This year was remarkable in many ways; demographics, economics, politics, education, manufacturing, all are changing. Looking to 2013, I believe that it will be the year of technology.
2013 doesnâ€™t look to be a year where anything truly revolutionary will be introduced, and even Apple appears quiet after a flurry of launches that include the iPhone5, iPadmini, iPad4 (ok iPad3 with a new display) as well as upgrades to their MacBooks. Apply the term â€˜Technology Satietyâ€™. We have only so much time per day, and thus, only so much that we can devote to any one particular device, website or social network. 2013 looks to be more a period where hoteliers can get up to speed with whatâ€™s out there, and indeed, this is a necessary action to maintain market share. Letâ€™s go piece by piece and get into some specifics, in no specific order.
Itâ€™s a no-brainer that you need one. But meeting the base requirements is far removed from what a website aspires to be: an extension of the onsite experience. With the top browsers (Chrome, Firefox, IE and Safari) relatively static in their percentages year-over-year, 2013 offers a good breath of time for you to complete your revamp. Think lots of high-res photography, intuitive navigations and functional content management systems so that minor updates donâ€™t always need to be pegged in by a programmer. And importantly, see item 3 below regarding mobile.
2. Booking Engines.
Building on the notion of a sleek website, the resident booking engine must be airtight. After all, with the dominance of internet-borne travel, these modules are destined to be the major locomotive for core revenue. In 2012, one of the trends I piously followed was the mounting opposition to the OTAs and third-party booking sites. Despite whatever fruits of war this bears, I can say with absolute certainty that if your websiteâ€™s booking engine isnâ€™t flawless, youâ€™ll only be throwing fuel on external providersâ€™ flames.
Another no-brainer. In fact, itâ€™s now borderline clichÃ© to even mention the expansion of mobile devices. 2013 will unquestionably bring more coverts into the smartphone fold, and with this will come a sharp rise in the number of transactions completed entirely through these portable machines, from initial research to credit card confirmation. Much like your booking engine, your website must be adaptable to these screen sizes, both cellular and tablet. Ensure that it maintains a legible, sleek format and that it loads fast to thwart any cognitive drift.
When you sit down to tackle your mobile strategy, one question that will likely be raised is: Do we build our own native app? Apps are definitely cooler than a mobile-ready website, but keep in mind that the coding expenditures can be steeper and, importantly, with hundreds of thousands of new apps published each year vying for consumersâ€™ attention, do you really think yours will stand out? Think apps for your guests: downloading your app for use during their stay then deleting it afterwards. With this in mind, one large growth area will be concierge apps. Look to getting one custom built for your property.
5. Android Versus Apple.
No discussion of smartphones would be complete without a few words on this worldwide battle for digital supremacy. Whatâ€™s pertinent to hoteliers to note is that other cellular manufacturers have rapidly aligned against the Apple iOS under Googleâ€™s open source Android firmware, amounting to more apps and better apps. Given the remarkable push that brands like Samsung have made into this space, itâ€™d be wise to engineer all your mobile efforts for both Android and Apple iOS.
The beginning of 2012 was rife with talks about how to use these devices to heighten the hotel experience. And for good reason; tablet sales saw big gains and these numbers will almost certainly persist. Apple currently dominates this market with the iPad, but expect more Android-compatible entrants to step in with very competitive prices. Much like the thought process behind custom apps, the vision of in-room tablets has been vehemently debunked in favor of flexible solutions that accommodate guestsâ€™ personal hardware. Hence, tablets should be part of the discussion for any concierge app design, but also consider them for convenient and interactive lobby kiosks.
7. Social Media.
Much like the incessant affirmations of mobileâ€™s validity, social media is here to stay. As more users sign on and monitoring software improves, the excuses for not treating this as an extension of your brand are rapidly dwindling. 2012 was the year of the visual revolution, namely Instagram and Pinterest. Applying the concept of technology satiety, 2013 will be less about exploring new entrants and more inclined towards refining your strategy for the firmly established leviathans â€“ Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, and LinkedIn. The approach you take should be one of informing future guests, facilitating requests from present visitors and sustaining relationships to build loyalty.
8. Free WiFi.
The first seven points are all about digital trends, and a consumerâ€™s use of such devices is wholly dependent on internet connectivity. We live in an electronic world that runs on bandwidth. People treat the internet like they do water, electricity, heating and a comfy bed â€“ vital. There are strong reasons for charging for this service, but none of them will earn you an iota of respect from consumers. Offering wireless internet access for free will increase for 2013 and I pity the hotel that still thinks its consumers donâ€™t care about paying extra for this.
9. OTA Dominance.
The recent plan by Expedia to offload responsibility for credit card processing on the property, rather than through their facilities, underscores their power. So, without altering their commission structure, the owness for paying credit card fees and dealing with possible guest default issues is shifted. And I am not even covering the issues for franchised flags who will potentially see franchise fees levied on the commissionable portion. Room Key aside, there has to be a lot more done to reign in theÂ rising tide of third party distribution costs.
10. A Fundamental Return to Quality Guest Services.
Do whatever you deem necessary with your electronic enhancements or brand reforms, but none of that matters if your onsite experience doesnâ€™t meet expectations. As witnessed by the ensembles of scathing reviews posted on TripAdvisor and its ilk, bad guest services can seriously derail revenues. Moreover, hoteliers increasingly understand the imperative of adding a human touch to the guestâ€™s experience â€“ warm front desk staff, attentive wait staff in restaurants and, if need be, personal apologies from managers. Incorporating more positive guest-staff interactions is a surefire way to reaffirm visitors that you value their patronage and to build long-term brand loyalty.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on December 19, 2012)