By Lee Rickwood
Mobile technology and social media networks are a double edged sword for marketers and brand managers, perhaps no more so than in the travel and hospitality industry.
New technology platforms are a terrific opportunity for operators in hotels and restaurants to make greater contact with their guests, helping to build relationships that boost brand awareness and product development.
But those same guests are very willing and able to share their dislikes as well as their likes, and a bad rap online can do tremendous damage to a brand.
Check out some of the comments on the non-affiliated web forum, Flyer Talk – you’ll soon see how things can get out of hand. Some people are sharing useful information; others just seem to be waiting for service failures to erupt.
So, just as hoteliers and restaurateurs have invested in their kitchen, reservation and concierge operations, they must also give weight to mobile apps and social connectivity, and work to ensure that customers are engaged and involved in a positive conversation about the operation.
Operators should be integrating social and mobile into their overall marketing plan, and then they must monitor and evaluate the options to determine which are most complimentary to their business growth strategy.
The new platforms also come with improved analytic information, so that users can get a better sense of what guests want and what guests say about getting it.
Some hotel chains have fully embraced mobile apps and social media, as well as in house TV channels or digital signage networks.
Ottawa-based Hotel Communication Network(HCN) has just rolled out patented in-room technology for delivering business, hospitality and entertainment related- content. The HCN in-hotel or city-wide network is accessible via TV, computer or portable media device, through its own multi-platform interface.
But others are hardly represented at all – or represented poorly – in the digital media environment.
The Starwood Hotel and Resort chain was one of the first to embrace new media tools, and it has been using sweepstakes and other contests to engage visitors since 2006! But in a quick check of its Hawaii property – (yeah, dream on, Lee!) all I found was a ‘Join the conversation’ button.
One would think they have more to seduce me with than that.
The Hyatt chain of hotels launched an online community just for its Gold clientele a while back, and along with information from its own concierge staff, the site allowed for advice from confirmed frequent travellers. Hey, they should know something, right?
The page boasted some 9,000 fans at last count – and while that number brought a certain confidence, the service has now closed (in favour of online recruiting and HR initiatives.
And, while I personally like the Ramada Vancouver, its Facebook page cites 200 something ‘Likes’ – not a great showing at first glance.
Many operators use online tools to allow prospective customers to virtually tour a facility – photos and videos of guest rooms, banquet facilities, even poolside areas are common. But allowing the guest to post and share their own content brings an added credibility to the message – again, hopefully a positive one.
Most of us just want to know that what we see online in a posted image is what we will see in real life, once we get there. Geo-tagging photographs and added user comments can be reassuring.
In a more direct marketing vein, social media platforms can be used to post updates of special off-season discounts, such as at thte Wyndham Hotel chain.
A cross-promotional opportunity arises by working with other local business or event organizers, to promote a special event or themed activity, whether at the hotel or a nearby partner location.
Hotel Toronto used the Toronto International Film Festival in this way, and has some great photos on its social media site to prove it!
According to findings from a recent PwC survey, Canadian private companies are planning to invest in mobile computing and social media to help them achieve their growth aspirations,
The top technology investment over the next one-to-three years are seen to be mobile computing and social media/networking.
The hospitality industry should be making their bookings now.