As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.
While that laser focus is exhilarating, I also know it comes with both pressure and challenges. In your pursuit of growth, a lot can be sacrificed along the way. Even on the most painful days, you will convince yourself that that bad decision you made years back wasn’t so bad, as you place yet another bandaid to fix an issue that you know full well requires much more than that.
This year of 2020 has been a rude awakening for all of us. Within weeks, hotels and hotel technology companies alike have had to transition from high growth to pure survival. And, while difficult, it’s afforded us all the opportunity to put the brakes on and reconnect with our people, reassess every cost no matter how small, and give deserved attention to the issues that were holding us back and will hold us back again in the future.
Indeed, in so many ways, the world has reset.
Our industry of travel has reset.
And, so have your guests.
The New Traveler
The special COVID-19 edition of SiteMinder’s Changing Traveler Report has made a number of things clear:
1. Americans still want to travel. Forty-eight percent hope to hit the road domestically in the remainder of 2020 and, by the end of next year, 3-in-4 plan to have taken a trip outside of the region they live in.
2. On those travels, hotel chains and resorts remain their top accommodation preference.
3. Well-promoted health and safety practices are listed above low price when Americans make a booking, suggesting that these travellers are not reckless, but rather value the experience of travel to the degree that they’re willing to adapt their behaviors to ensure their continued holidaymaking.
Like your guests, who will continue to travel despite a level of risk, you, too, mustn’t be afraid to shift your approach and change the way you do business in the months ahead. In fact, to maintain guest appeal and loyalty, evolution during this time of reset plans, behaviors and values is non-negotiable.
Remaining engaged with guests and the broader community in 2020 isn’t easy.
Not separate from the evolution of corporate America that’s taken place across the past decade, you and your team must increasingly continue to ensure you’re engaging your guests authentically and meaningfully, in line with rapidly changing customer expectations.
With the advent of more nimble lifestyle boutiques and increased competition from the sharing economy, more than ever hotel chains are seeing the importance of having a vibrant and distinct personality -- a company voice.
By using social media to create a feeling of genuine community as Palladium Hotels has done with its recent online music festival, for example, and by becoming more connected to the changed values of the society around you, you have an opportunity to hold the interest of the savvy modern guest and to remain relevant.
Creating new revenue opportunities in a changed world.
Long before COVID-19, many brands sought to create a whole property experience —not only a bed— that connects with the broader community in both design and culture and brings external parties into the ecosystem of the hotel. While some revenue streams have been halted temporarily in recent months due to travel restrictions and social distancing, there are other inventive ways that you can continue to reach out to engage with the community at this time. Speaking recently to Sari Pacific Jakarta, we learned how a large, established hotel can reimagine its F&B, offering services to isolating locals during Ramadan while also creating a quiet space for local professionals who weren’t able to work effectively from home.
Equally, for your hotel, there are unique opportunities this year to create a setting that provides value to visitors and your local community, for reasons other than simply a room.
Streamlining the guest experience with tech.
For many hoteliers that we’ve spoken with throughout this pandemic, this has unsurprisingly been a time to ensure that their tech stack is future-proofed. Technology has long been acknowledged as an enabler of innovation into the future and yet, for many, it represents a high-cost, outdated piece of hardware that can be easy to ignore, until an industry reset tells you that you can’t ignore it any longer.
It’s no secret that modern-day travellers are becoming more accustomed to hyper-personalized and streamlined service in every aspect of their journey. As such, if your hotel is going to deliver on its promise of quality, personalization and convenience are expected now more than ever.
One practical way that this has manifested in recent weeks is the increased push for hotels to become contactless at check-in to promote safety. Some hotels have gone so far as to create a no-touch experience all the way from the airport to the hotel room, and back again. Apps which allow for keyless entry and self check-in have been important in making this a reality. By having the right technical framework to support the best apps out there, your hotel can become less transactional and focus instead on establishing genuine connections with guests.
Let’s also not forget that distribution remains core to reaching guests. While corporate travel and group bookings will likely remain limited for months, remember that every distribution channel has a purpose and should be optimized. In what has been a tumultuous time for our industry, a sense of comfort and pride can be gained in acknowledging that American consumers, despite the circumstances, still highly value hotel chains and resorts; a testament to the brand equity and high level of service that has been provided to loyal guests across the country for many decades.
To assume that these are the same travellers that have visited in previous years would be incorrect, however, as for many, the last several months will have had a lasting impact on the way that they view their travels, priorities and what they require from a hotel.
To accommodate these travellers and to attract new ones, it’s key that your hotel remains agile. If 2020 has reminded us of anything, it’s how rapidly and easily change can happen, for us all and the customers we serve.
Regional Vice President - the Americas
Bernhard Ballin has forged a 15-year career fostering growth and innovation within both business-to-business and consumer brands, including online store LLB Enterprises, which he founded in 2005. Today Bernhard leads the Americas for the global hotel industry’s leading guest acquisition platform, SiteMinder, which he joined in 2009 as one of the company’s earliest employees in Sydney and has since played a pivotal role in expanding internationally from the UK and, more recently, the United States. Bernhard is also the current president of independent boutique investment bank 4Front Capital, and holds investor roles for TRAVLR in Australia and Dolly's D-Lite in Dallas.