In 1985 my grandparents took me to their local travel agent, a sweet woman named Ruth, to book a vacation to Florida. I remember being mesmerized by the beautiful brochures and exotic posters on display. Ruth keyed our information into a computer terminal that consumed most of her desk, made a few phone calls… 30 minutes later, we wrote a check and walked out with a thick envelope full of printed material. Months later, we arrived at the hotel Ruth had booked for us and presented our well-worn reservation documents.
As stunning as the technological developments in travel marketing have been in the last 20 years, the next 20 promise to be equally incredible.The hotel knew nothing about us. We knew practically nothing about the hotel (Ruth picked the hotel for us), what our room would look like, the amenities or the immediate area around the property. Who knew that within a relatively short period of time, Ruth and the entire travel ecosystem would be disrupted by technology that empowered consumers to plan their own trips, preview images, videos, reviews from previous guests, make dinner reservations and chat (for free) with a concierge in Bangkok from the comfort of their home! As stunning as the technological developments in travel marketing have been in the last 20 years, the next 20 promise to be equally incredible. According to recent report from Expedia, travel could be on “the cusp of a transformative technological revolution.” Thanks to rapid adoption in smartphone usage, geo-location technology and younger generations’ comfort with sharing their personal information online, travel is set to become more effortless and streamlined than ever before.
- You TELL your smartphone (or soon, smartwatch) to create a calendar event for a trip to a specific destination, or a “family” vacation and your “virtual digital assistant” goes to work researching and collating trip options.
- She (he?) starts checking flight prices based on your airline loyalty memberships, airport preferences and knowledge of your past trips (and your reviews). It will also tap into airline and hotel historic pricing databases to evaluate whether the price of your vacation may go up or down in coming weeks.
- Siri and her next of kin will then produce a list of options for you to consider. You can purchase, share with family and friends or refine the itinerary and send your virtual assistant back to work.
- When you arrive at the airport, new geo-location and payment technology in your smartphone will allow you to seamlessly pay for parking and baggage fees. While innovations in airport security and boarding pass technology will have more of us spending less time in line. Driving to your hotel? Apps on your mobile device will alert the hotel that you are approaching so your room can be ready for check-in.
- Hotels will have more actionable data about their guests than ever before. Aggregated from multiple “big data” sources including: social media, past stay history, loyalty programs and perpetually automated data appending programs connected to PMS and CRM systems.
- This trove of data will enable service-minded hoteliers to differentiate their product experience by personalizing offers and add-ons at the right time in the trip planning cycle for each customer.
The future is now.Struggling to believe these advancements are just around the corner? Think again about how far we’ve already come. Tech-savvy hotel marketers are already doing remarkable things that would have sounded like science fiction just a few years ago:
- Global chains and boutique brands are working with consumer research companies to append demographic data to their past guest records to gain greater understanding of their customer base and create a model guest profile. This profile is utilized to identify new potential guest/consumers online who match the profile and engage with them via pinpoint digital marketing campaigns. Many believe this new science of past guest profiling and modeling increases advertising response rates and delivers higher ROI than “dumb” campaigns which ignore demographic and behavioral indicators.
- Tech giants like Google and Yahoo enable properties of all sizes to launch hyper-targeted campaigns (in hours!) that engage guests in proven feeder markets, past website visitors, fans of their competition’s social media pages, flyers to nearby airports, consumers who’ve received booking confirms from comp-set properties and an endless list of filters that increase ROI and reduce wasted marketing dollars.
- Most smart hotel marketers send post-stay surveys, but the most advanced are now automating additional emails to past guests who submit positive scores, encouraging them to leave reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other important review sites.
- Brand managers are reviewing guest sentiment data from online reviews across their global portfolios to determine the optimal mix of amenities for future products/projects.
- Innovations in revenue management and powerful new yield management software are empowering even small properties to automate pricing decisions in real-time.
Embracing it all.The rapid pace of technological innovation in travel can easily overwhelm time-starved operators with limited resources and budgets. How can you prepare for the technology tsunami without losing sight of short term revenue targets and goals? Here’s three ways we organize ourselves to embrace innovation without taking our eye off our clients’ needs and company goals:
- Use technology to find technology: Google Alerts, RSS feeds, personalized news feeds and specialized newsletters make it easier than ever to pluck relevant subject matter from the firehose of web content. A free tool we use often is Topsy (Topsy.com), which scans the social web for relevant conversations about subjects we care about. It helps us identify key influencers and participate in conversations we otherwise might never know about.
- Hire tech-lovers: All things being equal, we always hire the candidate who is more passionate about technology. They read blogs, love gadgets and fearlessly plunge into spreadsheets in search of actionable data. After putting all these techies together over the years, we now have a company culture that stimulates rapid adoption of new tools and software.
- Start at the bottom (of the sales funnel): In the limited time you and your team have to tackle marketing R&D, focus on technology that impacts the bottom line most rapidly. Ask yourself: which technology will add revenue or prevent lost revenue in the short term? A great example of this is an enhanced reservation abandonment/recovery process, whereby adding simple technology at the point of purchase can result in immediate revenue acceleration. Celebrating a few small victories that convert immediately to measurable revenue will give ownership/upper management more confidence to invest in more resource intensive R&D efforts.