Planning a vacation with family or looking for a getaway from the routine-bound life, the concern arises when you are making your pick. Whether it’s the destination, means of travel, lodgings and even eateries, you want to choose the best that fall within your budget. Now, on one hand while the Internet has made it easy for us to select from an array of options arranged all over the screen, the service-providers face a lot of challenges too.
The different wings of SMAC are like the wheels of your car built in symmetry and meant to be in synchronisation with each other else disaster awaits.
For the members of the hospitality sector the effect of digital is visible both ways. While there are more options to advertise and promote their business and offers; there’s also stiff competition from OTAs (Online Travel Agents) along with the contest for maximum positive customer reviews.
Online travel and stay bookings are a regular scenario and hardly need any discussion, let’s look at the in-depth situation where SMAC is playing a key role in ensuring services that are more customer-centric and digitally innovative.
One of the challenges that hospitality sector faces is bringing localized appeal for a global audience. However, digital transformation has aided the service-providers in connecting with a larger group of interested audience who are looking for faster and cost-effective means to an enjoyable holiday.
For instance, Hotel Four Seasons has introduced a global geo-location app that makes it easier for you to personalize your vacation even on the go. A great customer engagement and retention strategy with a globalized appeal and digital motivation.
SMAC for the Hospitality Sector:
The digitally-connected traveller of the 21st century is ensuring that his experience as a customer is never compromised on. And the service-provider needs to be attentive all the time because competitors are waiting to grab any opportunity that he misses. In this scenario, there are SMAC tools designed for the aid of both the consumer and service-provider that connects them, helps in relationship-building and even exchange of feedback. However, these very tools may backfire if mishandled by either parties, the damage is always more for the business owner though.
Social Networking – Share, Promote and Collect Reviews
Let’s take the most common and simplest situation, you plan a trip or want to take someone special out for dinner, your first preference is to seek advice from your friends and/or peer group.
Who are these people? Members of your social circle.
Similarly in the digitally connected world we look for customer reviews and grievances. These are critical factors affecting our decision-making process and social media is the playground where all players have equal opportunity.
- Collecting customer reviews is the most common use of Social Media, however some hotels have also turned to providing ease of reservations through this platform
- Displaying images, tweets or other social media updates by the guests in the hotel lobby, is another way of customer engagement
Making or ruining of reputation on social media is a common scenario these days, with the process being as simple as clicking a picture and making it viral.
The hottest example coming to my mind is the case of KFC California where a man claimed that he was served fried rat instead of chicken tender. All that this customer had to do was click a picture of the food and post it on various social media sites, it went viral in no time.
Well, afterwards it turned out that an independent lab test confirmed that the rat-shaped food was actually a chicken tender. An alarming situation displaying social media as a sensitive arena where one can create or severely damage your reputation, merely with a hoax.
Mobility – Companion of the Digitally Connected Traveller
Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit, a leader in creating virtual tours for hotels, mentioned in one of his blogs that guests want to start interacting with a hotel before the trip starts, during their stay and even afterward. And the best way for a traveler to stay connected in all the three phases (before, during and after) is through their mobile devices.
Dolce Hotels and Resorts were BlackBerry fans till 2010 when their VP of IT realized that the changing technological ecosystem requires them to evolve and adopt what is latest. Not only BYOD was implemented in their management system but COPE which is Corporate Owned Personally Enabled devices soon became part of their IT policies, making staff communication smooth for this round-the-clock working business. Almost all the services are getting mobile enabled hence empowering your staff with mobility is like sharing the load with a well-equipped team.
Another aspect of mobility is its close proximity to the realm of the Internet of Things. The hotel and travel industry are making immense use of mobility to get customer attention as well as a part of their brand recall strategy. It is as easy as creating a simple and operative app that proves to be a problem-solver; however with the digital era dawning the disruption level is higher and this industry is making efforts to exploit the potential.
In our last blog on how hotels can innovate through digital to provide better hospitality, we discussed the key-less technology where your smartphones with the aid of corresponding apps turn into the keys to your hotel room.
A report by PWC for the performance of hotels in European cities says the hotels.com iPhone and iPad app was the leading travel application in the first quarter of the year 2013 for both UK and US. This achievement was also the result of using their application as a loyalty point earning tool, a commonly used advertising method.
Phocuswright, a travel industry research authority revealed in one of its reports that engaging customers through various devices, also termed as the omnichannel strategy, with prompt response during the entire customer journey aids in earning customer loyalty.
However, when looking at the bigger picture it is easy to analyse that there’s more to be done with the collaboration of digital and hospitality sector, especially pertaining to mobility.
Analytics and Big Data – Collect, Evaluate and Apply
As Customer Experience Management (CEM) takes center stage in the hospitality sector, the industry is getting highly reliant on analytics for profitable decision-making. Making use of Big Data for predictive analysis and planning of promotions sounds like an easy job; however, when put into the practical application it turns into one of the most difficult scenarios.
For instance, the aviation industry has an influx of data from different sources like:
- Pricing strategies to help enhance the ROI directly proportional to reduced ticket pricing
- Sensors in the aircraft and industrial internet, giving real-time flight info
- Air-traffic and travel time-related information
- Reviews and preferences of uncountable customers
- Analyzing preferred routes to expand services for more chosen locations
But it is all disordered.
Segregating and organizing these data into useful sources will shape your strategy and set meaningful targets.
Another example best suited to applying analytics is of Canada’s New Brunswick Department of Culture, Tourism and Healthy Living, while they were trying to analyse their seasonal marketing campaign’s performance; to make amendments and work on their future promotion strategies. After implementing Google Analytics campaign tracking on all their marketing channels and taking necessary measures based on suggested data, they observed that their customer inquiries went up by 58.31% while an 11.4% decrease was seen in the bounce rate. And now they knew which path to take in order to enhance their user experience.
For a long time the hospitality sector had been either neglecting the importance of data or applying it for the less critical goals, such as expanding menus and providing competitive pricing.
However, now as they have started exploring the bigger benefits of analytics for improved ROI and ROE (Return on Engagement), the scope for elevations has also amplified:
- With the aid of analytics collected, it becomes easy to read customer habits and patterns and apply them to introduce lucrative offers when the competition is high
- Service-providers can easily connect their other range of services, for instance, booking cabs for the tour when booking your stay at the hotel
- Introducing some new concept based on customer feedback and including the name of the customer as a use-case to give it a more personal appeal
- Studying the preferences of the customers according to their past inclinations and coming up with personalized packages that suit both their tastes and budget
Analytics can be used to create a win-win situation for both the business owner as well as the customer, only if it is broken down and applied in the right direction at the right time.
Cloud Storage – Information Centre with Uninterrupted Connectivity
The most common benefit pointed out for cloud computing also applies to the hospitality sector; which is saving the infrastructure cost. But what can be counted as a bigger gain for the tourism sector is providing guidance, information and services to tourists even when they are in remote locations.
Also for industries like airlines and hotel chains it is important that the staffs are able to connect and share information seamlessly, thus cloud computing is of assistance.
Although clouds have been under scrutiny for the security of data stored yet they are relied on for their competency in safekeeping over others; and in case of the hospitality sector there are vital information specially related to financial transactions that need to be safeguarded where clouds are trusted.
Faster, cost-effective and secured services of cloud are being preferred by increasing number of service-providers, such as Yelp which chose AWS to store their globally spread, locally appealing wealth of local business related information.
In the words of Chinese philosopher and poet, Lao Tzu “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” And when you look at the 21st century traveler this seems to be a befitting line.
He might set out with a plan but what he looks forward to is an absolutely amazing journey which the digital world makes comfortable for him. There are all kinds of travellers, the adventure-seekers as well as the comfort-seekers.
Catering to all these according to their tastes and preferences is only possible if you are able to collect info via social, connect via mobility, analyze and apply the analytics and store securely in clouds. Hence, it is apt that SMAC is an applicable solution for the hospitality sector’s development.