What We Learned at HITEC 2017

HITEC 2017 is over! We had a wonderful four days in Toronto. It was great to meet so many passionate hoteliers and see what fascinating innovations exhibitors were introducing into the hospitality space. We went into it hoping to learn something new, and we weren’t disappointed. We focused primarily on discovering what the industry had to say about guest texting and engagement. Here’s what they had to share.

Mobile Trends

Mobile has played a growing role in the hospitality over the past few years, and with the number of people using it as their primary computing device, it will only become more significant in the future. In the HITEC tech talk, Jeremy Ward, COO of iRiS, highlighted some important statistics in this area:

  • Mobile web usage is growing at a rapid pace — 30 percent year over year, to be precise.
  • According to browsing data from 2,800 iRiS hotels, 68.4 percent of web traffic comes from mobile devices.
  • Sixty (60) percent of travelers would be more likely to choose a smartphone-enabled hotel.
  • There is a 19 percent increase in interactions with advertised products and services for consumers who receive targeted messages.

The takeaway from Ward’s presentation is that hoteliers must not resist the changes that mobile is bringing to the travel industry. A mobile device is a valuable tool that travelers consider essential to their experience. Hoteliers, what are you doing to make your hotel more mobile-friendly?

The Secrets of Guest Loyalty

At HITEC, Infor’s Pam Vickers, Senior Business Systems Analyst, and Michael Shubach, Director of Program Management, gave an exhibitor presentation about guest loyalty, particularly where Millennials are concerned. Here are some key statistics from their presentation:

  • Millennials make up 25 percent of the US population and 40 percent of the global population.
  • Fourteen (14) percent of Millennials participate in at least one loyalty program, versus only six percent of Generation X and five percent of Baby Boomers.
  • A whopping 88 percent of Millennials get their news from Facebook.
  • Combined, Millennials have an annual spending power of $200 billion, more than any other age group.

They referred to a series of quotes by Ian Schrager, the founder of Studio 54 who is credited with coming up with the concept of the boutique hotel, to illustrate how hoteliers can successfully market their hotels at a time of so much change.

“Hotels need to evolve, just as taxis and other businesses have discovered. You can’t compete by playing politics. You can’t stall progress. The only way to compete with a strong idea like Airbnb is with another strong idea.”  

In other words: Hand-wringing and legal battles will only take hotels so far if they want to out-perform Airbnb. Hotels will need to re-evaluate their business model to give guests the kind of experience that Airbnb is currently delivering (such as designing rooms in different ways so guests don’t feel like they’re staying at the same place twice).

“Money only goes so far. You can’t be driven by money. Money is a perversion of the process. You have to be driven by an ideal. Then, money is a consequence.”  

In other words: Profit cannot be the driving force behind business decisions. Hoteliers will need to have a vision and values for their business and really make an effort to live them. Creating a unique and exceptional experience will be what brings in the money; one need only look at Airbnb for proof that this is the case.

Don’t rely on marketing experts. Trust your gut. Every other hotel company is obsessed with Millennials. You think Apple is obsessed with making phones for Millennials? If something is good, it resonates with everybody.”

In other words: Some concepts are timeless, and hoteliers shouldn’t devote all their attention to Millennials at the expense of their other guests. Millennials are an important segment to capture (especially because they are the heaviest users of sharing economy lodgings), and they are different from other generations in what they want and expect from a hotel stay. But at the end of the day, there are certain tried and true elements that have staying power and will appeal to all demographics.

Why Text Your Guests?

Katerina Berezina, assistant professor of hospitality information systems and revenue management at the University of South Florida, asked a panel of hospitality professionals to weigh in on the question of guest texting in hotels.

The panelists largely agreed that guest texting is the best way to communicate with as many guests as possible — namely because every guest has his or her own preferences when it comes to reaching out.

“People won’t always communicate with you the way you expect them to,” said Jennifer Green, Product Director of Global Property Solutions at Hyatt, adding that text can be a solution to this problem in the hospitality sphere. “What are you doing to remove friction from the guest experience?”

“Many guests don’t want to engage face to face,” Josh Weiss, VP of Brand and Guest Technology at Hilton Worldwide, agreed.

Weiss also pointed out that texting has many benefits that face to face and telephone conversations simply can’t afford. “The ability to have multiple conversations at the same time is incredibly efficient,” he said.

In the middle of the panel, Berezina asked attendees — most of whom were hoteliers — to sum up their experiences with guest texting in one word. Their responses were included in a word cloud that was displayed for the whole room to see.

The majority of the responses were positive, but some highlighted the pitfalls of guest texting. Green took issue with the word “impersonal”, noting that texting actually runs the risk of being too personal in a hospitality setting.

“Texting can be very personal, with things like emojis. You can fall into the trap of being unprofessional,” she said. “Be warm and inviting, but make sure you use good grammar and spelling.”

What did you learn at HITEC? Share it with us in the comments, or on social media: LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

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The Benbria Blog offers insights into the latest research in the field of customer engagement technology and best practices, with a focus on real-time messaging and measurement of the experience.

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