GLOBAL REPORT—The proliferation of online tools continues to dominate the pace of change in the ever-evolving hotel industry, according to sources.
While the “trend” is by no means new, its pace is remarkable nonetheless, said Ron Pohl, senior VP of brand management and member services for Phoenix-based Best Western International.
“It just becomes more and more comprehensive,” he said of guests’ use of search, social media and apps to shop and book hotel stays. “Social media is consuming everything we’re doing in the lodging industry from how a customer shops, what the customer looks at, how they evaluate us, whether they trust us.”
More recently, the use of online platforms is transcending age and demographics, he said.
Approximately 20% of all travel was booked on mobile devices during 2011; two years ago that number was nearly zero, according to Robert Rauch, president of San Diego-based R.A. Rauch & Associates hotel consulting.
Within the next three years, 80% of all bookings will be made via mobile devices, he said, citing information from Google.
“The pace has already been huge. It’s akin to zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds,” Rauch said.
Ken Minnikin, Mantra Group
Another interesting wrinkle is the times and locations in which would-be guests are searching and booking hotel stays, said Ken Minnikin, director of marketing for Australia-based Mantra Group.
It’s an information-on-demand era, he said. “Consumers are utilizing new technology such as mobile/cell phones and tablets, to conduct research and to make accommodation bookings. And even more interesting is when they are undertaking this activity.” For example, activity is peaking at 11 p.m. local time in Australia, he said.
But innovation exists beyond the world of online booking, sources said. They highlighted four other trends that are shaping the global hotel landscape.
Lost art and the rise of science
While digital tools are revolutionizing the way customers search and book travel, they’re also changing the way hoteliers themselves operate, Rauch said.
“We have become an industry that is much more science than art,” he said.
Look no further than revenue management, he said. Whereas before the task was like spinning plates, now the majority of that process is automated.
“There are algorithms that can run your revenue management, and I don’t have to do anything,” he said, adding that it’s also good to have the human element overseeing even the best autopilots.
The shift toward science also is being felt in the distribution arena, Rauch said. “There are so many diverse channels through which we can get business. … we have to determine which ones to take and at what price,” he said, adding tools exist to help hoteliers do just that.
No place like home
“At the end of the day, we sell sleep,” Best Western’s Pohl said. “Making that as much like (our guests’) home environment is oftentimes what the customer wants.”
Ron Pohl, Best Western
Guests today, especially road warriors, want rooms that remind them of home, he said. That can be reflected both in the design aesthetic as well as amenities and technology.
The hotel industry hasn’t always been good at keeping up with the pace of change, however. But guest expectations are guest expectations, and hoteliers must do everything they can to accommodate them.
Blending between property types
The product offerings in the hotel industry today are extremely segmented, Pohl said. Extended-stay properties are different from suite properties, which are different from standard properties.
Executives at Best Western are looking to change that to match the increasingly fragmented needs and wants of guests. Instead of a hotel offering only one room type, Pohl said the hotel of the future could feature several different room types under one roof.
It’s not an entirely revolutionary idea, he said. Best Western properties in the past have often featured a handful of extended-stay-type rooms with kitchens. But the industry moved away from that idea during the past few decades.
Size doesn’t matter
The hotel industry has been working under the erroneous assumption that bigger often means better, Pohl said.
Today’s discerning traveler, however, is often eschewing the big-box mega complexes of the past for more personal, manageable property footprints.
“Customers like the inn feel or the expanded bed-and-breakfast feel. There’s not many brands or chains that are affiliated with those types of products. It’s an opportunity to take smaller hotels (of 30 to 50 rooms) and place them in a market with a brand name.”