Mr. McCartan

Revenue Management

Customer Centric Web - Service Doesn't Start in the Hotel

By Michael McCartan, Managing Director Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Duetto

Today's hotel booking environment is hardly straight-forward, it is instead a complex mesh of multiple consumer touch points that requires the marketing and revenue management departments to continuously readdress their approach to delivering their products to the market.

Direct bookings are challenged by third party sellers both through traditional travel agents and by the well-exposed online travel websites. To secure the direct booking you need to find a way of influencing the customer, enticing them to your own booking channel so that you can make the most revenue from every available room.

How you portray your business and hotel is crucial, and your service must deliver the same experience when they stay. With the web becoming more customer centric, by engaging fully with the online research and the purchase experience you can add value to your hotel proposition while providing positive impact on customers' purchase decisions.

Know the customer

Your historical customer data is an ideal place to start; here you can learn their demographics and where they are coming from. Understand which guest is the higher value guest, and from where you receive the more advanced bookings. Your customer knowledge will improve your chance to better develop and apply your hotel's persona.

In today's' multimedia world, personality is essential; people want to know what they are buying into and what sort of experience they will have when they arrive. Is your hotel chic with a flamboyant edge and if so, does your marketing, communications and customer communication reflect this? If you're a suave and classic property, do you deliver a sophisticated and formal experience?

Getting this right and communicating this effectively to your customer will deliver the rewards that will help improve your visibility and ranking. You will do well on guest review websites like TripAdvisor because you have met the guests' expectations. The way you market and sell your rooms across OTAs will be more consistent, applying a tailored message to each OTA will make sure you are best positioned on that channel.

There's also information insatiability today, and if the hotel's personality is enough to draw interest, they will be eager to learn more. Having more content on your own website will encourage travellers to know more about the property. This is vital, as by now, you have begun to influence the buyers' booking journey, to come to you directly for information and potentially a booking.

When it comes to secure bookings, it's important to make it easy, simple and straightforward. A few clicks to reservation confirmation will engage the customer every time.

Online purchase behavior

Getting to the direct booking stage however is not as simple as developing a personality for the hotel based on your previous guests. You also need to look closer at your available data for developing a more intelligent insight to understand what journey their research has taken them on before booking.

Your third parties are essential, they provide the market visibility you need, and if listed properly with the best ranking available, they also ensure the maximum exposure. Customers often use OTAs as a directory for hotels, to benchmark proposition, location and price before making the reservation. Understanding the performance metrics of these channels will help you to see what draws travelers to make a booking with you. Which channel delivers the most booking? Which OTA provides the highest RevPAR? And which delivers the most advanced bookings? What type of package are people buying here?

Reservation reports provide you with the above details. Now that you know how and why your OTAs perform, you can take their lead by example and make adjustments to your own offering and how you present your hotel on your own website.

Utilizing the power of social & digital

Online marketing is as vast as offline, therefore it is essential that you select those channels that will work well for you. Take a look at your Google Analytics, to see how your website is performing. Know from where your traffic has originated, whether it was from a search engine, an advertising banner, a social media link, email campaign or a website that has some reference to your hotel.

You will be able to extract key information to make your digital marketing campaigns more profitable. Analyze your keywords to know which search terms have received the most hits, and how you can bid through PPC to increase visits? Assess the demographics of your website visitors- this will give you a good idea on localized marketing. Why target the East coast when in reality most of your visits come from the West coast?

It's important to wait for market saturation and maximization before branching out to new territories. Social media be a great help, your Guest Reviews and Facebook Fan Page will give you a snapshot of your guests and little more. Engage with your guests in social media to understand their likes and dislikes, why they travel and what they like to do. Don't forget to check your competitor hotels' reviews, what do guests like about their property? What experience do they deliver that's better than yours - which you can easily match?

With information at your fingertips, look differently at the market and identify how and where you can increase your visibility among the high-valued guests. 4C Hotels, a small hotel group increased direct sales by 5% through improved engagement in social media and guest review websites and proactively changing their promotional packages based on positive experience of their competitors' guests.

Social media also gives you more insights of other brands and businesses, even non-travel, your guests associate themselves with. Take advantage of marketing through association. Partner with local businesses that can attract guests from the outset.

Selling only relevant products

Successful online retail websites like eBay and Amazon make suggestions to the consumer on what they may like based on previous purchases. This is intelligent, and while as a hotel you may not have the technical infrastructure to manage this, OTAs are beginning to adopt this approach.

This is when product pricing not only becomes complex, but provides you with the opportunity to increase revenue. Creating multiple room types with additional services and value can help the traveler form a hotel-booking package that works for them. Further, developing intuitive packages will help customers actually find what they are looking for.

For example, the Warwick International Denver Hotel created the Drive & Romance Weekend Package, this promotional offer was made available to travelers visiting the city at for the weekend for specific events the hotel noted as good money-makers. This package met the needs of the consumer, allowed the hotel to secure occupancy and outperform a city of hotels experiencing occupancy decline.

Warwick International Denver understood their customers and why they were traveling and what would interest them. But it's important to know which channels you are selling this across and what works with those channels. Speaking to your account manager at the OTA will help understand their customers and their purchase trigger points. Then use this knowledge on your own website. You can never be everything to everyone, which is why focusing on volume meets high-value guests will bring you better returns.

Focusing your revenue management and marketing efforts in this way will help you better price your products, making them available at the right price while still being able to meet and deliver their expectations.

Service beyond the hotel

The internet is not just a sales channel but also social, providing you the chance to service your guest in the same way as you do in your hotel. It's also important to have all the other customer support services meet the needs of all guests who may have a different perspective on customer service.

Social media is an excellent platform for engaging with the guest, finding out their likes and interests prior to arriving, or helping them amend dates, add additional services or provide a cancellation. During the Icelandic Volcano ash crisis across the Northern Hemisphere, KLM and other airlines successfully used social media to communicate with their passengers, to rebook them and provide updates on flight conditions. This increased their following and reputation. Many passengers still prefer to engage with the airline through Twitter and Facebook.

The call center hasn't died yet either, in fact large online brands are now investing in their customer service by establishing support teams to help customers rebook, or access advice on purchases. This includes both consumer and business facing businesses, for example Amadeus, InterContinental and Utell have all invested in call centers recently to support their customers, the internet is far the be all and end all today. Reputation means a lot to the value and marketing of your business and a call center can still give guests that point of call when they are worried or concerned about their booking.

A majority of your bookings may derive from the internet, but your guests very much live in the real-world, which is why it is important to develop processes and customer service-level agreements for the internet. Building your customer centric web through knowledge of your guests, the online data, your revenue management data, and marketing data will help you refine your offering, target it in the market, capture the interest of travelers and engage them in a direct sale. This all adds to higher value, reduced cost of sales and therefore increased revenue.

Michael McCartan served as the Chief Executive Officer of eRevMax from March 2012 to November 2014 and as their Chief Operating Officer from December, 2010 to March 2012. He is currently the Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Duetto. A specialist in software product management, business development, technical pre/post-sales and overall project management, he has over 15 years experience in the hospitality industry. Mr. McCartan is a frequent speaker and panelist at major travel industry events across EMEA. Mr. McCartan can be contacted at +44 7557968806 or michael.mccartan@duettoresearch.com Extended Bio...

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