Hotels Must Efficiently Guide Buying Decisions despite Restrictions
By Pedro Colaco, CEO at GuestCentric Systems
When hotel bookings in the US significantly exceeded 2019 levels, the world received a strong indication of how revenge travel would develop globally.
The US continues to lead the way in terms of recovery to pre-pandemic levels. In your view, how will this signal of 'Revenge Travel' develop globally, as more destinations reopen?
Here in the US, we continue to see positive signs of travel resuming with a vengeance. We have even started to joke that the virus is now cured in most regions of North America. Certain locations, such as Orlando or Las Vegas, are currently running very high occupancies. Meanwhile, exclusive and remote resorts are also seeing an influx of bookings from US travelers.
In the short term, travel will continue to be impacted by three crucial factors - government, vaccination, and consumer confidence - not only in terms of health but also wealth. The good news is that more barriers are coming down daily as vaccination distribution continues and more flights restart which in turn increases consumer confidence.
As travel confidence increases, businesses consider what strategies they should implement to capitalize on the coming pent-up travel wave. Destination marketers are looking closely at how Google will attract customers and what is needed to optimize visibility and attract the right audiences. Meanwhile, Central Reservations teams focus on optimizing rates and availability.
Following the imminent travel wave, do you foresee an influx of complaints or bad reviews resulting from staff shortages?
With today’s vocal travel audience, instantly sharing information on their devices, it’s critical that hotels are prepared to respond - in real-time and not just to post-stay surveys or reviews. Many companies are developing voice-to-talk AI and chatbots that make it more efficient both for hotels to guide and engage with their guests.
Removing pressure from human resources will be a critical path to recovery. Businesses need to ensure their teams are supported in managing and operating available technologies to deliver more efficient experiences to very demanding consumers. Hotels need better-trained staff, able to engage with guests at levels befitting their brand and mission - not low, hourly wage staff.
As the industry navigates through recovery, travel will still be subjected to a degree of uncertainty. Travelers will continue to value information that efficiently guides their purchasing decisions. Hotels - and indeed all sectors of tourism - should focus on providing information to guide their guests as the world steadily returns to normal. Programs such as ‘Travel Safe’ currently do this really well, providing information on everything from how hotels are opening, to how buffets are changing.
Therefore, hotels must engage in direct conversations with guests, as partners in their journey rather than simple credit card order takers and operators. And now, following the end of lockdown, consumer confidence is increasing day by day but, guests are demanding a direct conversation with hotels and restaurants, as they navigate through the myriad details of recovery. Hotels can grasp this opportunity and invest in the tools and platforms that ensure interactive communication that should, ultimately, convert into bookings.
Throughout the economic fallout, the Direct Channel has been the most resilient and is recovering faster. What should hotels do to maintain control of distribution?
For many years OTAs have pushed the boundaries to provide an informative and efficient booking experience for consumers. In more recent years, Google and TripAdvisor have democratized access to consumer eyeballs. But whether it’s Pay-Per-Stay, Meta, Pay-Per-Click, or OTAs, they are all solutions available to hotels in optimizing their distribution and acquiring new customers. While I believe ‘Drive Direct’ is here to stay, factors such as the hotel’s business mix, its location, and the sheer reach of OTAs will continue to be critical factors in helping hotels acquire net new customers.
As always, if hotels use these channels wisely, and continue to engage new customers interested in experiencing their brand, these same consumers will likely book directly with them the next time.
More than ever, hotels should need to deliver an optimal direct booking experience - every time. Widening direct distribution through multiple offers, rates, and room types providing amenities, high-quality content in the booking process - such as imagery, social proof, and detailed descriptions - are just a few ways hotels can increase visibility and also get more direct bookings. Open communication throughout the customer journey is key to maintaining confidence and trust and will yield tangible results in profit.
What pricing strategies should Hoteliers take now to capitalize on the demand in the upturn that's coming?
Instead of lowering rates to stimulate demand, businesses should look closely at their competition set (if it still exists) to determine where to position. By doing the research, hotels will be better able to make data-driven decisions on whether to hold the line and stay in the middle or become a market leader in one area. In their marketplace, hotels must determine where they have a competitive advantage in terms of the offer, so they can hold or even increase rates slightly.
As uncertainty prevails, how can hotels reassure travelers and really give them that confidence to travel?
Throughout the duration of the pandemic, most brands have done a wonderful job in proving safety and cleanliness. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), as just one example, has rallied US hotels to uphold and clearly communicate cleanliness and their changes in safety protocols. Programs such as ‘Travel Safe’ also continue to get more real-time travel information out to corporations and consumers, which in turn increases confidence to travel.
The market is reopening, and all sectors of tourism must coordinate efforts to inform consumers and increase confidence to travel. The industry must continue to communicate real-time data that informs travelers, whether it’s information on what flights are available and when, or the different entry requirements per destination.
Do you think that in the near future we will start to see more direct reservations from travel agents? Will travelers once again start to value their personal and direct input and opinion on which hotel to choose?
In this day and age, influencers have become travel agents. We also see many publishing brands strongly influencing purchasing decisions, recommending what to buy and what people should like as a consumer. Influencer marketing and adding more data into the buying decision can only continue to grow from here.
Beyond the buzzword, personalization is now coming to fruition in the current climate. More hotels are building CRM and data lakes to better understand who their customers are and what they want. This will be important as e-commerce, distribution, and marketing continue to converge, and hotels aim to support real-time decision-making.
We’ll likely see more hotels partnering with local influencers (Agents) to provide advice on where to go and where to stay. It’s exciting to see how these partnerships may redefine distribution in the future. Experience and knowledge of travel rules, restrictions, and safeguards make the Agent an informed partner in many transactions. Agents will play a role as they too embrace technology and support the complex traveler with their needs and by supporting the emerging experience enthusiast.
About David Chestler
David Chestler is an iconic figure within hospitality and travel, with a passion for hotel technology that has allowed him to forge a rich career with more than 30 years in the industry. Known as 'The Revenue Catalyst', he is currently Partner and Sr. Managing Director - Global Sales Execution at Provision-Partners.
Prior to his consultancy Chestler held senior management positions at Kognitiv, SiteMinder, Sceptre Hospitality Resources (SHR), RateGain, Pegasus Solutions, Birch Street Systems, Visual Data Corp/Onstream Media, and most recently serving as an Allied Board Member at Hedna.org. Today, David is strategically focused on new opportunities in Travel and Distribution while remaining a strategic investor in SaaS companies. In addition to HEDNA, David is active with HTNG, HFTP, HSMAI, and Skål.
As a deeply engaged leader of sales strategy, sales operations, and people management process, David is skilled at establishing strategic focus, clear goals, transformation, and high-performance teams.
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GuestCentric is a leading provider of cloud-based digital marketing software and services that help extraordinary hoteliers promote their brand, drive direct bookings and connect with customers on all digital platforms. GuestCentric's all-in-one platform provides hotels with the only unified solution for managing their guests' online journey: award-winning, high impact websites; an integrated, easy-to-use booking engine; social media marketing and publishing tools; a GDS chain code and a channel manager to offer rooms on Amadeus, Booking.com, Expedia, Galileo, Google, Sabre, TripAdvisor and hundreds of other channels. GuestCentric is a proud provider of solutions that maximize direct bookings to hotel groups and independent hotels from collections such as Design Hotels, Great Hotels of the World, Leading Hotels of the World, Relais & Chateaux, Small Luxury Hotels and Small Danish Hotels. GuestCentric is featured on Skift Travel Tech 250, a list of the top 250 travel tech companies shaping the modern-day travel experience.
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