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08/16/2021

Guest Engagement Requires Tech But Don't Set it & Forget it

Not actively measuring customer engagement and fully understanding why their customer books, loves, and appreciates their brand is the biggest tech mistake most hoteliers make.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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With clients ranging from Half Moon Bay to Carmel Valley Ranch, Hooray Agency is a marketing staple in the hospitality community. Last year, under the leadership of CEO Steven V. Seghers, an industry insider and marketing expert, Hooray partnered with Resorts World Las Vegas. And the agency has also worked with other hospitality brands such as Starwood Hotels, Hyatt, Montage Hotels, Salamander Resorts and Preferred Hotels & Resorts. With the hospitality industry experiencing massive changes through the pandemic and now seeing a giant surge in revenge travelers, HT reached out to Seghers to better understand how he thinks technology in general, and marketing technology specifically, is evolving in the hospitality space.

What does the future of technology within the hospitality industry look like?

As legacy systems fade away, we fully anticipate that the industry will continue to move towards a level of guest engagement that will be both personal and experience focused. In other words, how can technology be used to deliver the truly high-touch level of service and engagement that all hospitality professionals dream about? It starts with personalization, and it ends with the ability for that customer to engage with your brand on a one-to-one basis. The future is not room nights, the future of technology is helping guests connect, share, and build truly unique stay experiences. Technology should be at the center of this sea change.

How has COVID accelerated the need for advanced technology?

The obvious desire for technology during COVID starts with health: touchless…well everything. This is largely driven by mobile and guest-service app solutions, and the need to craft communications in a device-centric way to drive commerce, increase guest service, and reduce the risk of COVID spread. Ultimately, the race to technology has created an unintended consequence: the need for technology to solve technology problems. Converting analog to digital, service to an app, or text-based solutions has not been as simple a transition as possible. Every customer wants to consume their information differently and putting a QR code on every surface is simply not enough. Therefore, the COVID crisis has forced providers to rethink how and when to apply technology in a way that’s not guest disruptive, and yet, provides really simple solutions.

What technologies are key for some of your hospitality clients?

For our clients, this falls into three very important technology categories: 1) Ecommerce: creating a powerful, flexible, emotive, and dynamic digital experience from click-to-book is an endless process of optimization and refinement, 2) Guest service: text, mobile app, chat, and the ability to tie these solutions into a fully wrapped guest journey, and 3) Artificial Intelligence: programmatic advertising and insights, guest response solutions and monitoring, and real-time guest retention.   

Why is marketing so important for the hospitality industry right now?

Marketing is the lifeblood of brand relevance – your market advantage vs. your competition. Quite simply, the ability for you to earn more business, direct, at the highest possible margin. Without effective marketing, the hospitality industry becomes a price driven commodity. With marketing, the customer is given the choice to pay more, demand more, and spend more. COVID has forever changed the customer’s perception on life, wellness, and travel. The competitive challenges for the hospitality industry remain perilous despite the recent occupancy rebounds, and marketing helps to provide a controlling balance to keep your brand relevant and engaged, one customer at a time.

How are hotel brands upping their use of technology in combination with marketing to be more effective at reaching potential guests?

During this recovery, most of the major technology marketing advancements are focused on the conversion or revenue layers of their business. In particular, the use of booking retention technology to remarket to guests, leveraging both abandonment messaging and the use of dynamic pricing to drive immediate reengagement and bookings (“We can offer you a free night stay if you book on a Sunday to Thursday”). The second major confluence would be the use of programmatic advertising technology to target “look-alike” customers that book your hotel. In short, if you have customers booking during midweek, weekend, or has the highest potential lifetime value, then wouldn’t it be great to target other customers with the same buying characteristics. This technology has been at the center of many highly successful new business efforts. Ultimately, every hotel brand should be crafting a real-time and automatic customer insight engine to build, target, and reach the ideal customer when your hotel needs it the most.

What's the biggest tech mistake hoteliers make when marketing their brand?

The biggest tech mistake we see from hoteliers: 1) Not actively measuring: customer engagement and fully understanding why their customer books, loves, and appreciates their brand/product/experience, and 2) Static solutions or “set it and forget it” mentality around technology:  The idea that one set of solutions will help to fix XYZ, problems. Instead, they should be using technology to help them customize, accelerate, and continually optimize performance. Static technology is dead technology.

What's one piece of advice you want to give to all hoteliers?

Do one thing exceptionally well. Make this one thing memorable, and unforgettable. You can do 10 things “pretty good”, and no one will remember what they are. The customer will not necessarily come again. You will be lost in the sea of sameness. Do one thing, exceptionally well (and throw in the pretty goods), and they will tell a friend, post about it, become loyal repeat guests, and most importantly, they will advocate your brand forcefully.  What’s your one thing?