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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2016 > September

[fusion_text]cumbria_hoteliers_shrug_off_devastating_floods_with_record_summer_-_hotel_owner

Few will forget the devastating floods that hit Cumbria last December. Homes, businesses and hotels were subjected to rising waters that caused untold damage and left hundreds without power for days.

However, proving just how stoic us Brits are, Cumbria Tourism has revealed that hotel occupancy in the region hit a record high of 73.6% during the summer - the best in over a decade.

Self-catering properties were largely responsible for the rise, but serviced accommodation was also up on last year's figures. Hotel Owner leads the story, which should give every accommodation business owner some hope that, even when the absolute worst happens, it's still possible to defy all expectations by bouncing back with some very big numbers indeed.

Read the full story by clicking below.

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social media marketing for hotels

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook were once nothing more than virtual message boards used by people intent on telling the world what they were about to eat for dinner. And then posting a photo of an empty plate when finished.

We’ve all done it, haven’t we?

No?

Moving on…

Now, social media forms an intrinsic part of any ambitious marketing strategy. And this is for good reason; with even the most nascent of networks garnering huge user bases (did you know Snapchat now has 100 million daily active users?), the ability to reach colossal audiences no longer requires a hefty TV advertising budget.

If you're a hotel operator, there’s a very good chance you already have a Twitter account, at least. It’s just the ‘done thing’, isn’t it? You may even have gone as far as creating Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram accounts, too. But how - if at all - are you using them?

Like any marketing tactic, social media needs a strategy - it needs a goal at which to aim.

It’s also quite risky. Post the wrong thing, be it an ill-judged pop at a competitor or sentence that inadvertently discriminates, and you can instantly land your business in hot water. Social media is built on a foundation of sharing, and if you say something that’s deemed out of line, people are likely to pass it around for all to see. The domino effect can be frighteningly powerful on social media.

However - it remains a brilliant way to market your hotel. Pick the right strategy, utilise common sense and, far from ruining everything, you’ll give your hotel a voice that draws in more guests. And that’s what this is all about, after all

Here’s how to use social media for your hotel:

Don’t post for the sake of it

As noted above, you need a goal. Do you want to use social media as a primary way to connect with guests from a customer service perspective? Or use it as a vehicle to promote you regular special offers?

Social media goals don’t have to be long term. If you’re undertaking a 6 month refurbishment of the property, you might want to use Instagram to chart its progress, and then move onto the next focus.

Determine the goals of your social media campaign, and don’t just assume it’s to ‘get more followers’. Which leads us onto our next point…

Determine your audience

Before you start posting, you need to define the type of people you’re trying to attract as followers. Your audience (or buyer personas, to use marketing parlance) will inform your tone of voice and the type of content you’ll need to focus on sharing.

If you know the profile of your guests like the back of your hand, this step should be easy, but if not, consult your hotel booking system and staff in order to find out the type of people you are welcoming through your doors.

Next, create four or five fictional characters and write a few paragraphs about who they are; their lifestyle, hobbies and personality. Like the late, great Terry Wogan, you’ll be speaking to these people as though they’re the only person in the (digital) room. Work out who they early on.

Pick a platform (or two)

There are loads of social networks, but you don’t need to go for all of them. For hotels, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are great starting points and more than enough to keep you busy.

Spend time on your profile

Once registered, upload your logo, relevant header image (a shot of the grounds, a premium bedroom or the team) and add a bio. Keep it short, snappy and on-brand.

Develop your online persona

How do you want to come across on social media? Playful? Serious? Comical? Unafraid to offer the odd political opinion?

You’re the only person who can answer this. The way in which you conduct your communications on social media will often be the first glimpse potential guests get of your hotel’s personality.

You won’t get it right straight away, and it’ll take time to develop the right online persona, but don’t be afraid to experiment. In our experience, keeping it lighthearted, relevant and focussed entirely on the target audience works.

Be careful who you give the keys to

Remember - you can do an awful lot of damage with social media. If you need assistance with the posting schedule, only draft in people you absolutely trust. External agencies and social media managers can be trusted, but make sure you go on recommendations from others.

As for internal staff, choose people who display a solid emotional connection with the hotel and who regularly demonstrate a flair for customer service.

Respond

You’ll probably start to see some engagement with your social media channels relatively quickly as a hotel (particularly if you encourage guests to ‘like’ you on Facebook following their stay), and people will use it as a means to contact you.

It’s therefore essential that you keep an eye on mentions and make sure you have notifications turned enabled on your smartphone.

When people mention you on Twitter or message you on Facebook, respond - always. It may be an availability enquiry, praise for the quality of a recent stay or a complaint. Where appropriate, take the conversation offline by contacting direct, but not before noting on social media that you will be in touch. In doing so, you’ll be showing the world that you care.

We could go on, but…

Social media offers so many opportunities for hotels to develop their online personas, build followings and, most importantly of all, tempt more guests to book direct.

In this post, we’ve focussed on the absolute basics of a great social media strategy. In future, we’ll dig deeper, but if you’d like to share your social media success stories, please do so by commenting below.

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Sometimes I curse myself for being too stubborn, although others may say I am tenacious. To be honest it isn’t clear to me where the distinction between the two begins and ends. All I know is that my Triumph TR7 (yep, they didn’t all rust away) is still being rebuilt after 22 years in my garage and last weekend I removed the engine from my motorbike for the second time this month, in an effort to cure a backfire which didn’t really need curing.

Despite the garage floor now being littered with camshafts, anti-roll bars, nuts, sprockets and bushes, I tell myself that this is all in the pursuit of excellence. To a petrolhead, a car or a bike is never “finished”, it just gets fanatically improved. Sometimes there are backward steps needed to go forward (for example, accidentally dropping a washer into the bowels of the Aprilia engine didn’t do much for its smooth running, so a part-rebuild was required) but generally we push to the point where further improvement isn’t possible. And that point, of course, never occurs, because we always seek further excellence so that people will say “hey, cool car!”.

I was chewing over the above thoughts when an email came in from a Welcome customer. Here’s what he said:

“Firstly some great feedback from our team in regards to the new additions - Group booking is so much easier to put on the system now! You have potentially saved me hours editing different rooms so firstly I'd personally like to thank for that.

"We're really excited that you guys are taking on board feedback from clients like us, and issues such as reliability, slowness and features missing are soon becoming a thing of the past!”

That got me thinking. It appears that online booking systems are rather like the vehicles I dote over. They have to perform to a certain specification in order to satisfy the user. Under the skin they are full of digital cogs, valves and wiring, plus, of course, their development never stops. We try things here, add functionality there, or tweak something behind the scenes all in the spirit of achieving excellence. It doesn’t always go to plan, and sometimes we have to undo something in order to go forward once more. Hearing our customers complement our products gives us a real thrill.

We’re a pretty tenacious bunch here at Welcome, but we’re not stubborn. Our product is all the better for incorporating ideas suggested by our customers, and we’re not afraid to undo something if it isn’t quite right. And with that happy thought radiating within me, I picked up a spanner and started to plan when the bike will be finished, after the engine is back together, exhausts attached, carburettors re-fitted and so on.

That day will, of course, never come.

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Expedia logo
[fusion_text]Managing rates and keeping on top of competitors in the hotel industry is difficult. Rather encouragingly, the OTAs appear to be taking note of this with Expedia the latest to jump on the revenue management tool bandwagon.

Rev+ is their attempt at providing hoteliers with actionable data and analytics and comes at no additional costs to their hotel partners.

We're yet to lay our hands on it, although we've been very impressed with Booking.com's take on revenue management (more on that very soon...), and it's great to see other OTAs following suit.

We'll hand over at this juncture to hotelmarketing.com, who have the inside scoop:

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Dealing with blacklisted guests

“The guest is always right” - a piece of advice which usually stands up, that is until one particular guest takes it upon themselves to detach the 60” LCD TV from the wall of your premium suite and throw it into the car park fifteen feet below the balcony.

That isn’t right, is it?

Not every guest is perfect. Some are downright rude while others resort to criminal damage or - admittedly on rarer occasions - physical violence.

As a result, hotels have long adopted the blacklisting strategy where naughty guests are prevented from ever booking again by having their card marked within the hotel booking system’s customer database.

In this post, we’re going to look at how to define a guest as deserving of an entry in the blacklist and consider the ways in which front desk staff can be empowered to deal with such people should they decide to try and reserve another room in the future.

Under which circumstances should you blacklist a guest?

The answer to this is largely subjective and down to just how much you’re willing to tolerate as a hotelier, but we’ve picked out a few scenarios where the ultimate hospitality red card may need to be shown:

  • The guest leaves without paying. Clearly, a phone call is required to ensure there wasn’t a legitimate reason for their sudden disappearance (if there was, payment can kindly be requested and should normally follow), but if Mr Smith bolts without paying and can no longer be contacted, he’s not to be trusted. Hoteliers have little time to chase room debts - there’s plenty more guests in the sea, so to speak.
  • The guest causes significant damage to your property. As that expensive TV smashes into the hotel owner’s Bentley and shatters into a thousand sharp shards of glass that will inevitably injure an innocent passer-by, one thing should be on your mind: “this guest must never stay in our hotel, ever again”.
  • The guest verbally or physically abuses a member of staff. If the assault is physical, clearly, you’ll need to call the police, but it goes without saying that such a guest must never darken your door again.
  • The guest has endless, lofty requests you simply can’t fulfil. As counterintuitive as it may sound, this guest may not be the guest for you. Clearly, you’re not up to scratch in their book, and if they’re taking up oodles of your staff’s time in dealing with requests for gold toothbrushes and endless bowls of Skittles with all the purple ones removed, you’re much better off without them.

Have we missed any obvious bad guest behaviour that warrants blacklist inclusion? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

How reception staff should deal with blacklisted guests

One thing you can’t do as a hotelier is prevent blacklisted guests from contacting the hotel again in the future. They may do this via phone, email or - at worst - place an online booking, but providing you have the right hotel booking system in place, staff should be quickly aware of their presence on a blacklist*.

When such instances occur, your staff need to feel equipped, empowered and ready to deal with them. Understandably, they may be a little nervous about doing so.

To help settle those nerves, here’s a step-by-step process for dealing with blacklisted guests if you’re a member of the front desk team. We’ll assume they decided to call, in this instance:

  1. Listen to their request as you would do any other guest - don’t interject with the bad news immediately or resort to name calling.
  2. Politely explain that you are unable to accept a reservation from them due to a previous incident at the hotel.
  3. They’ll probably ask which incident you’re referring to. Explain that you simply can’t go into detail, and that the decision has been made by the hotel management.
  4. If they continue to push for a reservation, calmly reiterate that you simply don’t have the ability to do so.
  5. Suggest they seek alternative accommodation (avoid referencing the competition - that’s a bit of a cheap shot and won’t win you any friends).
  6. If they simply won’t give in, tell them you’ll pass their contact details onto the hotel manager.
  7. If they become abusive, say “I’m sorry, I cannot continue this conversation if you’re going to be verbally abusive.” Unless the placate, simply hang up (you’re absolutely entitled to).

Every hotel has to deal with a blacklisted guest at some stage. It’s a nasty business, but can be made all the more simple and less damaging if you follow the rules and guidelines above.

The good news? Few blacklisted guests will try to re-book more than once!
*Some hotel booking systems will have specific blacklist functionality, while others will enable you to create one by using custom fields. Both options work well.

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UK tourism

Britain is expected to have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by the year 2025. Not bad for a country which accounted for just 3.4% of international tourism receipts in 2015.

But where is UK tourism headed? With Brexit an ever-present subject in news bulletins, and an economic backdrop that remains as unpredictable as it is flimsy, are hotels, restaurants and the countless businesses that make up the hospitality industry in for the challenging future we keep hearing about?

We think the future is rather bright for tourism in this country. Brexit aside, Brits have shown an insatiable appetite for holidaying at home over the last couple of years, and that trend is expected to continue.

The guest landscape is changing, too. New habits are emerging, and technology is creating an inevitable divide between businesses and their clients. Traditional reservations have been substituted for online booking and artificially intelligent digital customer service reps are starting to make their presence felt.

Traditional tourism sectors, such as the motorhome market, are feeling the change, too, with younger generations embracing their services but expecting them to be delivered in entirely different ways.

So, what does hospitality have in store for the future? We’ve picked out 5 changes on the way for UK tourism that will have a sizeable impact on the sector.

1. The automated guest experience

Online booking services offered by hotel booking systems and similar platforms for restaurants have become ubiquitous. Guests now expect to be able to check live availability and book a room or table without ever speaking to a human being. Soon, they’ll expect that automation to extend much further.

Advances in kiosk technology, door entry systems and ‘chatbots’ will enable guests to glide effortlessly through a hospitality service with zero human contact. Even the businesses intent on offering the personal touch will have to accept that certain guests will simply want to be left to their own devices (literally and metaphorically).

2. Adventurous millennials

One of the biggest changes to UK tourism will be the generations taking advantage of it. The millennial generation is the biggest ever and is characterised by people looking for more than the standard offerings of hotel rooms and tables for dinner. They want experiences that lead to greater adventures and opportunities to try new things.

As a result, traditional holidays and hotel stays will likely be replaced by more elaborate packages designed to create a stir on social media.

3. Data-conscious consumers

With high-profile data breaches continuing to take place the world over, consumers have never been more conscious of their own data security. The tourism industry has long enjoyed near unparalleled access to its customer details, but as people begin to batten down the hatches on their data, the ability to build in-depth customer profiles will become much harder.

Fewer barriers to entry will be key, with tourism operators swapping high levels of data capture during booking processes for speedy checkouts that request minimal details from the booker.

4. Contactless payments

Contactless is here already, but is taking its time to propagate. However, tourism operators should expect to see more and more people using their phones and smartwatches to process payments.

And there are some nice trade-offs with contactless payments; they result in fewer queues, less cash held on-site and the opportunity to tap into a method of payment that is simple and addictive in practice.

5. Autonomous vehicles

Experts are tipping 2020 to be the year when the first batch of highly-automated vehicles start to hit the road, but the next era of motoring is already upon us, with Uber recently debuting its own self-driving car in Pittsburgh.

The emergence of autonomous vehicle technology is likely to have a significant impact on tourism as guests expect to be transported at ease and without the need for human interaction. We’ve seen this already at Heathrow, where visitors to Terminal 5 are whisked from car park to terminal in self-driving ‘pods’.

The most futuristic of travelling experience isn’t far off at all.

Wrapping up

Excited? We are. Big changes are afoot.

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Google is changing its search algorithm. They do this periodically, and tend to give each big update a name like 'Penguin'. Odd? Yep, but the changes are usually significant and impact businesses of all kinds.

David Collins, Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer at The Great National Hotels and Resorts Group, thinks the latest batch of changes are going to prove particularly challenging for hotel brands.

By focussing on simplifying the user experience (and, of course, selling more ads), Google has removed paid-for listings from the right-hand side of its search result pages. They've also dropped the fourth paid-for adverts to the bottom of the page, which in itself is a significant move and likely to cheese off any businesses that fall outside of the top three.

Collins argues that organic listings - i.e. those that haven't been paid for - will soon disappear from view on the first page of search results due to the increased space their paid-for counterparts are now occupying. If true, that changes the digital marketing landscape considerably.

What do you think? Have a read of the article below and pop back here to give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Creating guest experiences

Sorry - bad news. A room is no longer enough for your guests. They want more. Accommodation simply doesn’t cut it in a world where ‘experiences’ are becoming the norm.

But what is an experience, and how does it relate to our industry? Surely, the only experience you need to deliver guests is one of relaxation, comfort and waiter service?

Not any more.

The modern guest expects to be entertained, have access to tech comforts they’re used to at home and receive the occasional surprise.

In this post, we’re going to look at how accommodation providers can turn their service up to 11 by creating unique, unforgettable guest experiences.

The simple stuff counts

Hotel experiences don’t have to be tangible - they can be delivered in the most subtle of ways with just a few simple tactics. We’ve picked out three that’ll endear you to your guests:

  • The pre-arrival phone call. What better way to surprise a guest than to give them a quick call a few days before they arrive? In a digital world with limited human contact, a ringing phone never fails to raise an eyebrow, and if you’re on the end of it thanking the guest for their booking and providing useful information for check-in time, they’ll remember the experience fondly.
  • The surprise act of kindness. Imagine a regular guest entering her room to find a bottle of bubbly and a ‘thank you’ card lying on the bed. Or the Xbox you occasionally place in rooms in which you know kids are staying. Random acts of kindness in hotels go a long way and are great ways to encourage social media posts about how wonderful your establishment is.
  • Free room upgrades. If someone checks in late and you’ve got a couple of premium rooms left unsold, always use the opportunity to issue an unexpected, free room upgrade. Savvy guests will know this trick and ask for the upgrade themselves, but those that don’t will revel in the wonderful experience of checking into your hotel and getting a better room for free. Sure - it is still 'just' a room, but it’s far better than the one they were expecting.

Working with local businesses

Depending on your hotel’s location, you may have a fantastic opportunity to strike up a deal or two with local businesses. Perhaps you’re near a golf course, theme park or historic attraction - whatever it may be, a chat with the bosses may result in a joint marketing campaign and consolidated offering for customers.

If you can combine a hotel stay with a discounted round of golf, free child passes to a theme park or cheaper entry to the local castle, you’ve got an awful lot more to say when advertising your rooms.

Talk to your neighbouring businesses - you’re all in this together, after all.

Using technology to create guest experiences

Technology is ubiquitous and increasingly affordable. With relatively minor investment, you can create guest experiences by taking advantage of the gadgets they love. Here’s a few ideas:

  • In-room TV on demand. Netflix and other services offer a near bottomless pit of boxsets and films in which people can indulge and such services are more accessible than ever to hotels. Make sure you rooms offer them and make a big deal about it when describing your rates.
  • Loaded-up in-room tablets. Tablets chock-full of games, movies and magazines will always be well-received. And, thankfully, there are a huge range of low-cost Android devices to choose from, lowering the barrier to entry for this particular guest experience.
  • Video games. We noted this above, but it bears repeating - the presence of a games console in a hotel room remains relatively unique, so before they become ubiquitous, add as many as you can to yours. They don’t have to be the latest and greatest, either - in fact, go retro with something like a SNES and a copy of Mario Kart, and you’ll win over plenty of guests.
  • Lighting and climate control. In-room technology and business management systems are getting smarter by the day and if you can turn your rooms into something Tony Stark would be proud of, you’ll create a futuristic experience guests will love. Speak to your suppliers - intelligent lighting, climate control and sensors that personalise rooms for guests are becoming more commonplace on the market.

Wrapping up

Creating guest experiences isn’t always about making more money from your rooms (although you could arguably up the room rate for the tech options above). The most important aspect is gathering a loyal following - guests who come back for more and tell their friends just how considerate and inventive a hotel you are.

Have we missed something? If you’ve had success offering guest experiences and don’t mind sharing your secrets - let us know in the comments section below!

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[fusion_text]Hospitality training

When was the last time you invested in training for your hotel staff? Did you feel it benefitted the operation, or are you concerned that it was a waste of time and resource?

Unfortunately, training is often dealt a bad rap. This is the case in many industries, but can be particularly prevalent in hospitality where budgets for such activity are often cut in the face of challenging economic conditions.

Our blog of the week focuses on how to improve the impact of training in hospitality, and it's a fascinating read. Dax Chauhan of employment engagement specialists Qnnect investigates several ways the lingering effect of training can be increased and used to improve employee performance and help hospitality businesses grow. According to Chauhan, it's all about communication, company culture and encouraging information sharing. Simple, no?

Training should be a sound investment, and this blog may just help you address any frustrations you currently have in that area.

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Chat bots for hotels

Back in May, Booking.com launched a ‘Booking Messages Interface’ which promised to ‘empower customers to personalise their stay’ by using only their smartphone. In a further bid to improve guest communication, the giant of the OTA world has also promised to offer full integration with Facebook Messenger’s emerging ‘chat bot’ technology.

These new services intend to replace the previous method used by guests to contact hotels, which utilised a pop-up box on the Booking.com website that resulted in an email sent to the hotel in question. Unfortunately, given the communication channel employed, this meant that responses were often delayed by up to 48 hours.

Booking.com’s new messaging service utilises their existing Pulse app which is currently used by hotel staff to view bookings and daily lists of arrivals and departures. The addition of guest messaging within Pulse makes this particular app a fascinating tool for hoteliers and front desk teams.

Instant messaging is a great step forward, but in this post, we’re going to focus on chat bots, because we can guarantee the mere mention of them in the first paragraph will have raised one of your eyebrows, and we think they could prove rather useful for hotels.

What is a chat bot?

If you’ve ever said “Hello, Google” or “Hey, Siri” to your mobile phone, you’ve engaged in light conversation with a piece of software. Chat bots follow the same principal by bringing automated customer service to businesses and consumers. Basic questions can now be answered by clever algorithms that rely on a standard set of responses and a healthy dose of artificial intelligence (AI).

Chat bots, like Siri and search engines, are able to respond to natural questioning, thus negating the need to type in specific queries in order to obtain the right answer. They understand inference and are becoming increasingly adept at detecting regional dialect and slang. It is - almost - like talking to a human being.

Facebook? What have they got to do with chat bots?

Chances are either yourself or someone in your household uses Facebook Messenger. It is estimated to have one billion active users globally, who rely on it daily to communicate with friends and relatives. Messenger exists as an app in its own right, separate to that of the standard Facebook service.

The team at Facebook were quick to spot the opportunity to extend Messenger’s capability by enabling third parties to tap into its communication channel. As a result, the concept of chat bots was born, and following extensive development, these virtual assistants are now being pitched by the social networking giant to businesses who want to more easily ‘reach people on mobile’.

Facebook’s Messenger chat bots enable customers to ask businesses questions and receive human-like answers instantly, by using an app they already have installed on their smartphone and with which they are completely familiar.

Consider the application in retail, where a consumer might ask their favourite shoe shop which running trainers they have available for under £80. Almost instantly, they’ll receive a rich response that features images and links to appropriate products. With a chat bot, such a conversation can be conducted from within Facebook Messenger, negating the need to pick up the phone or install a separate app.

But what about hospitality?

Benefits of chat bots for hotels

This all sounds great, but why should you consider using chat bots at your hotel?

Here’s why we think they might eventually trump the more traditional forms of communication, such as telephone or email:

  • Guests can explore accommodation options at their own pace, without fear of wasting someone’s time on the phone (no matter how nice or patient that person appears to be)
  • Chat bots don’t sleep, and can therefore be quizzed whenever the need strikes
  • People are intrinsically used to messaging services, given the prevalence of SMS in every day life - dealing with a chat bot is just like sending instant messages to friends and therefore instantly familiar and convenient
  • Conversations are rarely lost with chat bots thanks to notifications which can be instigated to remind a waylaid user that they are halfway through a discussion

How hotels could use chat bots

Think of the regular conversations your front desk staff have with guests. How much is a double room on X date? Do you allow dogs? Is WiFi free? Having to deal with repetitive questions has long been a part of hotel life, but regardless of how determined you are to put on a friendly face when asked them for the eighteen-thousandth time, we now live in a society that communicates in vastly different ways - and those ways that can be leveraged to take the load off your front desk.

A chat bot could conceivably be used by guests to find out the following types of hotel information with some very natural questioning:

  • “Do you have any rooms free tonight?”
  • “I’ve got a very well-behaved dog. Can I bring her with me when we stay in September?”
  • “Do you offer conference facilities and, if so, how much would your largest room be for a three day conference?”
  • “I’ll need transport to the airport on the day I leave - can you help?”
  • “I’d like to book a room with a jacuzzi. Please let me know if you have any and when they are free next week.”

Clearly, hotel booking system providers will need to get in on the act and start integrating their systems with chat bot services to ensure the answers delivered to guests are accurate and extend to enable booking, but imagine how slick such a service would be…

It certainly gets us excited.

Summary

Facebook’s Messenger chat bot functionality is still believed to be in beta, but it represents a fascinating opportunity for hotels to connect with guests more regularly without having to invest significant time in doing so.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on chat bots and will of course keep you updated as they develop, but if you have any thoughts on this emerging technology, please let us know in the comments below.

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