“It just looks like a great, big bowl of spaghetti,” mused Welcome Systems’ Managing Director, John Jones, as a slide depicting the current state of hotel technology appeared on the screen.
John was taking part in a webinar held jointly with Booking.com that dared to ask the question: “what technology do customers expect from your property in 2017?”. Billed as a unique insight into the requirements of increasingly tech literate guests, the presentation didn’t disappoint.
Joined by Sam Biddlecombe, who has been with Booking.com for over three years, John set the scene by suggesting that technology partnerships would help hotels become successful in the digital economy.
“Hotels need to partner with the best,” John explained. “We’re well aware that the industry has been through some tough times recently, with a squeeze on resources and impending difficulties surrounding recruitment making for a challenging time ahead.”
“No one talks to each other…”
As Sam explained during his opening remarks, “the industry is in a mess. No one talks to each other unless a fee is involved. This is why Booking.com wants to create a one-stop-shop that brings together PMS, online booking and rate management.”
This collective desire to connect and demystify hospitality technology led to a partnership between Booking.com’s BookingSuite utility and the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system - the first integration of its kind to take place in the UK.
Next, Sam revealed some promising research from Visit Britain that suggests overseas visits to the UK are likely to increase in the coming months with both American and Chinese citizens in particular choosing these very shores for their annual getaways.
Perhaps more importantly, Visit Britain is making sure such visitors are encouraged to step foot outside of London and explore the surrounding areas. As John was quick to highlight, this is great news for accommodation providers, and offers plenty of opportunity to meet the challenging market conditions head-on.
Lessons from the airline industry
In order to capitalise on the expected influx of overseas holidaymakers and tech literate UK guests, John and Sam agreed that hotels could do a lot worse than learn from the airline industry.
“Although I’m not keen on the term, millennials are all about getting information fast. I sit within that generation, and I don’t own a laptop - the only computer I have is my smartphone, “ explained Sam. “For example, I took an extended break over the festive period and used only my smartphone throughout the entire booking journey.”
“I’m off to Heathrow a little later today, and I did the exact same thing,” agreed John. “I didn’t turn to my laptop once while booking the tickets. The airline sector relies heavily on tech comforts during the booking process, onboard the flight and for the aftercare. Experience is vital when it comes to travel and hospitality.”
Sam went on to highlight that everything is now made super easy thanks to technology, whether it be on board a plane or in an Uber taxi; “you’ll readily find free WiFi and can even connect your smartphone to the car in order to listen to your favourite music.
“The reason we’re talking about the flight experience in particular is because overseas visitors will have experienced a level of tech comfort during that part of their journey that they’ll expect to continue into their hotel stay. They want an amazing experience throughout.”
“The tech on offer in the airline industry is driven by the needs of the customer,” continued John. “Thankfully, this is now starting to filter down into the PMS world, too, as we recently demonstrated with the introduction of a guest-facing group booking system that enables bookers to take control of their stay.”
A great web presence should be top of the hotelier agenda
Google’s recent change to their search algorithm means that websites lacking mobile compatibility will begin to lose serious ground within search results. As both John and Sam explained during the webinar, the effects of this could be disastrous for hoteliers who don’t invest time in their web presence.
“Google aren’t doing this to demote websites - they’re doing it to provide the best possible user experience,” explained Sam. “There’s also a common misbelief that managing your own website is an expensive endeavour, but it simply doesn’t have to be, if you choose the right platform.”
“It also pays to find a web company that appreciates the hotel sector,” added John. “And definitely use professional photos. We’ve seen some shockers in our time, and great, unique, up-to-date photography will help reflect the spirit and values of the hotel. Likewise, hoteliers can build a sense of community by collecting reviews online.”
PCI compliance was also highlighted as an absolute essential for hotels in the modern age, along with clutter-free web design, clear placement of the ‘Book Now’ button and a focus on story telling, rather than dull, uninspiring hotel descriptions.
Data: the hotelier’s secret weapon
“The most important thing is always the customer,” concluded Sam. “Hotels have a huge advantage here, which lies in the data they hold.”
Sam proceeded to tell the story of the hotel at which he regularly stays, in part because of their recognition of his favourite mini bar snack, which he finds replenished in greater numbers whenever he revisits.
“Hotels that don’t profile guests are losing out,” confirmed John. “Guests are now engaged much earlier on in the booking process, and by offering a sense of authenticity and focusing on random acts of kindness by introducing the little things that people remember, hotels can increase the chances of repeat bookings.”
The hospitality industry has been through some tough times of late, and the road ahead still looks decidedly bumpy, but as John and Sam so eloquently explained during today’s webinar, there remains a huge number of opportunities for hoteliers, if they’re prepared to invest in the best technology.
Guests will increasingly expect their ‘tech comforts’, wherever they happen to be staying. Is your hotel, B&B or guesthouse ready for the modern customer?
The quotes contained in this post are abridged. Below is a recording of the full webinar:
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