The theme of this year’s Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference is data. The tone was set from the beginning when data artist Jer Thorpe took the stage for the show’s keynote address to discuss his life’s mission to visualize data as an art form. In more concrete terms, data can be used to analyze the guest experience, but are hotels looking at this data in a way that is helpful?
According to Katie Briscoe, EVP of client services with MMGY Global, 35 percent of travelers downloaded booking applications in 2015, and of them 45 percent made a booking. In addition, consumer engagement on social media channels continues to climb on all fronts aside from LinkedIn, which is retracting. Briscoe’s research also shows that 90 percent of travelers share information about their trip through photos, and 75 percent of travelers share their travel experiences post-trip on social media.
But what does this mean? Briscoe said hospitality professionals have to work harder to meet consumers in their target market and investigate ways to appeal to them. This is because the way hotels are portrayed online is no longer controlled by the hotels themselves, thanks to the proliferation of online reviews and how much weight they carry with the average consumer. “Gone are the days when the brand could speak first,” Briscoe said.
No one is suggesting hotels aren’t spending money to see this happen. In fact, Briscoe estimated that marketers are spending 500 percent more on marketing to millennials than every other demographic combined. But is it working?
“We’ve made some mistakes with millennials,” Briscoe said. “Their segment is more diverse than we thought. We have to rethink biases about how intermediaries impact business. It’s a tough thing to say after the last seven years.”
The Next Generation
Hotels need to get used to this idea, Briscoe said, because the generation coming after millennials is going to be even more difficult to nail down. Known as “Generation Z,” and comprising those currently aged five to 20, this generation will comprise 40 percent of the population in five years and will be attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors. And while she didn’t go into the myriad possible causes, this Generation Z is expected to have an attention span for marketing of roughly eight seconds, down from the theorized 12 seconds possessed by millennials, presenting even more challenges.
The app space is another one that is seeing diminishing returns. Briscoe’s data shows that as of 2015, only 10 percent of apps that are downloaded are ever used more than once, suggesting hotels should think twice before considering the development of another app. Even more interesting, a survey from MMGY found that 93 percent of travelers found human touch to be irreplaceable, and 90 percent of respondents desire meaningful human interaction from hotel brands. Sean Cohen, creative director with TravelClick, expanded on this notion by suggesting that hotels are failing their guests in many ways by focusing too much on the booking process in a bid to beat online travel agencies to the punch while forgetting about the power they have over a guest’s stay.
“You are spending an insane amount of money getting people in the door, and spending less money to do things with them,” Cohen said. “The people who have decided to book with you… you don’t have to convince them anymore. They want to spend their money, but right now they don’t do it through hotels. They go out. You should be the relationship that makes the destination work with them.”
Cohen said that forming this relationship could be viewed as difficult because consumers are “remarkably non-specific” when it comes to describing happiness, but there is other data that can be looked to in support of his theories. One study found that on-property activity is directly correlated to whether or not guests booked directly, finding that guests who made direct bookings made on average 29 percent more purchase requests on-property than those who booked through OTAs. When considering restaurant menu orders, those who booked direct ordered food on property three times as often, and to Cohen this is an indicator that loyalty works.
A Better Process
How can hotels capitalize on this data? According to Cohen, the problem is a result of a failure in the entire booking process. He referenced Amazon, which made the decision to not delete its customer’s shopping cart between purchases. For Amazon, that shopping cart represents the intent to buy, and 20 percent of the company’s revenue comes from purchases left to sit in digital shopping carts. A further 39 percent of the company’s revenue comes from recommendations made about past purchases, which is data hotels can learn from.
Cohen left the talk asking hotels to become ambassadors for their location, suggesting in an imaginary example a hotel located near the convention center in New Orleans. Cohen said there was nothing stopping the front desk at a nearby hotel from suggesting a bar to guests following an event, and arranging an event or discount with the bar for the hotel’s guests. In his observations, many guests are currently not responding to offsite hotel offerings because they don’t speak to the guests.
“What people do after hours in [New Orleans] is obvious to hotel operators,” Cohen said. “They know where people go; you need to create a situation where you offer them exactly what they want. That person at your hotel who knows everything and has been there for 30 years? Give them a raise and put them in charge of your incremental revenue.”