Michelle Wohl is the VP of Marketing at Revinate. Based in San Francisco, Michelle has worked in technology marketing since graduating from Cornell University.

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What Makes a Hotel a Digital Genius?

Social media, mobile applications, and a strong web presence are foundations of success for hotels today according to a recent L2 report.  Hotel owners and GMs often ask ­- “how can investment in technology and social media drive revenue for my hotel?” and “how can I justify the expense and effort that it takes to become a digital genius?”

The Rewards of being a Genius

Our friends at L2 show that excellence in social, mobile, and web functionality clearly increases revenue.  Their report, Digital IQ Index, quantifies the digital competence of over 52 global hotel brands, giving each a digital IQ, and bestowing a few competent brands with the title of “genius.”  In the 22 hotel brands where revenue was tracked, there was a strong correlation between higher digital IQ and increased RevPAR.  Hotels that excelled at marketing in the digital space experienced a 5 to 15% increase in Revenue Per Available Room between 2010 and 2011.  Many hotels with less focus on digital experienced stagnant growth in RevPAR over the same period.  This proves that investment in social media, mobile applications, and web clearly pays dividends.  So what does being a digital genius hotel entail?  What best practices can you adopt to get the most out of your digital investment?

Excellence in Social Media

To become a social media genius, the report highlighted the importance of content, engagement, size of community, and participation on varied social media platforms.  The goal of social media engagement is interaction from both sides, but many marketing teams feel as though they need to “pull teeth” to get customers to respond.  The L2 report discusses what followers most value and respond to on social networks.   Photos and video of hotel features had the highest interaction rate.  The next highest driver of interaction was contests.   Trailing contests on the interaction scale were company news, local tourism information, and special offers respectively.  This shows that visitor photo contests and investing in high quality images are great ways to increase interaction and enhance your social media strategy.  While many hotels focus heavily on special offers and fan deals on social networks, this report proves that this is not the most effective way to keep followers engaged.

The size of your community is an obvious factor in using social media to drive revenue.  Simply put, more followers = more revenue.  We have talked much in recent weeks about the Facebook Factor, or the likelihood of purchase by followers.  This report provides more evidence that growing the number of followers should be a key goal, assuming you are dedicating time and energy to keeping them engaged.  Integration of social media with online and offline communications is the most effective way to grow your numbers.

The L2 report yielded some fascinating information about emerging social media channel adoption by hotels in the study.  Despite the hype surrounding Pinterest and Tumblr, hotels moved onto Google+ and foursquare in far greater numbers.  In fact, 63% of hotels began engaging with Google+, 58% adopted foursquare, and only 17% launched a Pinterest presence.  For hotels and restaurants that are active on foursquare, Revinate provides full support of the platform to see when guests check in and leave tips. You can even set up ‘specials’, all from within Revinate. Remember, your hotel does not need to engage with customers on every social media channel, but a varied and active presence will increase the ability for customers to interact with you in meaningful ways.

For established social channels, hotels are expanding the functionality of their pages.  For example, 10% of hotels allow for full Facebook booking and another 54% start the booking on Facebook and then complete it on their hotel site.  This means that 64% of hotels directly seek bookings from their Facebook pages and customers respond. Many Revinate customers are using Social Buzz, a dynamically generated reviews widget, to share the hotel’s latest reviews on Facebook. Having reviews appear on a tab near the booking engine keeps prospects from linking out to view reviews on review sites or OTAs.

There is also a customer driven trend to discuss customer service on social channels.  According to L2, 77% of hotels using Twitter fielded tweets dealing with customer service inquires and concerns.  The good news is that the most damaging customer service concern is the one that you don’t know about.  Carefully monitoring social sites, especially Twitter, since it is completely public, is the best way to handle customer concerns and protect your reputation.  Revinate’s dashboard with real-time alerts can be an invaluable tool to keep up with customer service related tweets. To see some great examples of service recovery, check out this success story on Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Excellence in Mobile

Full adoption of mobile friendly browsing and booking is what separates genius hotels from the rest of the pack.  Travel Weekly just reported that mobile hotel booking is expected to jump from 1 to 4% in 2012.  In fact, Orbitz has reported that 9% of its 1st quarter bookings this year took place on mobile devices.  Also of note is the 19% increase in travel spending by the 18 to 24 age group who are trendsetters and heavy mobile users.  With Smartphone sales up 58% last year according to Travel Weekly, the growing trend for customers to book via mobile should be on everyone’s radar.

L2’s mobile geniuses offered full booking apps for both the Android and IPhone operating systems.  All geniuses have a mobile-optimized website for easy viewing on the go.   According to the report 66% of the hotels studied had full mobile booking functionality, which many view as critical to increasing direct bookings and limiting OTA expense.  Mobile concierge applications are proving to be very effective in driving revenue for food, beverage, and spas in high performing hotels.

Excellence in Web

The importance of a full featured website for your hotel is not new.  Reports by eMarketer state that 46% of active travelers visit the hotel’s branded website before booking.  However, the clear benefits of integration between hotel sites and social channels are beginning to be understood.  L2 reports that hotels who include a social sharing feature registered a 12% increase in page views.  Surprisingly, only 40% of hotels do this, showing slow adoption of this integration vs. other industries.

Feature rich websites are critical to increasing traffic and keeping bookings direct.  Linking to your Facebook page via the “like” API is a wonderful way to drive engagement and create loyalty.  With live chat, customers can get questions answered quickly and easily which keeps them off OTA sites where you risk losing them to a competitor.  Hotels that offered integrated guest reviews sent 39% less traffic to OTAs, thus increasing the profitability per booking.

Content rich websites helped hotels keep users on longer, thus increasing booking rates.  Photo galleries, guest testimonials, local attractions, curated itineraries, and concierge tips, add value to the browsing experience and keep customers loyal to your direct booking channel.

Be a Digital Genius

Hotels have seen a shift in what constitutes genius in the world of digital marketing.  The revenue and traffic driven by SEO, Banner Ads, and Email marketing are still important business generators, but they now share the stage with social, mobile and, fully functional web.  One of the most critical elements of all digital marketing is ability to track revenue.  Many hotels make an investment in new technology without the ability to track revenue easily from that investment.  This is especially true with social media, a key area where Revinate can help.  Revinate tracks all your social media engagement and helps aggregate all your analytics into one simple dashboard. Do your best to build traceability and flexibility into your digital marketing plans, so you can learn what works for you.  This information gives an overview of what works for hotels in general, but every property is unique and can drive engagement, loyalty, and revenue in different ways.


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