Balancing high-tech and high-touch top marketing concerns

New York – The annual Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International’s (HSMAI) roundtable is a meeting of the minds, one that seeks to capture the themes and threads in sales and marketing that best exemplify the hotel industry now and its changes over time. This year, participants discussed themes, trends and challenges hospitality marketers face. The greatest difficulty for marketers comes from the adoption of new technology, the roundtable agreed, though they also discussed how hotels can turn that obstacle into an advantage.

Current trends

Technology is the driving force behind these marketing trends, and marketers must be able to integrate it into everything they do. According to Bob Gilbert, president and CEO of HSMAI, the integration of marketing efforts across multiple devices has evolved into a complicated challenge that no one saw coming. However, Gilbert reminds marketers that while technology is prevalent, it isn’t the only influencing trend. HSMAI identified the following as major trends that have affected the hospitality industry over the last five years.

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* Greater focus on data: With a wealth of analytics flooding into the hotel sector from different technology touchpoints, data is readily available and can be used to peek inside the mind of the guest to learn what they want.

* Technology integration: “A brand has to appear the same digitally no matter where a customer goes to look for it,” Gilbert said. Tablets, phones and laptops all display websites differently, and consumers use them frequently during travel. Additionally, as many transient bookings are made on the go using mobile devices, the look and utility of a brand or hotel’s website can affect a sale.

* The movement from controlling a digital environment to enabling it to flourish: Allowing guests to discuss your property online and relay concerns and praise is an organic way to have your property sell itself.

* Increased customer engagement: Guests cannot be ignored, and addressing problems and concerns up-front is an effective way to build stronger bonds with guests. Speaking with guests also helps a property understand where improvements can be made, and can help a hotel gather information quickly.

* Greater emphasis on digital media: Hotels are now tasked with looking at information technology as something that can make or break a property. What can guests learn from you before they visit your property?

* New disruptors: “Industry disruptors change consumer perspectives on how they shop,” Gilbert said, citing HotelTonight and Airbnb. Knowledge of disruptors, even fringe ones, helps marketers recognize the spectrum of customer expectations.

* Closer relationships between the CEO and CIO: “CEOs are spending more time with their CIOs, and that shows how business has changed,” Gilbert said. The CIO has their fingers on the pulse of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to technology in hotels. “These factors are critical from a brand standpoint,” Gilbert said.

* Reduced forecast periods: Because of fast information gathering, hotels can track changes in the industry on a smaller scale and are also shortening their forecasting periods from five years down to one or two to account for this deluge of information.

* The future of technology is now: Customer expectations for technology have changed, thanks to trends like Netflix and readily available home bandwidth. Guests see free Wi-Fi at economy and midscale properties and want it everywhere now.

Future challenges

The global economy has seen improvement over the past few years. As hotel rates begin to stabilize, HSMAI determined the following 12 challenges most pressing for the industry:

* Integrating marketing efforts into all of a company’s operations: Playing into the increased emphasis on data and technology, marketing should never be far from a hotel’s services or amenities.

* Sourcing locally: Sustainability and green travel are buzzwords, with many guests making travel decisions around the operational decisions of a property. Sourcing locally can also save on the bottom line.

*Becoming an advocate for the traveler: Travelers want you to know you are on their side, so find your niche and make them feel needed.

* Continuing the evolution of the mobile presence: Tablets, smartphones and laptops will all be searching your hotel website, and your website needs to look great across all these platforms. A site that is cumbersome on a phone or ugly on a tablet is not going to create an appealing image for your hotel.

* Giving the customer more value: Just because guests are staying at an economy hotel doesn’t mean they want to feel like they are staying in an economy hotel. Updated design goes a long way to help a property’s image in the eyes of guests.

* Dealing with frustratingly stagnant rates despite high demand: STR is expecting more aggressive rate growth to occur throughout 2014. Glibert said brands need to approach rate growth on a market-by-market basis, and look into areas that are below the industry average while receiving major supply increases.

* Balancing digital marketing with emotional connections: Using guest data, brands can track their truly loyal guests and reward them, or find areas or properties that are underperforming and track why that is occurring. Using hard data, hotels can learn why guests are not connecting with them and change their tune.

* Creating a platform that showcases the brand: Place your brand front and center digitally and make it appealing. Regardless of chain scale, the brand must have the appearance of style to catch a guest’s eye.

* Using social media in a nuanced and sophisticated way: Social media can give unparalleled access to your customer base, and that is a good and bad thing. Brands must use restraint and patience when dealing with online users, even when keeping things light and fun, because a PR disaster could be just one click away.

* Finding and maintaining talent: A correlation can be found between having the right people in revenue-driving positions and high-performing hotels, meaning properties need to refine their searches for talent, and pay attention to retention.

* Delivering the message appropriately for the Asian market: “Brands should be careful to market themselves to the appropriate distribution channels,” Gilbert said, specifically referring to the recent influx of Chinese travelers, and that means providing the right amenities and services that they find appealing.

* Working with other suppliers to share data: Sharing data with suppliers is mutually beneficial. It can provide access to data on traveler preferences that would otherwise be out of reach. 

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