By Mike Garvin
There was a time when a website was viewed as nothing more than a digital brochure. Hoteliers had one goal: putting heads in beds. They approached website development with a "take it or leave it" attitude, mostly because they lacked the human resources and knowledge base to execute it. There was also the uncertainty that guests -- whomever they were and wherever they came from -- would even use it to find your hotel; after all, travel agents were being paid to drive traffic to the hotel, right? The year was 1999.
Fast forward 15 years. We are now cohabitating with the Internet of Things (IoT); a digital universe where the web, mobile and the physical world meet, and people access information about everything from anywhere at any time on a variety of personal mobile devices. Today, 90 percent of the land surface has a mobile phone signal, making mobility and the Internet a truly global phenomenon. As hoteliers busily begin budgeting for 2015, many are working hard to grasp how to take advantage of this new mobile world centered around sharing, convenience, a sense of control and individuality. It's fast paced, it’s accepting, and it can be non forgiving.
Consider this recent snapshot of my life: You're in your hotel room in Las Vegas, preparing for tomorrow's presentation. Your 12-year-old daughter sends you a text, asking you for FaceTime. As she tells you "in person" about the game her team just won . . . the boyfriend she just broke up with . . . and the joke she just heard in school, you see your wife in the background. As you shout "Hello, baby!" she waves back and leans over your daughter's shoulder to ask if you received her text about Friday night. And says: "Oh by the way, we need another iPad. Our two-and-a-half year old twins no longer feel they can share one device." This is plus side of mobility instant connectivity, video, pictures sharing with family, friends and business.The IoT can also be intrusive and overwhelming. You may have to put down your mobile device once and awhile to reset your compass, but the bottom line is that you are a huge fan -- and so are the 6.5 billion mobile device users around the world today -- and growing. People, especially your hotel guests, expect to be accessed and their information routinely shared as a part of everyday lives. To remain competitive in 2015 and beyond, hoteliers need to budget wisely. This doesn't mean just adopting a mobile strategy; it means leveraging mobile device technology and the IoT to remain engaged with your guests from the instant a reservation is made and throughout the lifecycle of the customer journey.
As a true advocate of mobility for the sake of guest engagement, I suggest adding the following three items to your capital budget for the coming year:
1. Budget for Cell Signal Enhancement
Are your guests able to send and receive phone calls and text messages while on property? You had better hope so. Just because guests aren't complaining about dropped calls on comment cards as much as they are about slow or non-existent bandwidth, they are complaining -- on social media. If your customers can't make or receive calls on the devices they depend on the most, they won't come back. Worse yet, negative reviews on the social channels and on dedicated review sites will ensure that potential prospects will simply disappear -- especially meeting planners who don't want to be inundated with complaints from their 300 delegates (which equates to a loss of 600 roomnights or more). Unless you operate a 1,000-room city center hotel, the cellular carriers won't be knocking on your door to assist with the problem. The problem rests with the owner or management company to get cellular coverage under control. Don't panic! Hospitality-specific cellular solutions are available, and for less than .70 cents per square foot, the issue of drop calls can be gone forever.
2. Budget for Mobile Apps with Embedded GEO Location Technology
Don't invest in mobile or native apps for marketing or branding sake alone; rather invest in mobile apps for "engagement" sake. Mobile apps are not going away. . . they are not a dollar-for-dollar return on investment . . . nor are they a discounting tool. Rather, mobile apps -- when used properly -- are a guest-engagement tool. If you give travelers an incentive to download your app from the minute they make their reservations, you will then have weeks to communicate with them and upsell them on your services before they step foot through your door. An app is only successful if it is shared and makes people feel comfortable using it. The smart money is on investing in apps that include GEO location.
Using GPS, Latitude/Longitude positioning, Bluetooth BLE 4.0, NFC and WiFi technologies, hoteliers can locate guests inside and outside the property and send them personalized messages by SMS, or Push via the hotel's Mobile App. The GEO-Location component can easily be added to any existing app to drive incremental revenues and provide a faster ROI. It simultaneously increases guest satisfaction, builds loyalty and improves your bottom line. GEO Location provides the business intelligence that may be lacking from an existing mobile app. It not only tells hoteliers where on property the guest is, but it sparks the question: "What can I do for him or her based on his or her location?" Perhaps you can check the guest in remotely while he or she is still at the airport; have a room key ready when he or she walk through the door; better yet, ask the guest to share with you a couple preferences on what he or she would like and want to experience while with you. GEO-Location compiles information on your guests that when combined with pre-existing business rules can be very powerful and flexible to motivate your guests to action and encourage them to spend additional dollars.
3. Budget for Immersive Technology
One of the best ways to engage with guests before they arrive is by offering interactive virtual property tours enabling potential guests to remotely experience every aspect of the hotel, resort or even city, as if they were actually there. Using immersive technology, hoteliers, event sales teams and tourism bureaus are able to place travelers in the center of each desired location and surround them with visual elements that make their brand unique. Using virtual reality, overhead drone footage, GoPro cameras, educational videos and and embedded interactive promotional, directional and informational buttons, immersive luxury tours can be embedded in the property’s website, app or individual portions to be used as a sales tool giving potential guests and meeting planners a fresh way to experience the property remotely from an all-encompassing perspective. From guestrooms and meeting rooms to ski slopes and golf course panoramas, visitors will experience every accommodation, attraction and event space as if they were physically standing on location. To be truly engaging and keep people’s attention, marketers need to bring their property, brand, convention center, city center and overall destination to life.
While there are many more guest-engagement tools that will enhance your customer's experience and improve hotel-to-guest communications, these three will make the biggest difference in customer loyalty and the bottom line in the shortest amount of time. Today's guests have limited time, attention and patience. They are relying on the experts -- the hoteliers and destination managers -- to capture relevant information that is important to them to make their stay's exceptional. If you don't, they simply won't return. Before signing off on your 2015 capital expenditures, it's wise to consult with hospitality's mobile engagement expert to ensure that you are on the right track financial track for the new year.
About Mike Garvin
Mike Garvin is founder and president of RoamingAround, a Boston-based provider of a suite of mobile engagement solutions designed specifically for the hospitality industry. Today, your guests live their lives on their mobile devices, and that’s precisely where you need to reach them—before someone else does. From large conference hotels and upscale resorts to independent, intimate boutique properties, RoamingAround’s powerful mobile engagement options can be customized for your property’s individual goals, are compatible with every device on the market and feature vital customer profile and back-end tracking tools for predictive analysis and measurable results. More information can be found by visiting www.RoamingAround.com.