The guest experience is often mentioned over and over by CEOs and senior hotel executives as the key to success in today’s market.
The recent 35th annual edition of the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference was no different, with David Kong, CEO of Best Western Hotels claiming:
"We see a direct correlation between experience and guest loyalty; between satisfaction and the likelihood our hotels are recommended to others."
Because of this, common questions emerge: How are you listening to guests to improve? What are the "quick wins" you could make to create a powerful impression on your guests?
While there were the usual conversations about macro-economic trends and new types of business models in the hospitality industry, it was interesting to see "experience" as a focus for not only marketing executives, but also the investment community.
It all starts with listening
Listening is the first step in understanding how to develop and deliver the right type of experiences that will drive financial performance. Flo Lugli, executive vice president of marketing at Wyndham Hotel Group, says:
"If our hotels participate in no other type of social media activity, they must manage all reviews and ratings. After analyzing our data, we have seen a direct correlation between online reputation and profitability."
This need is even more apparent in the luxury sector, with research from Four Seasons Hotels indicates that 40% of luxury travelers will not book a hotel room if there are no online customer reviews for that hotel property.
Charles Harris, Vice President of Marketing at Luxe Hotels, reinforces the need to actively listen to customers with technology: "Experiment and change as the ways [your customers] communicate change."
The team at Luxe is focusing on participating in local social media networks to connect with clients in each region in the world, such as Weibo in China.
For Christopher Cowdray, CEO at the Dorchester Collection, listening to employees on property in each of their locations helps him keep a finger on the pulse of guest feedback. The group also uses a mix of traditional satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping, and social media and online reviews.
But regardless of the channel used to collect this feedback, the way staff share the guest comments internally is critical to make operational changes and improve the guest experience.
At Montage Hotels and Resorts, CEO Alan Fuerstman says the guests at his luxury properties use social media extensively to share opinion and plan their trips, so he and others in his organization listen closely to what guests are saying through those channels.
"They expect us to be listening closely to online feedback, and we are."
Feedback can be a catalyst for breakthrough innovation. Paul Whetsell, CEO of Loews Hotels, notes that constantly engaging with people will help you create disruptive products.
"Always talk with guests to stay in tune with their needs. It takes attentiveness and lots of hard work. But it can hone your intuition to create disruptive products guests didn't know they needed."
And, interestingly, Whetsell also recommends watching other industries for inspiration.
"You can pick up trends and consumer behavior patterns from outside the industry that are applicable for hospitality."
Another key benefit that social media and online reviews provide hotel owners is the ability to see raw, unfiltered guest feedback, says Homi Vazifdar, managing director at Canyon Equity.
It provides independent, unbiased insight into the performance and competency of management - as well as the ability to guide decisions on renovations and capital investment.
Putting feedback into action, creating better experiences
To make a difference, listening must be followed by action - and hoteliers today are focused on providing a new kind of luxury that isn't what your grandfather might have expected.
Vazifdar, an owner and investor in ultra-luxury properties, notes:
"Luxury today is all about guest satisfaction. It's about unrivaled experiences."
Kirk Kinsell, President of IHG Americas, confirms from his perspective: "Luxury is about the experience, not the price."
Leveraging new technology to support listening and assist in delivering these experiences - regardless of the hotels' classification - is key.
"If you don't take advantage of technology, your competitors will - and steal your market share," says Kong of Best Western.
Marketing executives from Four Seasons, Wyndham, Hyatt, and Best Western shared their approaches for social media. While tactics varied, the strategy consensus was that the entire organization, not one person or one department, must be involved social media management.
It's a 24/7 channel that needs to involve all departments. According to Fairmont Hotels president Jennifer Fox:
"If you don't have a proactive approach to social media, others will define your brand for you."
"Hotel companies must think of themselves as content, media, and publishing companies," adds Elizabeth Pizzinato, senior vice president of marketing at Four Seasons.
The company rolled out a new brand website earlier this year as part of an $18 million investment in its online presence. Today in social media, they are focusing on "building their visual assets" and repurposing content on new platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr.
Business partnerships are also critical to deliver these great experiences - online and off. Michael Achenbaum, president of Gansevoort Hotel Group, talks about how he focuses on building his brand through partnerships with lifestyle companies such as Lacoste and Porsche.
Additionally, collaborating with hospitality "superstars" for dining and nightlife options on property can create a remarkable experience for guests. In his words:
"The difference is in the details. Who do you have to work with to offer something fun and unique?"
NB: Pool laptop image via Shutterstock.