Digital Age in Hospitality

For hoteliers in post-modern India, digital marketing is proving to be a complex challenge. Now they not only need to service guests, manage rooms’ availabilities and pricing but also compete for guests in new channels and digital communities every day. But this challenge is also pregnant with new opportunities.

It may be mentioned that direct online channels offer huge opportunities for the hotelier to present her/his product and its value proposition directly to the online consumers. The merchandising strategy is centered on communicating the unique features of the property and focuses less on the rate alone. Ashok Malkani examines how digital technology helps in the ROI of the hospitality properties.   

Digital technology has been playing an increasingly important part in the marketing and promotional strategies of the hospitality industry. With different routes that present greater product visibility and customer reach, hoteliers are now showing interest in using digital marketing tools like influencer marketing and video marketing to garner potential customers. This leads to better occupancy rates, greater customer loyalty and revenues. Digitalism, with regards to the hospitality industry, is undergoing a significant transformation. And not just with respect to India; this is a global trend.

 “Marketing, in the hospitality industry, has witnessed a significant shift not only in India, but globally. Adopting digital concepts, investing more on the digital framework is the way forward. Digital marketing comes with its advantages such as, it is easy to measure the ROI, easy to target the right audience with reference to your product, and most importantly, the costs to perform activities are lower than traditional methods,” averred Parinaz Driver, Marketing & eCommerce Manager, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

“With growth in technology, new trends such as social media marketing, influencer marketing, and video marketing have become essential elements for the hospitality industry with regards to digital marketing. With the growing prevalence of smart phones and the Internet, nowadays guests literally have the world at the tip of their fingers. Websites today have become more responsive and interactive, hence making them an important source of information as well as bookings; these sources help the guest plan every element of their vacation,” she added further.  

The Need of the Hour

“In an effort to remain ahead of the curve, it is important to amplify the use of digital marketing. A robust digital marketing plan is an essential part of any successful hospitality organisation, these days. There are various aspects of digital marketing and the key ones involve a good SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), SEM/PPC (Search Engine Marketing/Pay Per Click) and social media campaign, amongst others,” she observed.

 “Digital ecosystem has led the way for the changing business environment within the hotel industry. It has played a significant role in shaping guest cycle right from lead generation during pre-stay to guest experience during a stay and guest feedback during post stay cycle,”  Ujwal Wal, Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway observed.

“The pre-stay lead generation is mainly led by SEO, OTAs, e-mail, social media, review sites and hotel’s website; while guest can be exposed to interactive screen, in-room technology or even an in-car infotainment for enhancing the guest experience during the stay. The post stay feedback has paved the way for healthy online reputation management for the hotels. In the digital age, inventory and data management have also come with the ease of finger tips,” Wal stated further. 

“Digital marketing has greatly facilitated hoteliers to stay in touch with their guests and build long lasting relations for continuous businesses. It has empowered guests to raise their concerns or applaud about the experience through review sites, at the same time it has also empowered hospitality properties to address or recognise such feedbacks. All done at the ease of a few clicks! Global Travel Economy report rating also reports ‘review on the review site’ as the second most important factor impacting decision when booking accommodation,” Wal elaborated.

“During the last few years, India’s hospitality industry has been rapidly undergoing transformation thanks to mobile phone with cheaper Internet rates and also due to constantly evolving of digital marketing strategies. With various avenues that offer great product visibility and guests’ reach, hoteliers are now keen on utilising digital marketing tools like influencer marketing and video marketing to entice potential guests. Best part of digital marketing is that you know when to spend, what is your reach, who is interested and how much is your ROI (on a real time basis) more accurately than through traditional methods,” opined Dhananjay Kumar, General Manager at The Suryaa New Delhi.

“Our hotel uses digital marketing effectively for reservations, for promoting F&B venues and for building relations through online reputation management. A healthy social media presence allows us to interact with over 74,000 followers on Facebook while we engage with over 50,000 guests per month. OTAs like Expedia, Booking.com, and Make My Trip, etc. are used for reservations. Online F&B aggregators like Zomato, Evening Flavours, EazyDiner and Dineout, etc. are used to garner visibility and ultimately cover for our F&B venues. While an effective online reputation and social media management help us to build on the brand equity and establish everlasting relation with our guests,” Wal pointed out.

Content is the Key

Digitalism gives your hotel a platform to share your content and campaigns at scale. It is necessary these days to continually improve your digital marketing initiatives.

 “We see digital platforms evolve in a way where static content goes out of demand and dynamic content paves their way. The gradually moving higher engagement rate generated through dynamic content on social media is the witness of the changing demand for content. In order to improve our digital marketing it is very necessary that we not only adapt to the change but become a torchbearer for it. Another aspect we can improve on is by reducing the turnaround time of our agencies,” affirmed Wal.

Parinaz stated that these days digital marketing was a major component of hotel’s marketing strategies and an important mechanism for future growth within the industry. She believed that the website was one of the strategic components of digital marketing.

Elaborating on how the Sofitel hotel website worked, she said, “While the brand website www.sofitel.com is mainly controlled and managed by the Head Office in Paris, at the unit level, we have a micro site — www.sofitel-mumbai-bkc.com, which is updated using a CMS or content management system.”

“The design template of this micro site has already been pre-defined and is followed by all Sofitel hotels across the globe. Booking requests that are made on the micro site are re-directed to the main brand website Sofitel.com, where the reservation process is completed,” she explained.

“To improve traffic on our micro site, we ensure that our guests visiting the site are constantly engaged with a strong visual strategy and interactive content. Most people plan every aspect of their trip much ahead with the help of modern day technology such as smart phones and the Internet. Websites are an important source of information and bookings; hence they need to be highly interactive and responsive,” Parinaz proffered.

There have been different strategies adopted by the marketing teams of hospitality properties to increase footfalls. In this digital age, along with opportunity, competition also seems to have increased among hospitality properties to garner the desired revenues. 

 “Hotel revenue strategies are undergoing an evolution to keep pace with the changing market conditions of the hospitality industry. According to a study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions, travellers search an average of 38 sites before making a booking. Thus once a guest lands on the hotel’s website, she/he must be engaged with strong visual strategy and interactive content,” disclosed Parinaz.

Dhananjay says that The Suryaa New Delhi has a very robust and aggressive digital marketing plan for future. “In our current set up, we emphasise on online reputation management through TripAdvisor, our key word strategies through SEO and paid activities through Google PPC, social media daily engagement and weekly campaigns. The most important part on our digital marketing is our content,” he added.

“A robust digital marketing strategy is an essential part of any successful website improvement action plan. There are various aspects to digital marketing and the key ones involve a good SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), SEM/PPC (Search Engine Marketing/Pay Per Click) and social media campaigns, amongst others. For all these strategies to be successfully implemented, the most important aspect is the ‘content’ that is being presented to the audience. A content strategy comes with planning and includes an editorial calendar, a social plan, engagement efforts, optimisation, measuring conversions and more,” Parinaz elaborated.

 “With technology comes better access to deeper consumer insights, data trends and analytics, which help maximise our ROIs. Technology-led innovations have opened up the horizon for hoteliers and the opportunities for growth are plenty, provided we not just respond to, but also proactively anticipate how our guests consume information on these platforms and put technology to use,” she elucidated.

“Modern Indian and foreign travellers are now travelling with multiple devices and our objective is to be present where our guests are for connecting, sharing experiences, and for extending personalised services. This helps us to be proactive and exceed guest expectations at all times,” stated Kumar.

“It took us few days in order to understand why we need a responsive brand website and the rest is history. With our new website we have the same experience across all devices; we manage our content, images, videos, banner placement, etc. from one platform. There is no duplication or old content which used to be a big area of concern. It takes us few minutes to change, manage, upload images on a real time basis. This can be done on a normal 3G or 4G speed,” he elaborated further.

“Today, we know our real time statistics for our brand website e.g. how many people are looking at our brand website, who are our top referrals, which social site is giving us highest traffic and conversion, top key words searched for our hotel services, what is our top active pages, top location as to who is looking at our website and from where,” Kumar disclosed.

 “One good picture is equal to 1,000 words and one good small video with right content is equivalent to around 10,000 words. It is important that your image should pass on extended message to the audience and should have high recall factor. In today’s information world getting information is easy but difficult to remember; same is the key with digital marketing. We all know that we are doing digital marketing but important thing is to remember is ‘how well are you doing,” Kumar opined.

Video marketing is gaining currency in the hospitality industry. “Strategic use of video on a business website translates to lower bounce rates, longer visit times, improved engagement and considerable better conversion rates.  Web video marketing is – and will continue to be – a real game-changer,” voiced Parinaz.

“The creation and distribution of valuable assets, such as videos, blog posts, and e-newsletters, as marketing tools to attract and retain customers is an important aspect for any hospitality brand,” she added further.

The Potent Role of Social Media

Thanks to increased social networking among consumers in this post-modern digital age, and the influence of social sites, it has become a business imperative for the hospitality industry to embrace social media. Most major hotels now have dedicated teams that monitor social comments on a daily basis, and ensure prompt response to customer issues and feedback.

“Research has shown time and again that the thoughts & opinions of both fellow consumers and influential figures mean more than the actual marketing pitch. A solid star-rating performance, from a guest or influencer can increase the brand’s reputation. The web has transformed the way the consumers want it, therefore they are the decider and the engager, therefore the discretion lies on them in terms of what they will buy, where will they buy it from and how much will they buy it for. It is the hospitality industry’s duty to connect, engage and sustain their target audience,” articulated Parinaz.

 “A hotel’s activity on the social media decides its success of search engine optimisation. Daily posts and interaction with the audience on different channels regularly is a key to success for any social media marketing endeavour. It is very essential to evolve your strategies with ever-changing algorithms of Google,” she viewed.

 “Social media has played an important role at The Suryaa New Delhi. We have implemented strategies which work and are simple to use. All our social media pages are redirected to brand website for better experience and engagement. Our focus remains on content, images and videos. Whether our hotel is posting a video of a lively pool party happening that very moment, or images of events which are ongoing or fresh, followers on our social media platform would like to know what is going on at The Suryaa New Delhi. We are also introducing e concierge for our guests – allowing guests to get the information they need anytime,” conveyed Kumar.

 “Let me share few past experiences, which can easily illustrate how social media has been playing a key role at Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway. Post check out our team shared the invoices with the guest as a part of the process. The guest wanted to revise the invoice by adding some missing information (which he had not shared with us while at stay). What did he do to get it rectified?  Ideally, he should have sent an e-mail to the concerned department or Account Manager, right? But he messaged us on Facebook and e-mailed the desired changes to our Digital Marketing Manager. We informed the concerned team and got the needful done with a Thank You note,” informed Wal with satisfaction.

“Then there was an instance when a guest enquired to curate an evening to propose to his girlfriend. In a conventional situation the guest would have called the concierge desk or the Venue Manager but he chose social media. The relation did not end there; the marketing team got into action and ensured the evening was as memorable as it could be. He is currently one of our regular guests and an unpaid brand ambassador,” recollected Wal fondly.

“And there are many more instances when the social media team has played a significant role in shaping the brand promises of our hotel. The most important parameter to address is the response time. Ideally, it should be instant, but we try to maintain a turn-around time of two hours,” Wal disclosed with confidence.

Role of OTAs

Is digital marketing more effective than OTAs (online travel agents) these days and how relevant are the later as far as revenue of the hotel is concerned is a question that is germane for all would be hotel marketers.

 “Digital marketing these days is definitely more effective than OTAs since all OTAs are doing their business on digital platform these days, using different marketing strategies. However, OTAs are beneficial for hotels because of their heavy spend on Google PPC, paid marketing on social platform, for using of mobile as a different marketing tool. With artificial intelligence on mobile device, OTAs have started targeting price by device/ geo location,” informed Kumar.

 “Online travel agents are important for our business but how much is the question which we keep discussing. They benefit hotels by providing large audience base by region, and in different languages. We are currently working with leading domestic and international OTAs through direct contracting and some are coming through GDS to us (using alternate distribution system). OTAs have helped us by bringing more business. However, we have lost few due to rate disparity created by giving coupon discounts by OTAs. Also, if ‘A’ hotel increases commission from X to Y then ‘B’ hotel, which is direct competition to the hotel ‘A’, is expected to lose its market share,” pointed out Kumar.

 “Digital marketing has a wider role to play and OTAs these days form one part of the overall digital marketing eco-system. The primary responsibility of OTAs is to drive business while digital marketing is part of the entire guest cycle. For instance, the guest can be amazed by the mobile check-in process and the mobile check-in process is again part of the digitalisation. The social media for instance is a part of digital marketing,” explained Wal.

“OTAs as compared to other traditional booking channels give you a much larger reach and the possibility of selling more rooms to a larger audience. The Central Reservation System of the hotel is connected to the OTAs through a two way interface and this connectivity therefore helps in maintaining rate parity and live inventory,”  Parinaz pointed out.

“As a hotel, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway always strives to get the right mix of bookings; striking a balance between OTA bookings and direct contact bookings. However, having said that, the OTA’s reach has grown exponentially with the digitalisation of the global economy. Regular tactical offers, along with steady marketing on digital channels, helps to maximise the footfalls in the hotel,” Wal stated.

Merchandising Strategy

Return on investment (ROI) is one of the key considerations for a hospitality property. The OTAs in India have expertise as far as ‘sell on rate’ goes where it is hard to beat them. But hoteliers should preferably learn how to ‘sell on value’ as opposed to ‘sell on rate,’ and need to adopt an effective website merchandising strategy.

 “In terms of merchandising strategy, sell on value will be the way forward for us. The reason behind choosing this strategy is because, only if we know the value of our product we will be able to sell it at the right price. For example, Sofitel Mumbai BKC is one of the top three hotels in Mumbai on TripAdvisor and due to this, the reputation of the brand increases, hence increasing its value. Our brand image in the market, assisted by the facilities & services that we offer, help valuate the hotel’s products on offer such as rooms and our food & beverage outlets. This helps us judge the prices of our products as per the customers’ desire to pay and market trends. Hence one can say that sell on value is the right strategy to follow,” Parinaz aired.

 “As a hotel, we strive to leverage both the aspects. However, during lean periods selling on value adds to the increased number in the bookings, and during the peak season selling on rate is desirable,” reasoned Wal.

 “At The Suryaa New Delhi, we believe in our values, since value is always long-term and price is a short-term concept,” asserted Kumar with a smile. 

Succinctly, we can infer that the Revenue Managers across hospitality properties have lots of challenges in this digital age   in their endeavour to maximise revenue per available room (RevPAR). One way of effectively tackling the revenue issue is through digital marketing. The most valuable bookings tend to come from your direct channels. Not only they generate more revenue, but also they give you valuable guest data to inform your future marketing initiatives. Direct bookings provide more upsell opportunities, thereby increasing your RevPAR. Besides they also help improve guest relations.

Resorts for Business and Leisure
Resorts for Business and Leisure Not so long ago resorts operating in India were mostly just health centres where Ayurvedic treatments were the ord  ... Read More
 
More Interactive Lobbies
More Interactive Lobbies By Sharmila Chand During the recent years, the hotel lobbies in the realm of Indian hospitality industry have underg  ... Read More
 
For Experiential Travellers
For Experiential Travellers In today’s Indian tourism and hospitality industry, experiential holidays and offbeat destinations can hold considerabl  ... Read More
 
An Ethereal Wellness Experience
An Ethereal Wellness Experience By Sharmila Chand Heavenly Spa by Westin, housed in The Westin Pune Koregaon Park provides the perfect ambienc  ... Read More