Digital marketing and e-commerce expert Tim Peter shares his insights into what hoteliers should be mindful of in those areas at the start of 2018.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Online marketing, e-commerce and distribution are all huge determiners of how well a property fares heading into 2018.
More and more, the sea of information and options guests have to swim through gets more complicated, and expert Tim Peter tells Hotel News Now that it’s time for hoteliers to up their game to establish ever more critical connections with would-be and returning guests.
Here is a collection of questions (and answers) with Peter discussing the state of digital marketing and ecommerce in the hotel industry, including the things that should be top of mind for all hoteliers.
- This is a second of two technology-focused Q&As Hotel News Now has put together to kick off the new year. Click here to read about what’s going on with data security.
HNN: What’s big and new in the world of digital marketing and e-commerce for 2018?
Peter: “I don’t think this is new, but it seems hotels are finally realizing just how big mobile has become. It’s long past time for us to stop calling mobile a trend. Mobile is not a trend. It’s a way of life. For most guests today, mobile represents their preferred way to access the Internet. More than half of all web traffic comes from mobile and most guests use the mobile throughout their entire experience—dreaming, planning, booking and experiencing. (Online travel agencies) recognize this fact and have done an outstanding job of improving their content and overall customer experience for guests using mobile. Now hoteliers must do a better job helping guests at each stage of the journey regardless of the where, when and how they’re asking for that help.”
HNN: What are the biggest challenges in those spaces at the moment, and how do you think hoteliers can overcome them?
Peter: “Pretty much every hotelier wants to provide outstanding hospitality to their guests. I think the biggest challenges are the pace of change we’re seeing and the so-called ‘need’ to do it all.
"The best way to overcome? Don’t try to do it all. Focus on those items that make a decidedly different and better experience for your guests. Seek to differentiate your property both from the OTAs and from your competition across the street. Work to understand why guests should choose your property over any other and especially, why they should come directly to you the next time they’re in town.
"Because of the overwhelming choices available to guests on the internet, the only ways you can win are either to get big—provide the widest number of choices—or truly differentiate themselves from the pack—provide the best choice. Differentiation isn’t simply trying to be a little different; it’s about finding those differences your guests will demand and be willing to pay extra for. Expedia, Priceline, Marriott and Accor, among others, have gone the ‘get big’ route. Individual hotels either need to join them or focus their efforts entirely on the second.”
HNN: Are there any new/emerging technologies you think will be particularly impactful in 2018?
Peter: “The two biggest areas I’d watch are the growth of voice search—enabled both by mobile users and by dedicated ‘smart speakers’ like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home—and the emergence of artificial intelligence into the guest journey. The algorithms Google, Facebook, YouTube and others use increasingly rely on AI to determine what guests see online. And they’re getting smarter because of the questions people ask.
“We’re entering an era of ‘conversational commerce.’ Your job increasingly is to provide the right content that enables that conversation — and drives commerce activity.
I suspect we’ll also see some interesting ideas in blockchain as the year goes along, especially in loyalty. But that’s probably a little further out. For now, focus first on answering guest questions. The rest will come in time.”
HNN: Is there anything that’s been flying under the radar recently that you think could come to the forefront this year?
Peter: “We’ve been talking about this for a while, but hotels desperately need to up their content game. That’s true whether we’re talking about text, images or video. But start with text and images. We know that guests have lots of questions that go unanswered. Just look at typical conversion and bounce rates on hotel websites. Why are guests leaving? Why aren’t they booking? And why do they so often choose OTAs? Usually, it’s because they still need more information before deciding when and where to stay. And OTAs have made significant investments in providing that information, on answering guest questions. That’s a missed opportunity and one that must come to the forefront immediately.”
HNN: What do you think will be the biggest disruptors in 2018?
Peter: “The biggest disruptor we’ll see is OTAs diving deeper into the overall guest experience. The OTAs recognize that they won’t achieve growth targets by simply adding more rooms. Most hotels already use the platforms for distribution. So growth has to come from somewhere else. Now with Expedia’s investment in Alice, its launch of the Expedia travel platform, the introduction of Trivago hotel relations, Priceline’s booking site and so on, they’re moving into other areas of the customer experience and creating opportunities to understand guests even better than they do today.
“As Expedia’s Benoit Jolin noted at the Expedia Partner Conference, ‘Hotel operations is the next space for disruption. No one has designed a system across the hotel: maintenance, housekeeping, guest communication. Hoteliers need to be connected and engaged across the proliferation of channels… (we will) see more vendors emerge that help hotels manage these touchpoints.’
“They’re flat-out telling us that this is what they intend to do. I’ve been warning hotel operators for the last couple of years that OTAs intend to own the guest at every step in the journey. Now, thanks to mobile, the tools exist that allow OTAs to accomplish that goal. They can get data and provide a more personal experience to guests every step of the way. But it only works if hotels let them do it. I’m not suggesting hotels should reject these offerings out of hand; I am saying you must consider your relationship with these products and services very carefully.”
HNN: What’s something that you hope happens in 2018?
Peter: “I’d hope that the OTAs just give up and lower all commissions to 5%. OK, seriously, a CEO I know likes to say ‘Hope is not a business strategy.’ In practice, 12%-15% seems to be the natural ‘floor’ for the cost of distribution today, but I’d like to see hotels get much smarter about how to rely less on the OTAs and get closer to the 12% (or lower) end of the spectrum.”
HNN: What’s your top advice for hoteliers heading into 2018?
Peter: “My top advice for hoteliers heading into 2018 is simple: Focus on your content and the overall customer experience. Make your property the obvious choice. Differentiate. Answer their questions on every device and at every touchpoint. Give them a good reason to choose your property. And, if you do that well, odds are, they will.”