AH&LA head on how to own the digital conversation

(Booking Channels)

Katherine Lugar, the president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the largest trade association representing the U.S. lodging industry, has been a strong and prolific voice in Washington, D.C., leading the hospitality industry through a labyrinth of issues that continue to challenge it on a daily basis. None more prevalent than the digital landscape: How hotels connect with customers along the booking pathway.

In this column exclusive to Hotel Management, Lugar discusses some of these challenges and offers ways for hoteliers to maximize revenues.

Katherine Lugar, CEO, AH&LA

There’s no question that the never-ending changes in technology continually shift the way consumers interact with hotels. New and emerging digital, mobile and social travel options are drawing consumers’ attention, and hotels are determining how to best connect with those consumers on these emerging distribution channels. Determining what digital resources to invest in—or where to cut back—is a daily challenge.

Today’s consumer visits seven to 10 websites before purchasing a hotel reservation: a clear indication that there is a large variety of online options available for hotels’ marketing budgets. Using the power of data to best understand how to maximize channel investments to drive new and recurring business while controlling customer acquisition costs may seem like an endless battle, but demystifying the digital marketplace just got a little bit easier.

Kalibri Labs recently released the first of a series of reports to help hoteliers navigate the dynamic digital landscape and maximize revenue growth. Unprecedented in scope and scale, the most comprehensive and extensive research ever published on this issue reveals a rapidly shifting industry: We are currently experiencing the consolidation of online travel agencies, the emergence of sharing economy lodging options and creative new usage of social, mobile and search technologies for booking travel. Yet these industry dynamics are providing new and exciting opportunities for hoteliers to cement the relationship with their customers, while lowering customer acquisition costs and remaining competitive with online travel agencies.

Armed with this data, opportunity is ripe to bolster the direct-to-hotel booking process and own the conversation with the consumer. Indeed, our industry is no stranger to innovation, as we’ve historically operated under a fierce competitive spirit to advance new trends, ground-breaking investments, high-tech guest services, social media campaigns and creative models—all aimed at better serving our guests. Now more than ever, hotels recognize that the hotel experience, unlike many products sold digitally, is a deeply personal one for consumers and our industry understands the need to anticipate our guests’ wants and needs. Hotels know that the true hotel experience isn’t only that period of time between check-in and check-out; it begins when they start their hotel research, continues through booking and arrival and extends after the visit ends.

Simply put, the data before us disclose that there can be many touch points to drive a conversation, build a relationship and instill loyalty—all areas where a hotel can rise above the competition to create even more meaningful consumer experiences and relationships. It’s an exciting time to release such cutting-edge research as our industry takes a thoughtful look at how to best develop property content, control costs and create the experiences that consumers are demanding. When hotels own the conversation with their customers, they always come out on top. And there’s no doubt that capitalizing on the digital experience will be a key factor in empowering that success and driving our industry forward.