Smart rooms in the age of smartphones – Hospitality of Things

I was amazed a few days back when I saw Hilton’s newly opened Innovation Gallery – an incubator and foreshadower of future hospitality and guest experience technologies. It houses a variety of technologies and features, like the noise masking Nightingale and Meural; a customizable digital art display. A lot of products on display have been developed with partnerships between the hotel and tech like IBM, Amazon and Tesla. Doesn’t this fact alone go on to show how much the face of hospitality has changed? I’ve been harping about the use of internet and smart rooms in improving guest experience since long. It looks like that future is here now! Not only big chains, but independent hotels will also adopt these technologies in the coming years.

Let me show you how the Internet of Things (IoT) will herald a new future for hotels.

  • Predictive maintenance

The days of preventive maintenance are gone! Predictive maintenance goes one step further by using sensor data to anticipate damaging trends and notify the relevant response personnel, before the matter escalates. Let me give you a real life example. Suppose a room air conditioning system isn’t working rightly. A predictive maintenance system will notify the team while the guest is away, and before the problem is recognized.

  • On cloud 9

One of my friends travelled to Seychelles recently. On returning back, he couldn’t stop gushing about the extremely comfortable stay. I encouraged him to post some pictures on Instagram as well. Once the hotel property saw the overwhelming engagement, they reposted it as User Generated Content. I got in touch with them, and they told me that the traffic generated from this marketing technique, helped them to create a cloud based database which could be accessible to them anytime they wanted. Using Customer Data Management (CDM), they were able to combine as well as process all customer data. By simply resorting to this technology, they could address the clients’ needs and get their feedback quickly. And it did help them in acquiring new customers.

I myself have started using cloud for storing personal information and feel the hospitality industry will benefit greatly by utilizing their public cloud space. There is also the option of using Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) which can further be used for creating one’s own virtual Private Network Connection. This should have an immense benefit to chains, by simply making all their properties and facilities available to all, thus leading to an increased footfall.

  • Super personalization

There’s an increasing amount of personal information being shared over online platforms, even as I write this blog. This allows for content personalization, which is already being used in the online advertising industry. Facebook and Google offer highly targeted ads to a particular interest group based on their search history.  This same data can be used to highly personalize the guest experience.

For example, Samsung’s Hospitality business partnered with Telkonet’s Ecosmart platform to create a smart room that showcased a welcome with light, temperature and shades controls, along with a welcome message with the guest’s name on the in-room TV. The scene looks like it’s out of a movie!

I’ll also make it a point to talk about the Smart Rooms platform, which allows resources to be managed from diverse services and across networks. This definitely gives a structured functionality to the hospitality industry. Their REST service, I will point out particularly is very helpful in managing client queries, registration of visitors and aiding in their operations. This is one of the most innovative ways of handling visitors and reaching out to the prospective ones. This is a resource useful for those interested in availing the services of the hospitality industry. Smart Rooms offers a P type service that can do audio visual processing, which can bring a visually enriching experience to its customers.

Want some more digital gyaan? I’ve been putting some really helpful content on my YouTube channel. Do checkout my #AskAviArya show here – https://www.youtube.com/aviarya?sub_confirmation=1

Checking into September – Facebook Advertising and More

There was plenty of activity this August which kept hospitality aficionados like us on toes. As the summer travel season draws to a close in the northern hemisphere, I’ll take you through the major industry news and research of the last month. Read on and stay updated!

Can Google search results predict room occupancy?

Google and STR recently joined hands to show how searches for accommodation in New York and London are related to occupancy rates in those markets. Not surprisingly, higher Google search volumes were correlated with higher demand levels.

How can hotels increase occupancy rates?

I think it’s a goldmine of information for hotels.

As I have said since long, seasonality plays a big role in travel and having access to the latest data is crucial to ensure occupancy levels are as high as they can be. You can make use of Google’s research into ‘micro-moments’ to understand what travellers want and when. If your bookings are down, is it because your approach isn’t effective, or is it an industry wide trend? You’ll find the answers to such questions in data. By analysing it, you can learn how to measure hotel demand.

Eye on the Future – Voice Powered Rooms

One type of hotel technology that I’ve been keeping an eye is voice-powered rooms. 2017 has been all about testing voice activated rooms, with devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. Hotels like Marriott aren’t the only ones to test this feature. In 2018, the technology will further evolve and do a lot more to make the guests’ stay more comfortable. Not only can you keep a wake-up call or control the music, but can order room service or report something that’s not working. Even your staff can use it.

Advertising your hotel on Facebook

In the last 2 to 3 months, Facebook has really added to its hoard of personalized targeting features. But it’s disappointing for me to see that a lot of advertising on Facebook is still not targeted well. A recent study by AdEspresso on travel advertising confirms this. According to it, 57% of the ads were categorised as general branding exercises, while 37% were destination or route specific.

The lack of personalization and tailoring the ad according to it is what bugs me the most. It will be a lot easier for you to capture the interest of the potential guests because the audience on Facebook actively engage and interact with the content on the platform. Also, most of the Facebook advertising simply redirected to the home page of the website. You’ve to understand that your guest needs nurturing; they take a considerable time to book and need a lot of convincing. A longer sales funnel and lead generation campaigns will help you here.

These are some of the trends that are shaping and will continue to shape the hospitality industry. Check out the #AskAviArya show for more – https://goo.gl/bM22gT

The Life and Times of Chatbots in Hospitality

How many times have you spoken to Siri on your iPhone or used Google Now on your Android device and got a response that is measured, helpful and at times as funny as any human?

My dear hoteliers, we live in a time where the average person might have more conversations with bots rather than his or her spouse. It is expected that by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. This is also why I suspect that booking engines as we know them will either cease to exist or change drastically.

But what exactly is a chatbot? It is an AI based program that can interact with the user in a simple conversational mode that encourages interaction while providing information. It is more personal and responsive than a simple search engine and resembles a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger conversation more than a Google search. In fact Facebook Messenger itself opened up to such business related bots in Apr 2016 and is presently home to thousands of such intelligent conversation programs. Indian chatbot startups have also responded to this demand by offering many customized services.

When I first noticed this trend, I asked myself where exactly this technology can fit into the hospitality sector. And the answer, I realized, is everywhere. In a business whose foundation is built upon personal interactions with guests and where success depends on how customized these interactions can be for each individual guest, a technology that specializes in conversations can be a blessing. I will list out the three key areas where chatbots or assistive conversational entities can help old and new players in the hospitality industry.

Booking

A guest begins his travel journey by browsing through the options available on various OTAs and then visiting the websites of the shortlisted hotels. Usually he goes back to the OTA for the in search for answers to queries in the comments/user reviews sections. OTAs realized the need to customize this process and in the quest to provide relevant info based on the unique query of each guest, they incorporated the chatbot technology. Expedia incorporated this as a Facebook Messenger chatbot that can interact with the guest just like a Hotel Reservation Desk. Chatbots can also be designed to answer queries during the booking process like the ixibaba chatbot on the ixigo website.

For hotels, the personalization options are even vaster. Your hotel can deliver tailor made offers or options instantly and directly to the guest via chat at any point before, during or after their stay. Imagine answering to a guest’s queries without the need for transferring to a waiting line for a call or delaying the matter by resorting to an email chain. Well-designed hotel website chatbots can incorporate the query and booking option into one, thus easing the entire process and allowing the guest to satisfy his query and immediately make a booking on the same platform seamlessly.

Stay

I’m glad to see the technology already being used in this space. We use smart cards to access elevators and hotel room doors; personalized smart bands, like the one at Disneyland, help to access every single service – from transportation to rides. A simple chatbot app on the hotel website will let any guest to enhance this experience by once again providing the option of customization. An example is the Radisson Blu Edward hotel chain in UK where guests can use the chatbot “Edward” to ask for anything – from a bottle of shampoo to the location of the hotel gym without being bothered to put on hold while reception connects you to housekeeping.

A conversation with Edward

Feedback

In a world of quick user reviews on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor, your hotel needs to be up and running with the response mechanism. A simple “Thank You” in response to a glowing review and a committed assurance to fix problems after a not so flattering review helps in building customer trust and brand image over time. Chatbots embedded in these platforms can quickly respond to such issues and if linked with the bot on the hotel website, can also help to get the right representative in touch with the guest through their available contact details.

Chatbots are a simple but extremely effective tool of enhancing customer experience in every single phase of their interaction with the service provider. In my opinion, this sector can never get enough of personalization when it comes to guest interactions, because for everything else the guest is already in possession of a complete bouquet of options from OTAs.

God lies in the little things in the hospitality industry and these nifty technological tools can help any property transcend the divide between a good hotel and an “unforgettable experience”.

Share this blog with someone you think needs it. And if you haven’t caught up with the latest episode of the #AskAviArya show, click here – https://goo.gl/wgniae

Addicted to discounts? Here are 10 smart ways to increase hotel occupancy

As I sit down to write this blog during the Dussehra festivities, I can’t help but think about my childhood. My grandparents made sure that I’m taught about ancient scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Gita. I strongly believe that everything that was said in these texts thousands of years ago still holds true in 2017. The roads have remained the same, the path to success and enlightenment are still the same! I always try to use this path to help hotels grow their business. Every hotelier who meets me has the same question in mind – how to increase hotel occupancy? With this thought, I want to share with you strategies on how to increase hotel bookings.

I’m very disappointed when managers simply slash room rates to put heads on beds. It doesn’t always justify the loss in revenue, and also sets wrong price expectations. Instead, take inspiration from ancient wisdom and ADD VALUE for your guests. Let me show you how –

1. Promote special packages to people

Guests don’t always think of services like spa, gym, and restaurants while booking rooms. Come up with a great deal that adds value to staying at the hotel, like clubbing free Wi-Fi and or a spa offer with the hotel stay. It will encourage guests to use services that they haven’t thought of before.

2. Stand out from the crowd

Give your guests a reason to choose your hotel over a hotel two blocks or two miles away. You can differentiate your hotel from your competitors on the basis of price, policy and service. Offering free Netflix or a 2 pm checkout are just a few possibilities. While you do not want to get into a losing battle by dropping your room rates 20 % below your competitor’s rates, you can have a policy where you are always at or near the lowest rate in town.

3. Time for an OTA audit!

It is easy to get caught up in the OTA trap. Online travel agencies can send business your way, but they also charge a commission and you usually have to sell those rooms at a discount to the customer. In certain situations, using an OTA to increase occupancy works well, but should know how much or how little it is adding to your bottom-line. For that you should regularly audit your OTA sales and expenses.

4. Host business and private functions

If you have the space and facilities, put more energy in using them to host business gatherings, reunions or other social events. You can do everything from holding a training session in a conference room to being the venue for a wedding on the grounds of your hotel. This will help you get loyal guests for the future!

5. Make a few rooms pet friendly

As a proud owner of multiple dogs, I pull my hair in frustration when I see hotels still have a no pet policy. I feel some of the rooms in a particular section of a hotel can definitely be made pet friendly. Many travellers love to take their pets along for trips and tours. Why not attract them as a different customer segment? It is a great hotel room sales strategy.

6. Your staff persons are the best salesmen

Your employees are the key to increase hotel bookings. If your employees are happy, they will naturally talk positively about your hotel. In addition to relating positively to hotel guests they encounter, you never know when they may inspire a guest to return to the hotel the next time he or she visits town. Don’t ignore your employees. They are your most valuable asset.

7. Publish a hotel newsletter

Give a boost to your hotel by publishing an effective newsletter. Guests can opt-in to receive an email subscription to the newsletter and it is a great way to stay in touch with current and future visitors to your hotel. Always add great topical content and offer incentives that are only available by subscribing (for free) to the newsletter.

8. Promote your city – not just hotel

I don’t see many hotels doing this. Market your location as a destination, and you’ll increase the visitors to your hotel. Promote and market specific attractions in your city – this will prompt guests to actually pack their bags and travel. And once you’ve convinced them to travel to your location, you’ll be the automatic choice for their stay.

9. Share more videos

People are crazy for videos. It’s also a major source of travel inspiration – so it makes a lot of sense for your hotel to include video in the marketing efforts. Adding videos to a hotel’s website helps to engage visitors and increase time on site. Posting videos on YouTube and other social media sites does wonders for engagement there too — just make sure to link back to your website, where a “Book Now” option will be waiting for them!

10. Use your blogs

Your blog is one of the least utilized and most important weapons in your arsenal. I’m a big fan because of their influencing power – it is information that affects consumer decisions. Once you start putting up great content, your hotel becomes a source of information, the hotel website grows in page size and also the amount of time people spend on the site increases – this is great for SEO.

Man is a Social (media) Animal – Humanize Your Hotel

I have followed the hotel industry for about 2 decades now, and I strongly believe that the industry’s relation with an increasingly digitized world is the biggest game changer for the future. Social media has become inevitable for reaching out to wider audiences, but what is more important for brands is to reimagine its services for the new age consumers. No other business needs projection of a human face more than a hotel, from the time a guest checks-in, till he signs off. For generations, hotels have tried to create a personification of their ethos through many ways – branding, logo, monogrammed amenities, and individualistic advertising – all in an attempt to stand out and be picked by a discerning customer.  I am amazed to see the varied ways in which hotels can increase this reach through human engagement on social networks. Moreover a lack of such a “people first” strategy in social media can actually rebound and pull your brand down swiftly.

Let’s see how your hotel can build a human brand using social media.

Personification: How does a brand create its unique personality that is different from the crowd? I urge you to regard brands as living beings that breathe, feed, age and die during its life cycle. This helps in creating every hotel’s persona. Every hotel has its own story to tell – be it relating to its conceptualisation, heritage, history and much more, so weaving that in your brand message is the first step to get your guest curious. You can position the hotel’s marketing campaigns in social media with human traits which are likeable, modest and responsive.

Nurturing communication like humans: Humanising your brand should not be limited to a one time exercise of acquiring the first-time customer, instead try to make it into a habit and it will go a long way in retaining customers and earning loyalty. Try to eliminate any physical barrier that could come in the way of relationship with your guest online.

I always tell all my clients – evocative emotions are necessary for social media. Your message could be sentimental, aspirational or funny, but do try to nail at least one end of the spectrum in all content.  Simple, boring content would be easily ignored. Sharing customer reviews and tagging the customer with pictures can be very well received by prospective customers because you are putting a human face to your brand.

Make your content lively: How can you make your content lively and interactive? The best way is to include pictures and links that can help guests connect with your hotel employees instantly. For instance, many companies prefers to give links to the Twitter team bio page, with each team member’s photo, personal twitter account, and why they love that brand. Today things have gone past corporate logo or advertising with a generic or objective voice. The Design Management Institute Study found over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2014, companies that focused on innovating through “human-centred design” grew at a rate more than two times greater than others.

Solutions through social media: Knowing your guests pain-points can help you address their issues on social channels leading to positive feedback from guests. You should be able to solve their issues tactfully on social media as you do when facing the guest physically. Also, make the endeavour of never stopping to pleasantly surprise guests. You can enrich experience of guests by offering special packages, and never leave any opportunity to tap on those moments on social media. You may also ask for guest’s Twitter handle at check-in, or during the booking process that could help you tweet the consumer and keep him informed from the time he checks-in and throughout the stay till departure.

It’s crucial to know the fine line between customer service and annoyance. However, tweeting with consumers can display the hotel’s loyalty with guests.

I’m not surprised to see more and more hotels offering iPads, touch screens, e-menus, property tours via internet, gadgets in hotel rooms, but I urge you to remember that no matter how much technology pervades our lives no one can replace human interactions which create emotions. So the ideal future for any hotel would be a marriage of technology and personalised interaction- a match truly made in heaven!

Know anyone who’s having trouble humanizing his or her brand? Share this blog!

It’s 2018: Things To Add In Your Hotel’s Social Media Strategy

The world welcomed 2018 a few weeks ago with huge cheers, dazzling fireworks and lots of positive thoughts. With the arrival of a New Year, people start making New Year’s Resolutions for their personal life. Some of these are finished, while the others are forgotten. I have figured out my goals for 2018 and started making efforts to accomplish them on time.

Not just personal life, there should be New Year’s Resolutions for professional life as well. Although some days of 2018 have passed, it’s never too late to set business goals. For hoteliers, New Year is the perfect time to look forward and create plans to make improvements in hotel services. It’s the time when New Year holiday season is over and hotels get a chance to make impressive marketing strategies to boost revenue.

In last few years, marketing trends in hospitality industry have changed a lot. Digital marketing has provided revolutionary innovative strategies that hotels of all sizes can use to boost their brand presence and revenue as well. Marketing through social media has become a vital part of a hotel’s promotion plans. Today, it is not limited to just posting packages or room rates. It is more focused on what online travelers wish to see in a hotel and what are their expectations from hoteliers. Through posts, reviews, comments and many other useful social media features have been making a hotel’s social media campaign successful and revenue-generating method.

Here, I am sharing some social media strategies that I have analyzed and found them useful to be used in 2018 to promote a hotel online:

Include New Platforms To Reach More People

Undoubtedly, popular social media websites are powerful and easy online platforms to launch a campaign and reach a wide range of audience. But all hoteliers are using these sites to boost their brands, and 2018 is the time to explore more and gain attention of modern audience. In addition to traditional social sites, you can add messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram in your social media strategy of this year to utilize their personalized experience and reach more audience.

Post Fresh Content In Unique Way

You must identify your audience and social media platform you can use to reach it. Once you are done with this, your next objective should be creating a precise buzz online. Use the art of storytelling to engage people and get tremendous value. Apart from posting content with eye-appealing graphics, you can gain guests’ trust by having a conversation with them. Interact with your audience, reply to their comments and ask them interesting questions.

Invest In Video Content To Gain Attention

With the increase in internet speed in last few years, popularity of video content has also skyrocketed. While YouTube is still the most-effective social media video platform to reach millions through your videos, there are also some other platforms too that are becoming famous over the internet. Through Facebook’s Facebook Live feature, Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories, you can reach new age audience in an interesting manner. While using these video sharing platforms, make sure that you are providing your hotel’s official website link where users can make bookings.

Stay Active And Post Consistent Updates

Hospitality industry has guests of different age groups, and all of them aren’t active on social media all the time. Your hotel’s media strategy must be scheduled right. It not just creates a loyal fan base, but paints a truthful image of your hotel. Make a social media calendar and maintain it. Schedule your posts and ensure that they have been posted at the right time when most of your followers are using the Internet.

Set Budget For Paid Social Media Campaigns

Social media marketing isn’t just about posting text, photos and videos on different sites. You can start paid campaigns on different social media channels to get more exciting returns. Before planning a social media strategy, set a budget aside for these campaigns.

Even if some weeks of 2018 have passed, the remaining months are enough to change lots of things, especially when it’s about social media marketing of your hotel. New social media platforms will keep on emerging, so you should stay updated with them and learn how to utilize their features to gain more exposure. Even if you are using strategies different from those mentioned above, make sure that your guests are center of your social media marketing. Instead of selling your services to them, give them experience.

If you want to learn and grow your business with the help of social media, join this thriving community for interesting discussions:
https://www.facebook.com/internetnetarchive/