Industry Update
Opinion Article19 March 2019

Why the rise of the boutique hotel is forcing hotel chains to re-examine the guest experience

By Antoine Aubrun, Country Manager - France, SiteMinder

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Airbnb's groundbreaking partnership with SiteMinder last year signalled many things for the industry. Topping the list, of course, were the evolving aspirations of two disruptive technology pioneers, and the further blurring of what is traditional and what is alternative accommodation. However, the move also indicated the growing supply and relevance of one particular hotel segment - the boutique hotel.

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It's an emergence being witnessed not only in France but more broadly across Europe and around the world, including in markets such as the United States which have traditionally been dominated by the largest hotel chains in the world.

It's quite the feat for a segment that has humble beginnings providing highly-tailored, unique and memorable customer service, often within sparsely-populated regions such as coastal towns, villages and vineyards. Certainly, it's a feat that somewhat conflicts with the rise of technology - or is that the point?

Today, as the barriers to both technology and travel continue to lower, being chosen as a hotel clearly depends more on your ability to provide a superior guest experience than the location and popularity of your property, the price of your rooms, or even the technology you provide onsite. It's about the service that you offer to travellers, to the design of your lobby, and the artwork and decorations that feature throughout your property. It's about offering value and something special to create an innate sense of loyalty from your guests.

Why is loyalty so important? For many reasons and chief among them is a growth in direct bookings, which means less commissions, more revenue and a greater ability to own your own guests.

Where guest experience and technology come together

I've met with many hoteliers over the years who say they don't understand technology, that it's too complicated to start learning, and that their hotel businesses are operating just fine doing everything manually. I've also met with as many hoteliers who complain because they lack the time to repaint their property or to fix a broken window, to better personalise their guests' stay and do more to improve the day-to-day lives of their hotel employees.

I can't help but think how much easier life could be for these hoteliers, to manage everything, if only they were open to using the right tools.

The good news is there are many hoteliers leading the way, putting their confidence in technology to support the future of their businesses. One of those is Claude Pimont, General Manager of Casa Pestagua, who speaks of technology not as a means to be enjoyed but, rather, a means to an end: "For me, SiteMinder's platform is more like a toy than a technological tool. I have the same relationship with it as with Sudoku, for example. It's something I love and I use it to play and to distract myself all the time. It is very simple, even for me who is from another generation and I do not enjoy or usually understand technology. Right now, I would not even conceive to work without the platform as the savings in time and effort are infinite."

As Pimont rightly points out, technology can be as simple as doing a crossword puzzle. Once you've figured out the answers, it's like riding a bicycle. It can be so simple that you can't forget it. It's something anyone can learn, if they are open to learning.

What hotel chains can learn from boutique hotels

If I were to ask a hotelier how many bookings their property has made directly and how many they made through an online travel agency, in most cases I am likely to be met with the response indicating that their percentage of direct bookings is quite low - or, at least, not as high as they would like it to be.

Is there a solution? There is, of course, and hoteliers that have figured out how to marry the appeal of an independent boutique hotel with the wonders of technology that was previously accessible only to hotel chains are winning.

Here are five tips other hotels can start applying today:

  1. Personalise your stays: think about those small things that you have or would love to have at home, such as nice paintings, flowers, beautiful sheets and cushions. Maybe some books on the shelves? Make it comfortable, cozy and appealing for your guests and, remember, the small details count, such as offering a robe and slippers to go with a set of towels.
  2. Be the local expert: there is a reason the concept of the Airbnb host rose to fame. Offer more than a room; offer a delicious breakfast and a thoughtful itinerary if you're in the countryside or in a small village, or maybe a city tour with the hidden gems only locals know about.
  3. Market your property on the channels curious travellers use: think beyond the big, global OTAs as so many travellers are looking for their next memorable experience and you want their end destination to be your property. A great example is Chinese travellers. Did you know that Ctrip is the most widely used OTA in China? Or that Chinese travellers, one of the largest groups of incoming tourists to France, spend large when on holidays? Open your doors to other markets. Don't compete with alternative accommodation for today's guest; be the alternative accommodation they're looking for.
  4. Make it possible for travellers to booking through your hotel website: this goes back to loyalty, so you can increase your repeat bookings and spend less on bringing that guest back directly in future. Make it easy and consider providing cancellation policies as OTAs do, so you can stay competitive.
  5. Create an amazing website that sums up your property perfectly: what are some of the first things you look for when you go to a restaurant? The menu and photos of the dishes, right? What about when you see a shop? Naturally, it's the shop window. In the same way, your website needs to act as your shopfront and it should represent everything you are in content, photos, reviews and ease of booking. Think of your website as a CV. Show what your property can offer to guests, so they aren't tempted to leave but, rather, do business with you right away.

This article was originally published as "Pourquoi la montée en puissance des boutiques-hôtels force les chaînes hôtelières à revoir l'expérience client" in Hospitality ON.

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Antoine Aubrun

Having spent many years in sales and business development, Bordeaux-native Antoine Aubrun prides himself on understanding the intimate, often-complex needs of his customers. Combined with a passion for travel and the power of technology, it is this understanding that has enabled Antoine to continually find success for France’s hotels, and support them in capitalising on the disruption of Software-as-a-Service and the global reach afforded by online distribution.

    More from Antoine Aubrun

    About SiteMinder

    In an age of rising choice and accessibility for curious travelers, SiteMinder is the name synonymous with the belief that technology can empower any hotel to win in a consumer-led world and unleash their potential. SiteMinder is the global hotel industry's leading guest acquisition platform, ranked among technology pioneers for its smart and simple solutions that put hotels everywhere their guests are, at every stage of their journey. It's this central role that has earned SiteMinder the trust of more than 30,000 hotels, across 160 countries, to generate in excess of 80 million reservations worth over US$26.5 billion in revenue for hotels each year. For more information, visit www.siteminder.com.

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