The hotel industry’s innovation challenge was on full display at last week’s HSMAI Digital Marketing and Strategy Conference in New York City.
On the one hand, keynote session attendees listen with rapt attention to Google’s chief evangelist of brand marketing, Gopi Kallayil, as he provides examples and statistics about "assistance as the new battleground" and to closing keynote David Atkins’s counsel about the changes artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles will bring to the industry.
On the other, attendees identify with hotel leaders’ challenges in implementing innovation at their organizations, nodding in agreement to obstacles like corporate culture and the inability to sometimes even master the basics.
Multiple sessions discuss the importance of meeting expectations before, during and after the guest’s experience, while at the same time, attendees acknowledge their struggle with fundamentals like content.
And while audience live-polling results show they’re most interested in A.I., Internet Of Things and voice as trends on the horizon, at present they’re still trying to figure out revenue management and campaign optimization.
The juxtaposed desire to innovate with the acknowledged laggard nature of the industry highlights the challenges today’s hoteliers face.
Still, hospitality tends to be an optimistic industry, and according to live audience polling results, this year’s HSMAI attendees skew no different:
In his keynote, Google’s Kallayil likens our smartphones to an additional organ of the human body, one that’s connected to all publicly available knowledge and serves people in multiple ways: a watch, a wallet, a camera, a remote control and so on.
This pervasiveness, Kallayil asserts, has created “rapid, cultural shifts and changed the way people expect things from their brands,” making people more curious, demanding, and impatient.
This shift will continue to place pressure on hotels to meet guest expectations, before, during and after their stays.
Last year, Google saw 150+ billion searches, 50% of which were from mobile, 20% from voice and 20% of which were never before searched.
The solution to consumers’ changing expectations for hoteliers?
- To leverage their unique and plentiful access – “touchpoints”– with guests; to anticipate mobile-enabled needs by being present, quick and personal
- To recognize and prepare for guest expectations driven by digital innovations popularized in other industries - the Amazon or Netflix effect, for instance.
Yet despite this advice, hotelier 2019 budget increases got the biggest bump in good, old fashioned paid media:
Overcoming personalization’s creepiness factor
Despite the promise of personalization, even HSMAI attendees and Executive Perspective panelists acknowledge their own discomfort with overt personalization.
“It’s a balance between qual and quant, explains Tammy Lucas, vice president of marketing for Best Western Hotels and Resorts. “That’s where the A.I. conversation is so interesting.
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"We’ve got to be creative. We have to go back to asking our customers what they want. Remember you’re a customer, too,” she says.
To combat the creepiness factor, Radisson Hotel Group has built a database of 250 fields upon its CRM that looks at behavior of the guest as they’re interacting with the brand.
“This allows us to be smarter with offers being made to prospective guests so they don’t feel like they’re being irrationally stalked round the web,” says Radisson’s interim chief commercial officer in the Americas, Flo Lugli.
The strong interest in personalization by HSMAI attendees, however, may account for why nary a seat is available in the subsequent breakout session, Traveler Trends and Booking Behaviors: Actionable Data and Insights for Hoteliers.
Considering the explosive growth of voice-enabled devices in just the past year alone and developments by the tech giants into guest services (Alexa for Hospitality) and hotel bookings (Google), the interest in voice optimization seems low… perhaps because even most conference attendees indicate they wouldn’t personally want an Alexa in their hotel room.
But they’re missing the point, and that is that use of voice search continues to skyrocket and industry experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before Google begins monetizing the primary voice search result.
When that happens, it will even further reduce options for advertisers. Indeed, how does a brand compete when Google (or Alexa) responds with a single option answer to a query like: “Where’s the closest hotel to BWI Airport?” and that answer isn’t your property?
The solution may be in revisiting the hotel industry’s weakness in innovation.
“The only way to succeed at innovating,” advises closing keynote Atkins, “is by not firing the team that tried something and failed. Just know when to cut your losses.”