By Bharat (Bruce) Patel
Modern hoteliers have long known that the key to customer acquisition and retention in the 21st century is a strong online presence. But as we move into 2017, it’s clear that the meaning of “strong online presence” is undergoing a seismic shift. The digital marketplace is more crowded, competitive and complex than ever before, and it’s important for hoteliers to think strategically about what that means for their properties and marketing efforts.
For the foreseeable future, as informed hoteliers already know, every tool and initiative must be aimed at one thing: enhancing the guest experience. In 2016 (and continuing in the new year), that meant adding or improving amenities that offer ever-greater comfort and convenience. App-based request systems, cutting-edge in-room tech and expanded dining options are just a handful of the offerings guests will increasingly expect to see this year and beyond.
But the ultimate key to staying competitive in the online marketplace of 2017 is a thorough understanding of cross-device consumer behavior.
A 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that “66 percent of Americans own at least two devices – smartphone, desktop or laptop computer, or tablet – and 36 percent own all three.” More importantly, while it’s true that most pre-purchase browsing and research are done on a smartphone, the multichannel-marketing experts at Monetate report that consumers are nearly three times as likely to complete the buying process from a desktop or laptop computer. As Web In Travel puts it, “A mobile-only strategy… fails to follow a traveler’s path to purchase.”
It works by comparing browsing behaviors, Wi-Fi connections and geographic areas to determine which devices belong to which consumer. Once a user is probabilistically identified, it becomes easier not only to effectively market an entire property, but also that property’s amenities; for example, showing an attractive photo of your property’s swimming pool or spotlighting its proximity to area family friendly restaurants.
The upshot, in addition to an enhanced ability to personalize a guest’s stay and online experience, is richer, better-defined user and guest data – allowing hoteliers to more narrowly define a property’s bread-and-butter demographic and market accordingly.
In the five minutes it took to read this column, Google processed about 12 million search queries from consumers around the globe. Odds are, with Millennials’ ardent love of travel and retirees’ pursuit of late-life adventure, a good-sized chunk of those queries had something to do with trip-planning. Today’s hotelier has an unprecedented opportunity to get to know those would-be guests long before they click the “Book” button, and it’s an opportunity AAHOA members can’t afford to pass up.