Hospitality In The Digital Age Of Disruption

This past week, over 300 hotel and travel marketing executives converged on New York’s Marriott Marquis to attend the HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference. While the conference’s theme was “Navigating the Crossroads of Personalization, Attribution and Distribution,” it might as well have been titled, “Disruption is the New Normal” as attendees were implored to think beyond the travel industry’s legacy approaches and time-bound traditions.

As conference moderator Lalia Rach asked, “How many old assumptions drive your strategies? How many of your opportunities are stuck in limbo because management can’t make a decision? And what processes are inherently broken, overpriced or frustrating?” She proclaimed that the opportunities for disruption are found by focusing on what is missing and what is desired, and that these will require new business models and new ways of thinking.

She cited Silvercar and noted that they ask you a series of questions when you book—that they translate into action. Asking how tall you are lets them automatically have the seat set to your height. Determining what kind of music you enjoy allows them to preset the radio to your preference.

Knowing where you plan to drive lets them program the address into the GPS. And, understanding the things you like to do helps them prepare a list of suggestions you might find interesting along your route.

This kind of service-focused discussion filled a significant portion of the conference and it highlighted how disruption is forcing us to redefine and enhance what constitutes hospitality today.

Indeed, the need to deliver ever-higher levels of personalized and customized service and its importance in marketing was echoed by multiple presenters, many of whom advocated that the best way for hotels to outpace and overcome competitors and the pull of the OTAs was to out-service them and create a greater and more lasting connection with guests.

Bill Linehan, EVP and CMO for Red Lion Hotels, said they’re focused on the total guest experience and channel agnostic marketing, which he feels is the best way for travel brands to overcome the OTAs and their transactional emphasis.

He pointed out that, on average, a household belongs to 29 loyalty programs, and that the only way to stand out is to make your program more about the relationship and the person, and less about frequency. Within their own “Hello Rewards” program, they’ve worked to simplify things and now offer a free night after just seven stays.

They serve up a “whisper screen” to employees that prompts them to offer a personalized greeting to a guest, such as “I see your birthday is coming up in the next few weeks,” or “How did you like your recent stay in our hotel in New York?” They’ve also created a perk engine that enables the staff to serve up a relevant, distinct extra to a guest to help deliver more surprise and delight with each stay.

At the Library Hotel Collection, they evaluate every purchase, investment, service and action through one filter: “Will it enhance the guest experience?”

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