Expected Changes in Biz Travel – 2018

The travel industry is being heavily disrupted – The rise of the sharing economy, changing demographic expectations, big data, political turmoil, AI, and currency shifts are just a few of the many forces that are putting pressure on the industry. Here are some changes we can expect in 2018.

Travel growth expected: According to the Global Business Travel Association report, expected business travel spending is to grow by 6.1 percent in 2018, up from the expected 5.1 percent in 2017 and this optimism in the business travel industry is driven by accelerating global trade, despite echoes of the recession, in recent memory. Growth in manufacturing and in emerging markets is also major factors. There will be an increase in travel costs, with airfares expected to rise by 3.5 percent and hotel prices 3.7 percent.

The sharing economy completes its transition to business mainstream: In 2014, small business owners chose taxis over Uber by a factor of 3 to 1, but by late 2017 that number has flipped, with small businesses choosing Uber over taxis by 3 to 1.

Airbnb may also be approaching saturation. In 2014, small business owners chose hotels over Airbnb by a factor of 16 to 1. By late 2017, that lead is down to 6 to 1.

Clearly, there is some resistance to embracing the sharing economy when it comes to sleeping arrangements, but even those going the hotel route are likely to see changes in a more casual direction. This is part of a larger trend towards the “consumerization” of business, which is likely to become increasingly important for business travel, especially for businesses hoping to hold top talent in recruitment, negotiation, and other travel-heavy positions.

Self-driven cars begin to play a real part: Uber surprised everybody in August of 2016 by launching a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. While humans in the driver seat monitored the cars, it was much sooner than anybody thought a major company would be going commercial with self-driving cars, in any capacity.

The gravity of how quickly this shift could take place hit home in late November, with the announcement of a deal that would put 24,000 Volvo self-driving cars in Uber’s fleet. The cars will begin to hit the streets in 2019, but the fact that this major deal was brokered should have important implications for the direction of the business travel over the next year.

AI hits the industry in a big way: While the influence of self-driving cars is more likely to be on the horizon in 2018 than on the front doorstep, the broader world of AI will likely be making a big impact. According to an IBM report, more than a third of travel industry leaders will have four or more cognitive projects underway in 2018, and 41 percent plan to launch a cognitive project. Most of the investment is currently going towards chat bots to assist with customer service, whether in the form of messaging or call centre service.

IBM’s report found that the most cognitive-ready businesses in the industry considered personalization of the traveller experience one of the most important points to focus on. The report stated that an unnamed global airline was investing in a Siri-like AI that would communicate with travellers in natural language to put together a personalized travel plan. That personalization would be bolstered by analysis of interactions with other travellers and large data sets about preferences.

Meanwhile, Quantas Airways is already using self-service tech to cut check-in times by 90 percent, the Watson Virtual Assistant is improving call centre performance, Hipmunk has rolled out an app you can talk to like a person, and Amadeus is building custom offers for people based off of their social media profiles (with permission, it should be noted).

Tried & Tested Hospitality Advertising principles

In the same breath as the mantra ‘new is always better’ seems to make sense, it also unearths the realisation that it may at times be the wrong advice to be following.

In the lightning pace of today’s society, it may seem like guests are shouting at you to constantly provide something new, something upgraded, or something that excites them. And only a fool would fail to listen to their customers.

However, the way in which you deliver what your guest wants doesn’t always have to be completely reimagined. New marketing strategies aren’t always the answer – and aren’t always necessary. Yes, new technology and data gives you greater insight and more potential to impact prospects, but there’s a lot to be said for sticking to tried and true advertising principles.

We’re talking about taking lessons from ‘Mad Men’, street vendors, and vintage travel posters. Here’s what you could do with your hotel advertising now – that worked perfectly in the past.

Give your brand a narrative: You need to recognise the need to tell your story succinctly. Make your brand statement clear from the outset of any marketing activity you employ. Humans love nothing more than a good story; one that makes them feel. Once they ‘feel’, they’re more likely to act which is exactly what you want – the action being a booking. Advertising of yesteryear was very much focused on this and it’s driven companies like Coca-Cola to global success. Have the time and patience to craft a story for your hotel brand that will ignite the imagination of your potential guests and make them familiar with your business. Think of ways to present your story with some originality and uniqueness so you can stand out from the almost literal wave of ‘oceanfront’ hotels, for example.

At the same time you need to recognise people nowadays have ever shortening attention spans, so you need to tell your story succinctly. Make your brand statement clear from the outset of any marketing activity you employ. Consistency is key. If people are only going to be looking at your hotel for a short time and catching glimpses here and there of your brand as they research, you need to make sure the picture you paint holds the same message. This way, travellers will more easily recognise you and have some confidence in your ability to deliver a great guest experience.

Be as visual as possible: capitalise on the sense of wonder and awe great visuals can instilin travellers. It allows them to imagine themselves in the destination. In the past, travel posters and billboards had to accomplish this when there was very little else to rely on. Examine some of the best examples you can find and take a similar approach to any design or imagery you use for your hotel. Always keep in mind what kind of brand you are and who you’re trying to attract – then match this to the visuals you use.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on stock images too much or poor quality photos that make your property look dated.

Don’t waste time on dead ends: The best marketers have historically understood you can’t be everything to everyone; they knew when to push and when something was a lost cause. A lot of people may show interest in your hotel while they research for a trip. You need to identify which of these look right for the markets you usually attract and convert at a high rate. If they fall outside of your criteria, your efforts may be wasted. For example, a business traveller might not be the right fit for your all inclusive package including surf lessons.

By the same token, if a guest’s interest is peaked and they match the profile of your usual clientele you need to nurture this relationship. Make contact with them through online remarketing or email (or whatever is most relevant to their initial interaction), giving them a little more information, highlighting your best features and solidifying your business offering. By maintaining a connection, you can stay top of mind when the traveller decides to make a purchase decision.

Zero in on your guest personas: Traditional marketers would often work towards a niche, targeting their products very specifically to a preferred segment. You need to do the same. How specific you are is up to you. You may simply identify millennials as your target or you could go further and target travellers who work stressful jobs if you’re a resort, people on health fads, or adventure junkies if you’re located in rugged terrain etc.

It doesn’t matter who your key audience is, just as long as you know who they are and develop a strategy to get their attention.

 

 

 

Death knell for Room Service?

Traditional room service is becoming a service fewer travellers are demanding. Instead, they are looking to be able to order food the way they do at home. And hotels are responding by forming partnerships with food-delivery services.

Hyatt Centric has partnered with a food-ordering company to let guests order from restaurants selected by hotel employees. Orders can be made through a customized landing page. Residence Inn, part of Marriott International, leaves guests grocery-request forms in their suites. Employees will shop for the requested items, which are added to the final bill with no mark-ups. The rooms have fully equipped kitchens including refrigerators, microwave ovens and dishwashers.

Hoteliers say they are responding to travellers who crave an experience that resembles their home life. The popularity of cooking competition shows has also made many people enjoy the art of making their own meals.

Many travellers believe being able to cook in their hotel room would make them feel more at home while traveling. Millennials — those travellers in their 20s and early 30s — were more likely to want to cook. Growing up, they’ve been watching cooking competitions and they are into celebrity chefs. They view cooking as a form of relaxation and a form of entertainment.

At the same time, traditional room service has not been a money-maker for hotels, and many have decided to suspend it. Travellers, meanwhile balk at in room dining prices. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 37% of hotels offered room service in 2014 vs. 22% in 2016. Meanwhile, 71% of luxury hotels offered alternatives to room service last year.

Some Hilton brands have moved toward pantry-style grab-and-go markets in their lobbies as an alternative. The shops offer hot or cold sandwiches, salads, snacks and sometimes beer and wine.

Even travel review website TripAdvisor has gotten into the food-delivery game, and has integrated Grubhub into its website in the USA and Canada. It recently also aligned itself with London-based Deliveroo to expand globally.

The food-delivery services are much more practical in extended-stay properties that have kitchens, which in general is a rapidly growing segment in the industry.

Online Marketing Buzzwords

Online marketing in the hospitality sector has a lot of buzz words associated with it. Here’s what 3 of them mean:

 Authenticity: “People like people”. Online, this means that users look for the “human” touch and social media is where they find it as opposed to a company’s website. Make sure you don’t fall in the trap of creating “standardised”, “automated”, “impersonal” content. It is very easy to do, but don’t expect any effective results: everyone and anyone can do this. Creating “personal”, “human” content is unique to your brand or business, and this is what will engage your fans, help you create a relationship with them. This is a very important point for hotels and restaurants as it is essentially a “people” industry.

Brand: Your hotel or restaurant brand is what makes you stand out on the market, what communicates your USP. It is important that your brand stands out as much online as it does in your dining rooms or hotel rooms. This can be done through the content you share, the tone of voice or even thanks to design. There is so much content shared online that in order to drive revenue and maximise your assets, you need to make sure it is your strong brand that is recognisable and visible.

Content: Before setting up your social media accounts, think about what type of content you will publish – video, pictures, text, GIFs… Any restaurant or hotel can publish pictures of their rooms or of their menu. You have to think of the content that will stand out, authentic content that relates to your brand and your positioning. There are so many luxury establishments that publish very low quality pictures for instance or even budget properties who publish very high quality content. One rule: never over-promise and under-deliver.

 

Storytelling to connect with Guests

It is not as difficult as it might seem to trigger an emotional response with your hotel marketing ideas. Even the typical guest room and pool images that hotels use appeal to emotions. The trick really becomes how to play an emotional ‘trump card’, one that generates a stronger emotional reaction, so your property sticks out from the rest.

In the hotel industry, storytelling can be your trump card. From making your message more memorable, to making your content more exciting and emotional, storytelling is what can drive more business through your website.

The first step in integrating stories into your hotel marketing ideas. Instead of focusing on the features of your property, start focusing on the benefits, experiences and emotions those features generate. For example, a pool isn’t just a pool. It’s a place where children can play, families can connect, and adults can relax.

The second step is to start telling these ‘stories’ in as many ways and places as possible:

Write Copy that Connects– Language can turn a typical hotel website page into an emotional story. For example, ‘Planning Your Stay’ can be a helpful page that informs travel shoppers about some of the amenities of your hotel, and some of the sights and attractions they can enjoy nearby. But ‘Prepare for Your Adventure’ infuses the emotion of discovery and a sense of the experience they will have.

Put People in Images– If there is one thing that’s common in hotel marketing images, it’s the absence of people. Adding people to at least some of your images instantly tells a story, illustrates an experience, heightens emotion and sets your site apart from the rest.

Let Customers Tell Their Story– User-generated content(UGC), both written and visual, can be your best source of storytelling. From the reviews that guests leave, to the videos they post on social media, UGC speak volumes in emotional, experiential ways.

Put a Face on Your Team– Visitors like to know they are dealing with real people. Sure, a ‘Bio’ tells a story, but an image adds to the emotional connection.

Create Stories Everywhere – Take a moment to read the descriptions you have of your images, both on your website and those that appear on OTAs. Do they tell a story? Or do they simply put into words what’s in the picture? Instead of ‘Fitness Room’ try ‘Give our fitness centre a workout.’

Mobile SEO tactics for hoteliers

According to Google, the ‘Mobile Tipping Point’ was crossed back in 2015 when more people made searches on their mobile over their desktop. Mobile searches have reached nearly 60% of total website visits for the first half of 2017. With the smaller screen-size, organic results are shown much further down below the fold on mobile, making it even more vital to position yourself highly.

There are many SEO practices and tips but here are just 4 from the latest algorithm updates to optimise your hotel website’s ranking on Google both today and for improvements scheduled in the near future?

Be Mobile Friendly

Google is a constantly evolving animal and you must play by their rules, so keeping abreast of the latest Google algorithms is essential to get the top spot on the SERP’s.

Google rolled out an algorithm in spring 2017 which favoured ‘mobile-friendly’ websites over those only suitable for desktop. This means getting a mobile website is not ‘just a phase’, it’s now an essential part of maintaining website traffic.

Load Your Site Quicker

For mobile in particular, users want content to load quickly, under 2 seconds in fact. According to KissMetrics47% of users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and 40% of users abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Scale down on heavy content as much as possible (such as images, videos & interactive maps), not only for a cleaner and easier-to-digest appearance, but also to keep site weight to a minimum.

Content & Language

Meta descriptions and meta tags must be paid attention to. These pieces of text appear in SERP’s as the title and small excerpt of preview text underneath, therefore they need to be carefully crafted to appeal to potential guests, and Google.

Mobile SERP’s naturally provide much less space to sell your hotel in so your message needs to resonate with users across all devices.

The main take away points for creating Meta copy are:

To use keywords liberally but never sacrifice on quality – if it doesn’t make sense, it can’t be included.

Use descriptive language and imagery to entice users to click – this is particularly easy to achieve with hotels and travel in general.

Employ psychological techniques – fear/urgency tactics such as rapidly diminishing room availability, and conveying exclusivity at your hotel are effective in getting users to click.

Showcase enticing rates and special offers – numbers attract attention because they are easier for the brain to process, particularly helpful for smaller screens.

Google My Business

Google My Business is a free tool for every company. It displays all the vital pieces of information about your hotel such as address and contact number, as well as user reviews , property images, and most recently, Google Posts – among other features in the ‘knowledge panel’.

Making sure you have claimed your listing will help make your hotel the most prominent result for brand related searches. It also gives your hotel the opportunity to appear as one of 3 businesses displayed for non-brand related search queries so make sure you’re optimizing this feature, to ensure Google displays your hotel above others.

 

Driving Loyalty

53% of consumers said that good service would keep them loyal to a hotel brand, even if they could get a cheaper deal elsewhere. Meanwhile, 40% said good deals and 39% said a rewards scheme would result in greater loyalty.

This shows that long-term loyalty is possible for travel brands, but the key to achieving it is delivering a service that takes into account the individual’s needs. So while personalisation is somewhat of a buzzword at the moment, it’s certainly something that consumers value.

This is reflected in the reasons certain brands are favoured by consumers. The second-most favourite, Booking.com, was chosen because of its ability to personalise and tailor offers based on previous behaviour. Similarly, the biggest factor cited for British Airways was its superior rewards scheme. Outside of these, there are a few standout examples of brands succeeding when it comes to loyalty.

Hilton and its Hilton Honours Program is particularly good, mainly because it allows consumers to make use of points in situations unrelated to the brand. Members can use them in restaurants and in shops, and even pool points to share with family and friends.

Marriott is another hotel chain that is similarly innovative, this time using a beacon-driven loyalty scheme to allow people to earn rewards based on where they are.

Increasing the guest experience

When it comes to the opportunity for customer engagement, the travel industry already has a head-start – because who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of going on holiday? But while travel consumers might naturally be more inclined to engage, this also means there is greater opportunity for brands to get it wrong. Delays and disruptions might mar a travel experience, but how a brand deals with it can make or break a customer relationship.

Travel Brands need to do the basics as below:

  1. Consumers prioritise pragmatic needs, such as honesty, authenticity, value, and good service. Brands that do not meet these expectations (or view them as standard) run the risk of losing trust.
  2. Customer-centric brands create deeper relationships. Offering something of value (on top of the expected) can be the key to generating longer-term loyalty.
  3. Transparency is key when it comes to data-sharing. Personalisation can help to improve the customer experience, so it is important to communicate this value-exchange clearly with consumers.
  4. In-the-moment technology can take brands to the next level. VR, AR, and chat-bots can enhance and improve the travel journey, engaging consumers when it matters most.

Games Customers Play

Have you noticed how our guests have become smarter over the years and are now able to wangle better deals from you? As much as the world gets smaller, travel has become much less complex and affordable and today’s guests can be geniuses at negotiating much better deals than earlier. Besides, a larger supply of hotel inventory as well as destinations has tilted the scales in the favour of the guest.

Following are some of the most popular tactics that used by Guests

  • Shortage of funds/ limited budget/ more than estimate
  • Complaining from the time of check in /event
  • Never appreciating the positives during his stay
  • “I am too busy now, meet me later”
  • “Your competitor is offering me better rates than you”
  • Praises the competition
  • “What is your best offer?”
  • “I’ll book with you only if you quote me a discounted rate”
  • Referring documents to make out as if he is comparing your quote with competitors, but not specifying any comparison
  • Asks you to give him a minute and keeps on doing other things for a long time
  • Does not pay proper attention – talks to others around – Leaves in the middle for a while
  • Raises his voice on the phone with the person he is talking to in front of you
  • Showing off that he will be favouring you if he commits in your favour
  • Asks for a complimentary stay to check quality (in case of a large residential banquet query)
  • Makes out that he is very pressed for time

I was used as a catspaw!

Children’s author Aesop in 1919 relates a fable of the monkey, the cat and the chestnuts.

Once upon a time a Cat and a Monkey lived as pets in the same house. They were great friends and were constantly in all sorts of mischief together. What they seemed to think of more than anything else was to get something to eat, and it did not matter much to them how they got it.

One day they were sitting by the fire, watching some chestnuts roasting on the hearth. How to get them was the question.

“I would gladly get them,” said the cunning Monkey, “but you are much more skillful at such things than I am. Pull them out and I’ll divide them between us.”

Pussy stretched out her paw very carefully, pushed aside some of the cinders, and drew back her paw very quickly. Then she tried it again, this time pulling a chestnut half out of the fire. A third time and she drew out the chestnut. This performance she went through several times, each time singeing her paw severely. As fast as she pulled the chestnuts out of the fire, the Monkey ate them up.

Now the master came in, and away scampered the rascals, Mistress Cat with a burnt paw and no chestnuts.

Hence the phrase – ‘he used me as a catspaw.’

How often have we been used as a catspaw in our jobs?

As a General Manager, I was given to sign termination letters and file cases against various employees. Sometimes I may not have agreed with the harsh step taken, but job insecurity out of fear, may frankly have led me to comply… not my proudest moments for sure!

We all have our values, our code of ethics, our ways of looking at life… yet moments come when we find ourselves being used as a catspaw. You may relate to situations like these:

  • Your colleague convinces you against your better wishes to go along with his/her plans or ideas…
  • Your subordinate entices you into signing off his/her leave form with flimsy excuses and you do so in order to gain his/her approval…
  • Your boss gets you to do his/her work using flattery to keep you motivated…
  • Your boss takes your idea and implements it without giving you due credit…
  • People are nice to you only because they need something off you and not necessarily because they care for you…

All of the above may happen, but at a cost to you. Remember how pussy’s catspaw was singed while pulling out chestnuts from the fire for the monkey?

So keep a watch and be aware of such situations!

How many time have you been used as a catspaw recently?

Disruptive technology half a century ago ~ Sony vs. RCA

There is a class of technological changes where almost always the new entrant – with far fewer resources and with no track record – topple existing industry giants. This special class of technological changes, paradoxically, does not have to be sophisticated or even radical.

Take transistor television as an example. When RCA first discovered transistor technology, the company was already the market leader in colour televisions produced with vacuum tubes. The company naturally saw little use for transistors beyond a mere technological curiosity and decided to license it to a little-known Japanese firm called Sony.

Sony, of course, could not build a TV out of transistors, but it did manage to produce the first transistor radio. The sound quality was awful, but the radio was affordable for teenagers, who were delighted by the freedom to listen to rock music away from the complaints of their parents. Transistor radios took off. Still, the profit margins were so low that RCA had no reason to invest further. RCA was busy making serious money and investing every R&D dollar on improving vacuum tube colour TV.

Sony, meanwhile, was looking for the next big thing. It launched a portable, low-end, black and white TV targeting low-income individuals at a rock bottom price. Called the “Tummy Television,” it was tiny enough to perch on one’s belly — an antithesis of RCA’s centrepiece that graced middle-class living rooms. Why would RCA invest in transistors to make an inferior television for a less attractive market? It did not.

The real trouble began when Sony finally pushed the transistor’s performance to allow it to produce colour TVs based entirely on the new technology. Overnight, RCA found itself trying to catch up on a technology that it had ignored for the past three decades, which it had ironically pioneered and licensed out. This type of technology – inferior at first but immensely useful later – was disruptive, a term that has since been immortalized in the business lexicon of executives, consultants, and academics.

2016 India Biz Travel

India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and the business travel spend that originates there is expected to reach $33 billion in 2016. India is the 10th largest global business travel market, and GBTA expects the country to climb into the sixth spot by 2019. In July, GBTA had estimated that business travel spend growth from the second quarter of 2015 to the second quarter of 2016 would come in at 10.2 percent. Now that those numbers are final, GBTA has found that business travel spend grew 10.9 percent during that period.

GBTA expects domestic business travel spend, which it estimates represented 91.4 percent of India’s total business travel spending in 2016, to increase 12 percent to $30.2 billion in 2016 and to reach $33.8 billion in 2017.

Think out of the box

An interesting case study…

First you hire someone, then you train them. Right? David Bowd thinks that’s backward.

Earlier this year, the CEO of Salt Hotels was preparing to open his fourth location, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. But he didn’t run a cattle call. He and his team started Salt School instead.

“This is an industry where it’s all about attitude and hard work,” said Bowd, whose resume includes stints with boutique hoteliers like Ian Schrager and Andre Balazs.

The company invited local job-seekers to a free, 10-week, 25-hour introduction to hospitality, and the only requirement was explaining why they wanted to be included. The result: 380 applicants, from teens to 60-year-olds, for 160 spots – many with moving stories of seeking a break, a second chance, or to be a role model for their kids.

“We set about calling in every favor we could with all the hotel friends we had” to staff the Saturday morning sessions, Bowd said, which focused on topics like sales and marketing, F&B and revenue management. In one class, students role-played front desk scenarios – luggage delivered to the wrong room, complaints about loud neighbors. “The purpose was to make decisions on the fly. It’s thinking creatively,” he added.

Bowd watched students gravitate toward certain responsibilities. “It was such a natural evolution of people moving toward areas that they felt comfort in and had a passion for,” he remembered. It also fostered a healthy competition. “You see who’s shy, who’s outgoing, and you are able to match people with their skill set much easier because you see them perform,” he said.

In the end, 110 students graduated, and the hotel hired 67 (three have been promoted); 90% were from Asbury Park. Other local companies have inquired about hiring the students, as well.

“At the end I thought, why have we never done this before? We just employed a whole workforce that we’ve already spent 10 weeks with,” Bowd said. “They know what our core values are, they know what to expect, they have a passion, they’re all local. This is a no-brainer.”

It’s also a lot of hard work, he acknowledges, but with results that far exceeded traditional recruitment, using an approach that he would like to see larger companies use in the communities they enter.

The school moves next year to Topeka, Kansas, where Salt is working on a 109-room hotel. Former students will become staffers to help prepare for an early 2018 opening. “I’ve opened many hotels, and this is the best way of doing it,” Bowd said.

Applying EI in Organizations

Emotional management skills which provide competency to balance emotions and reason so as to maximize long term happiness for self as well as dealing with others, when applied within organizations has major benefits.

Customer Service: Learning how to help your customers feel heard, understood, helped, served, respected, valued and important.

Hiring: Selecting employees with relatively high Emotional Intelligence, i.e. emotionally sensitive, aware, optimistic, resilient, positive and responsible.

Turnover: Enabling turnover reduction through helping employees feel appreciated, recognized, supported, challenged, rewarded and respected.

Training: Raising EQ at all levels of the business through Emotional Literacy and EQ awareness workshops.

Corporate Culture: Creating an environment where employees feel safe, trusted, special, needed, included, important, cooperative, focused, productive, motivated, respected and valued.

Productivity: Developing intrinsic motivation. Increasing employee commitment, cooperation and cohesion. Reducing lost time spent on conflicts, turf-battles, defensiveness and insecurity.

Goal Setting: Setting goals based on feelings. For example, stating the goal that we want customers to feel satisfied, appreciated, etc. and setting similar goals for employees, and then getting feedback on feelings and measuring and tracking performance.

Emotional Support: Mitigating negative emotions like fear, worry, anxiety, and stress.

Leadership: A leader with high EQ is emotionally aware. This means that he or she is aware of his own feelings and is not limited to logic, intellect and reasons when making decisions and managing people.