As tech usage increases, hotels have to go out-of-their way to survive!
The digital age, i.e. the rise of online travel agents, hotel booking agencies, customer help portals and the mobile applications of similar service agencies and portals have increased tremendously in a very short span of time. Websites like makemytrip.com, yatra.com, etc., are a great success and their mobile apps have numerous users too. In the first quarter of 2013, the hotels.com iPhone and iPad app topped the most popular travel app in both the UK and US. These digital-age babies have blended with a majority of peoples lives’. These websites or apps, provide its users comparative results based on price, comfort, service and other user preferences. Before these booking agencies portals came into existence, web-based booking was usually done through a particular hotel/ airlines website, the one to which the customer was loyal to. But with the rise of these booking agencies, the choices available to the travellers are plenty. And so did the demands of travellers rise, thus putting immense pressure on the hoteliers. These booking agencies and review sites acted as a medium between the hoteliers and the customers, but to the favour of customers. This reduced the customers’ loyalty towards a hotel. The hotels have to bridge this gap created from its customers by these booking agencies in order to survive the digital growth in the sector.
For this, the reason for the success of such booking agencies has to be analysed. When one observes the pattern of usage of these agencies, it is understood the effort and time the customers have to put in to book a hotel is largely reduced by these apps and websites. Apart from making their work easier, these agencies also provide various choices of comfort to the customers in just a click of a button. They provide last minute bookings too, thus giving the customers the opportunity to ‘plan on the go’. This cuts down the stress of reservations and pre-bookings.
The mobile apps of these agencies help the customers to book tickets/ hotels from wherever they are even while travelling. PhocusWright has estimated that online travel agencies made up about 64% of gross mobile hotel bookings in 2012, compared with 36% for hotels’ own mobile sites.
One trend which is very popular now is that of the customers expecting free internet connections from the hoteliers. In this digital era, this trend cannot be blamed because internet forms an integral part of our day to day activities. This has choked the hoteliers with some of them surviving the trend by giving –in to the ‘need’:
A recent InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) survey showed that 43% of adults would choose not to stay in a hotel that charged for the internet, with travellers from China placing the most importance on connectivity, with nearly 47% listing it as the most important thing to them when staying in a hotel for business. After IHG offered free wi-fi for its loyalty programme members, Accor and others made this freely available to all customers. (Source: www.pwc.com)
Hoteliers can’t fight the trend but grow with it by providing its customers a feel-good experience. This is because, with the customer ratings and the variety of choices available on these booking agencies platforms’ to the customers, their loyalty towards a hotel can be maintained only by winning the hearts of the customers. Only a great customer service would increase their preference for the hotel. So the hoteliers have to ensure they provide the customers a great and unique experience because at the end of the day, the customers decide their fate.
Besides offering great customer services, hoteliers have to expand themselves more digitally, by using social media for marketing and connecting to their prospective and present customers. Social media is being widely used by majority of the worldly population and using it as a business tool would be the best and most economic way to connect to the customers. Also, it is a semi-professional way of interaction which would help bridge the distance between the hoteliers and customers largely. Thus social media is a vital tool to integrate with the growing digital age. Moreover, 60% or so of social media time is spent not on desktop computers but on smartphones and tablets.
Therefore, devising ways of servicing and connecting with customers while enhancing their ease of access to same would ensure great results, if effectively used.