Hotel-ing has always been about guest experience and service. That aspect of hospitality has not changed and as a frequent hotel guest I wish, this aspect of hotels will never change. However, with the growth of online and the internet becoming ubiquitous - the way consumers look for hotels and the way a hotel markets itself has fundamentally changed.
Back in the old days travelers looked for hotel signs after they arrived at an airport or railway station. Hotels needed a prominent sign to attract customers. When traveling to a new city, travelers would ask their friends and family for a referral of a place to stay or they would call their 'offline travel agent'. Often they would show up at the hotel lobby, sometimes see the rooms, and try to form an impression of the hotel. Based on what they see, the customers would decide whether they want to stay at that hotel or not. A few customers would negotiate with the front desk for better prices or inclusions.
"The travel and hospitality players have started to leverage technologies that were earlier accessible to only large companies"
Over the last two decades with the proliferation of the internet, this behavior has dramatically changed. Google's study reveals that today over 80 percent of guests decide where they want to stay online. Instead of looking for visible signs at highways, airports and railway stations, they are looking for visibility online on search engines. Instead of looking at the hotel lobby and rooms, they are looking at pictures of the hotel online. Instead of calling friends and families for recommendations, they search for reviews online referring to a variety of online review sites such as TripAdvisor. Instead of calling offline travel agents they are increasingly looking at the hotel websites and online travel agents such as Expedia, Booking, and MakeMyTrip, which list thousands of hotels. Instead of haggling with hotels, they expect the best prices and offers to be made easily available to them at the click of a button.
Came to think about it, the internet has opened an opportunity like never before for hotels. A hotel in Khajuraho has the potential to attract visitors from across the globe, without building a sales team in foreign countries. However, harvesting this opportunity is a non-trivial endeavor and is perhaps impossible to do without the use of state-of-the-art technology. The online presence of hotels including their website and their listings on various online sites has never been more important.
To capture this demand that is out there, hotels need to think beyond a static, brochure-like, website that was built once and forgotten. They invest substantially in making their lobby look good, but they must invest in great content pictures and if possible videos. They need to look for a dynamic website that evolves with the hotel's offerings and seasons and personalizes itself for the guests. Providers such as Simplotel provide hotels with e-commerce solutions that remember everything that a visitor does on the website and personalizes itself automatically for the customer. The systems are smart enough with auto-learning algorithms to understand the nature of the guests who do not come and book and begin a sequence of messaging to them via various channels such as email and SMS, and the website to get them back and make a booking automatically. Hotels today are using such technologies to offer secret deals to price-sensitive customers while charging full price to others.
Technology and Marketing no longer stop once the guest has made a booking, but even after that the system continues to sell other things to guests just like airlines continue to sell excess baggage, meals priority check-in, seat selection, and many more. Such ancillary revenue can add substantially to the bottom line of a hotel and can be done easily with systems that understand the customers meanwhile continuing to refine itself based on customer's behavior. All such things are just impossible to be done manually but can be done easily through a self-learning platform like Simplotel that is helping over 2,000 hotels to drive more business online.
In the new era, with the advent of cloud computing and Software as a Service, we are seeing technology becoming a lot more affordable. As a result of this, the travel and hospitality players have started to leverage technologies that were earlier accessible to only large companies. They now leverage Big data, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Blockchain and next-gen evolving technologies to get a business advantage.
Mobile is another interesting trend. A Majority of the people today use their mobile devices to access the internet and for several people, it is now perhaps the only device that they use to access the internet. With mobile being ubiquitous, people are not only living with their smart phones all the time, but they also take them to bed with them and they wake up with them. There is hardly a time that the phone is not with the user.
It is also interesting to note that the way consumers use a mobile phone is fundamentally different than how they use a desktop. Such a scenario gave rise to a plethora of Apps for consumers. However, because building such Apps and driving downloads of them has always been an expensive proposition and most independent hotels do not adopt the App strategy. The browsers are becoming more feature-rich and smarter every day and with progressive web Apps and other such technologies, companies such as Simplotel can offer an App-like experience to hotel guests at a low upfront cost to hotels. This again is further fuelling online hotel bookings.
Change is constant, and the technologies and customer behavior are both evolving at a rapid pace. Hotels and businesses do not have a choice but to embrace technology to cater to the customers. They should invest in and equip themselves with good technologies. The good news is tech is also becoming a lot more affordable and democratized for Small and Medium Enterprise to adopt. There should be no reason to be left behind!
Tarun Goyal, Founder & CEO
An MBA in Business Administration and Management from the University of Maryland, Tarun holds a Bachelor's degree in Electronics Engineering. He founded Simplotel, a hotel technology company in 2013, and currently working as a CEO in it. Before Simplotel, Tarun holds strong experience in the corporate sector, working with leading brands such as Amazon and Myntra.