting hotel brands in this manner can prove to be a powerful device for building brand loyalty as well.

 

2. Customer Service

 

The hospitality industry is built around providing exceptional customer service. The hotel brand social media accounts should not be any different. Customer service begins with listening to what customers are saying, followed by the promise of improvements to come and then delivering on those promises. This is the progression to be followed when implementing excellent service through social media just as much as practiced on hotel property. Customers both online or in person respond positively to such service. Once again, in time this will serve the hotel well by instilling loyalty to the brand in its customers. It is also a way of indirectly promoting the hotel to others that see customer service excellence in action.

 

3. Communicate With Guests

 

Some hotels are even taking customer service through social media to new levels of excellence. They are accomplishing such outstanding service by offering online concierge services via Twitter, and keeping their guests updated with events being held at the hotel and local area as well, through Facebook. These services provide the hotel with outstanding platforms for direct communication with their customers both on and off property, building customer loyalty even further.


The last part of this series will examine a few more methods for hoteliers to leverage social media for their hotel brands.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Social Media For The Hospitality Industry - 1

Why Social Media Matters

Social media has had a tremendous impact on, not only the hospitality industry, but virtually all businesses across the globe. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have transformed interpersonal communication and provided a new means for consumers to connect and interact with the brands they patronize. The medium is here to stay and has proved to be not a fad as some would argue. But just why it is so imperative for hotels; to not only have a social media presence, but be actively engaged; isn’t always clear to hoteliers struggling with return on investment. A recently released study by PhoCusWright called “The State of Social Media in Travel” sheds some light on social media’s importance to the hospitality industry.

Social media marketing cannot be thought of in a traditionally rigid, direct sales approach. One of the major findings of the new PhoCusWright research is the fact that over 70 percent of travel companies with an Internet booking engine on Facebook receive less than 5 percent of all their bookings from the platform. Furthermore, 64 percent gather less than 1 percent of their direct bookings from Facebook, which is the most popular social channel. Clearly, direct sales is not where social media’s significance lies for the hospitality industry. Measuring every click a potential hotel customer makes on any social channel, leading to a direct transaction, will not yield much in the way of return on investment numbers.

What is significant for hotels is the fact of their guest’s presence across a spectrum of social media networks. These hotel customers are on their favorite social platforms talking about their travel experiences with their friends and sharing photos. They are going on review websites and sharing their thoughts, both positive and negative, regarding their hotel stays. They are looking for and expecting to find the presence of their favorite brands, including hotels and other travel related companies, on social media. The traveling public seeks a connection with the hotel brands they love as they engage with them. Additionally, travelers like to plan their trips around reading reviews and comments from other travelers.

These statements are all supported by and revealed in the new PhoCusWright study. According to their research, Facebook is still the most favored social network by far, at 80 percent with U.S. respondents, for travelers to share their experiences. However many other platforms are gaining usage as well. Over 30 percent of all travelers post to social networks during their travels. While nearly that many are looking for travel related deals on those platforms. As far as connecting with travel related brands, nearly one out of every five “like or “follow” travel brands on their social networks.

Social media matters to the hospitality industry because it is where their customers are present, seeking to connect with and be engaged by hotels as a travel destination. If hotel brands, both large and small, are not to be found on social channels the conversation will go on without them. In the next few parts of this series we will explore ways for hotel brands to most effectively leverage social media and achieve their objectives for the medium.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Website Design For Independent Hotels - 3

When potential hotel guests find the website of an independent hotel for a location they are interested in staying, it would be a shame if they were driven away by a clunky, outdated website that is nothing more than an old fashioned travel brochure. The usability of a hotel website can be the decisive factor in determining its success. Travelers have come to expect user friendly websites for the planning and booking of their hotel accommodations, and have little patience for sites that don’t meet their needs in short order. High expectations are also extended to the appearance of hotel websites from an aesthetic perspective as well.

Usability
Mobile technology and its rate of usage by the traveling public have skyrocketed in just the last few years. Internet users demand and expect to have the ability to view and effectively use websites from any type of device with access to the web. This means an independent hotel needs to ensure that their website not only looks good, but functions well whether the user is viewing it from a desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
The answer to this situation for website designers lies in what is called responsive design. Websites utilizing responsive design can detect and then conform to the device or browser of the user’s choosing. An independent hotel website that does not look and function properly across the wide spectrum of devices and formats will give up potential revenue when customers are driven to book their hotel elsewhere.

Visually Engaging
Many of the types of potential hotel guests that would be likely to book a stay at an independently owned and operated hotel, make those decisions based on an emotional response. Independent hotels should tap into that potential to the fullest by giving the customer what they seeking - a visually emotional experience.
Website users should be engaged with high quality and resolution images that are pleasing to the eye in an artistic manner. Use professional photography to capture all that is appealing and outstanding about the hotel property, its surroundings, and amenities. Make sure all the various rooms and suites by price are attractively presented in the hotel website booking engine. Also maintain a consistent brand image across all website pages and through the entire process of booking the hotel to completion.

Independent hotels are in a unique position of being a truly local hotel brand in their respective communities. Using that position as leverage to gaining market share and keeping pace with the large hotel chains should be their forte.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Website Design For Independent Hotels - 2

Even if an independent hotel website has at its heart an online booking engine, it will not be very effective for driving hotel revenue if no one can find it. Being present online, yet invisible to potential guests, is certainly not a feature of highly successful independent hotel websites. Website visibility is attained a number of different ways, all of which should be practiced for full effectiveness.

 

Search Engine Optimization - SEO

With the overwhelming majority of travelers looking for hotel accommodations via search engines, it is absolutely critical for independent hotels to rank at or near the top of search results. Additionally, most Internet users will never look beyond the first page of listings, making SEO even more important to an independent hotels website marketing efforts.

Google is by far the leading search engine and will change its search algorithms from time to time, which makes SEO an un-exact science. However, Google AdWords, is a helpful resource for finding relevant industry keywords to sprinkle throughout website content. Beware of overdoing the keywords or the site will be penalized by Google in the form of lowered ranking for “keyword stuffing”. Keywords centered around useful content that adds value to the user’s experience is rewarded by the search engine. These should include broad search terms mixed with highly specific keywords.

 

Content

Providing website users with fresh, relevant, and engaging content on a consistent basis will always pay off in the search rankings, while bringing users back again and again to the site as well. An independent hotel should be blogging regularly about a wide range of topics of interest and relevance to hotel guests. A local hotel can establish for themselves a reputation as an authority about their local area as a travel destination. This provides a both a service to website users and a clear marketing benefit to the hotel.

 

Social Media

Having a varied mix of social media network accounts and using them to engage with followers is essential for independent hotels to build a relationship with their customers. But there are other less obvious benefits for building a hotel presence on social channels. They can be a useful tool in link building and social sharing buttons can be offered which will spread the virtual word about the hotel in many directions. Also Google’s own social network, Google , offers a free platform called Google Local. A presence there for a local independent hotel is practically a requirement since Google will merge the Local page with the website, while simultaneously raising the website’s search ranking.

 

OTAs - The Billboard Effect

Although they may charge very high fees for the hotel bookings they do make, online travel agencies (OTAs) do provide a platform for showcasing a hotel property to traveling public at large. This often leads to what is called the “billboard effect”. The hotel is seen by large numbers of potential guests as if it posted atop an online billboard. Many times, but not always, this leads to customers who are ready to buy to visit the website and book their stay on the hotel’s own website.


In the last part of this series we will delve into both visual and usability aspects of website design for independent hotels.


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Friday, October 3, 2014

Website Design For Independent Hotels - Part 1 of 3

Travelers are now making the overwhelming majority of their travel decisions online, many via mobile devices. But whether the booking decision is made on a desktop computer at home, or on-the-go via smartphone, these transactions have one thing in common - a website. Independent hotels must offer their customers a viable online booking alternative to the online travel agencies. Antiquated websites that are nothing more than travel brochures, featuring poor quality images and lacking a direct booking option, are not going to help independent hotels keep pace with the big brand chains. There are a number of features always found on effective hotel websites and this series will analyze each of them.

Call To Action/Booking Engine
It is imperative for every independent hotel website to have, at its heart, calls to action pointing the way for users to book their stays directly onsite. The ultimate goal of any hotel website design should be to drive direct hotel bookings. Anything short of reaching the objective of conversion is missing what should be the point of having a website. So the focus of any independent hotel website needs to be on converting the site visitors into paying hotel guests.

The website booking engine must be present on all pages of the site. Potential guests can be anywhere on the hotel’s website when they complete their decision and decide to book now. Their booking process should always begin from the page they are currently viewing. Therefore a button, and associated calls to action, taking users directly into the buying process is required on every page. The booking engine should give the hotel the flexibility to make changes easily so specific offers and promotions may be presented to users. Availability must be readily apparent as well to customers.  This is best displayed in an interactive calendar format. Availability and pricing need to be tied to high quality property images of individual room selections. Specific calls to action can also be added based on availability, for example “only 2 rooms left at this price”.

It is critical for the entire booking process to be simple and straightforward, requiring minimal steps along the way. Nothing should obstruct the pathway for future guests to book their hotel stay directly. The user must have the ability to not only book on the website, but make changes to their itinerary or cancel all together as well. It is also equally vital for an independent hotel to maintain strict rate parity across all online channels, between their website, and on the property. It is acceptable to offer channel specific promotions, but extremely important to identify them as such. If the potential hotel guests find a rate disparity they will book elsewhere or maybe even not at all.

The presence of an Internet booking engine (IBE) on an independent hotel website can be the ultimate deciding factor in its success or failure. As crucial as the IBE is, there are many other features which go into making an effective independent hotel website which will be discussed in the up coming parts of this series.

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