Did the hotel industry lose the battle to stay relevant during its push for scale and myriad brands? While hoteliers are trying to play catch up, current moves seem to suggest the need to carefully pick battles.
BERLIN—They are still horrible. Truly horrible.
Terri Scriven, industry head of hospitality at Google, was referring to hotel chains’ websites in general.
“I bang my head against the wall on a daily basis,” she said. “It is improving, but (hotel chains) highly need to prioritize data analytics and hire data scientists. Overlay audience targeting over all you do, and do no chase (online travel agencies). You will not catch them.”
Hoteliers regularly attending industry conferences might very well recognize this statement, probably having heard it from Scriven herself.
Ever polite at a session titled “How will customers’ needs be met in the future?” during the 20th International Hotel Investment Forum, Scriven was nonetheless visibly exasperated.
“Make your message relevant,” she said.
The hotelier response is to focus on service and quality, a common theme that came up time and time again at the conference.
“Our intention is to make tech work for us and our customers, not the other way, so that we can concentrate on service,” Meliá Hotels International COO André Gerondeau said. “This is a people business. It is about the overall experience.
“We’re a 60-year-old company, and maybe 15 years ago, 90% of our business was tour operators. We’ve seen a huge transformation. We’ve developed six brands from within, and now we’re 60% direct. That of course is not a choice; it’s a must,” he said, adding it is critically important to manage guest expectations within the hotel to deliver on expectations guests might absorb during the dreaming, planning and booking stages of their hotel journey.
“A new 360-degree view is necessary, and for that you have to make sure all your brands are relevant and make sense,” he said. “You also need to find the right talent. Now is an environment where we have to develop talent internationally.”
Gerondeau even hinted that the push for scale, coupled with having to compete in a far more technological world, might have resulted in the industry having lost the once-very-true notion that hotels really are the nuclei of their respective destinations.
Hoteliers will always be playing catchup in matters of technology, the panelists agreed, due to the huge sums being spent by disruptors. But hotels do remain the place where the beds are and customers end up.
Hoteliers must understand the entire technological piece and understand when it is best to choose the in-house battleground and when it is best to hire a reserve army.
“Technology is an enabler, not a means to an end,” said Gaurav Bhushan, global chief development officer at AccorHotels. “Our approach is to ask what is the customer looking for and how can we be responsive. We’re doing it a little differently, I think, really analyzing all the customers’ touch points.”
“If you’re not enhancing value for the customer, you will not have a relationship with them, and then you have to back it up with a world-class (customer relationship management), which is why we bought concierge service John Paul. If you apply that correctly, you have an excellent business model,” he added.
“Travelers are less tourists nowadays, more explorers, and some are booking business a week out,” said Marco Roca, EVP and chief development officer at Hard Rock International. “Baby boomers like me are more methodical, but (younger travelers), they’re more, ‘Hey, let’s go.’”
“We analyze data to see what customers want, but who knows what they’ll want in three to five years?” said Hannes Spanring, CEO, Meininger Hotels. “Firstly, we must ask the right questions.”
One audience member asked about sincere, genuinely forward-thinking avenues that hoteliers can go along to be more relevant to consumers, and then turn that relevancy into direct bookings.
The panelists said hoteliers need to continue to be with the customer for the entire hotel journey.
“We certainly know it can backfire if you do not follow up,” Spanring said.
Scriven also bemoaned the state of mobile. In her estimation, more than half of the mobile hotel and booking sites she sees are horrible, too.
Hard Rock’s Roca said one problem is that guests now expect everything to happen in a “nano-second.”
“It’s not like that. It takes money, time, know-how,” he added.
Scriven did not agree with that statement.
“Let’s get these sites looking better and convert them all to (artificial intelligence),” she said.
Some companies are increasing their presence at all touch points of the customer journey, AccorHotels’ Bhushan said, but others might be retreating back to the hotel specialties of service, quality and experiences.
“But are we even doing the basics properly?” he asked. “Tech is an enabler to make life simpler, but we have to ask if we’re putting data, the data we have, to good use in an effective way.”
Sharing data across the whole (hotel chain) network would be one very good area in which to concentrate on, Bhushan said.