In a year where working from home, grocery shopping online, and visiting the doctor through an iPad are commonplace, technology and digital solutions have stepped up to meet these new needs. But as the COVID-19 crisis recedes and greater opportunity exists for in-person events to return, hotels will be working with a different planner – one who has adapted to this digital world, and who will expect digital solutions from suppliers. This means hotel digital transformation is no longer an option. It’s not a “nice to have” anymore – it’s table stakes for keeping up with the changing times and meeting planner expectations.
In this blog post, we cover a few ways to embrace hotel digital transformation so you can be ready to restart your group business and accommodate safe meetings and events.
Discover 8 hotel digital transformation ideas and trends you need to know for 2021:
1. Enable direct online bookings to capture small meetings.
As in-person meetings begin again, they will be smaller, drive-to meetings. To capture those small, simple meetings, venues can enable direct online bookings. Oftentimes, smaller meetings are organized by individuals who don’t usually handle planning events. As such, they’re looking to make the process as easy as possible.
“They want the easy button," says Rich Matthes, solution strategist for Amadeus. "They want the ability to choose a package that has everything they want, where everything is straightforward and there are no unexpected fees."
Let’s say this small meeting planner has viewed all your venue photos and laid out their event with your diagramming software, and they’re ready to book. But your sales team might be occupied with going after larger, more complex events. Don’t let the small meetings opportunities slip through the cracks — implement a direct booking feature on your website.
“From the planner’s perspective, putting meeting packages on your website and making them bookable online feels like they have an immediate digital call to action that they can execute on,” Matthes says.
According to meetingsbooker.com’s online meeting bookings report, venues spend 47 minutes on average handling an offline meeting bookings. Direct booking technology not only streamlines the whole process and makes it easier for the planner, it saves your sales team valuable time, too.
2. Be mobile-friendly.
What’s one thing that everyone almost always has on them? Their mobile phones. Planners are no exception. They rely on their mobile phones to conduct their business, do research, and plan events. Which means they’re looking at your website and your marketing emails on their phones. If your site and communications are not optimized for mobile, there’s a chance you could lose out on potential business because of a poor user experience.
“Mobile capabilities are front of mind for all vendors because the majority of the population is booking business in some shape or form on a smart phone,” says John-Michael Jenkins, director of product marketing at Amadeus. “It has to be part of a venue’s digital strategy for groups.”
Mobile-friendly websites and emails incorporate responsive design so they will render properly no matter what screen size is in use. And with this kind of mobile technology, you can allow guests and planners to check in or out and complete mobile payments from their phones.
If you want to take your mobile capabilities a step further, invest in a robust mobile app. Mobile apps allow guests and planners to easily access things like booking options, room service, hotel and destination maps, customer service chats with staff, and any other guest services they might require. They can also function as a room key and allow for remote check-in/check-out. These apps create a two-way street of communication between the hotel and the guest or planner. The planner can access hotel services when they need them, and you as the hotel can get in touch with them at the right time with notifications, updates, and offers.
3. Use VR, AR, and 3D tours.
With planners planning from home, virtual site tours are becoming expected capabilities for event venues. During Cvent CONNECT Virtual 2020, Robert Whalen, director of sales at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, shared his team’s game plan for selling in virtual and hybrid spaces. They’re working with an A/V partner to conduct high-quality virtual tours, where the video feeds from staff iPhones and iPads are routed through the “command center” for seamless execution and switching of camera angles. This provides a clean-cut and sleek visual experience for the planner taking the tour.
Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D tour technology offer alternative options for providing site tours that planners can view at their own convenience. These kinds of tours don’t require a VR headset – they can be viewed through any device. Planners can navigate freely through the event space and get a 360-degree view from the comfort of their own home. Some VR and 3D tours are also videos, which adds an extra element of engagement and immersion, and really brings the space alive.
As another example, Ikea developed a mobile app that uses AR. Through the app, users can see what furniture would look like in their own homes by using the camera on their phone to place objects around the room. This kind of augmented reality app could be useful when the planner is on-site and needs to see how a room layout would look in real time, without having to physically move the tables, chairs, furniture, stage, etc.
4. Help planners create immersive virtual experiences.
“The explosion of virtual events – and the quality of the technology underpinning them – leads many of us to think that even once in-person events come back, many will be different than they were before,” said Chris McAndrews, VP of marketing for the Cvent Hospitality Cloud, during Cvent CONNECT Virtual 2020.
When in-person events resume with more regularity, some will likely be hybrid events, with both an in-person and virtual element. And they’ll require the right technology onsite to make it happen. As a venue, this is something planners will expect you to provide, or have the right partnerships in place in order to accommodate.
Make sure you have Wi-Fi and a dedicated internet connection specific to that event – meaning no one else on the property can use it. Planners will want to know they can trust your connection to have enough bandwidth and not bog down or fail during a livestream. Work with an A/V company for the camera, microphone, and lighting needs, and a vendor to handle the livestream portion and make sure everything goes smoothly. Some planners might have their own vendors for these elements already, but it’s always good to have relationships in place in case they're needed. In addition, consider having your own tech team onsite to help with any technical issues that may arise.
But it’s not just about having the right equipment and the right team to back you up. Hybrid events are really two events in one – the in-person portion, and the virtual attendee experience. The key is making the virtual experience just as engaging and enriching as the in-person one. As a venue, you can help planners by creating room space for the virtual side of the meeting that is designed for on-camera engagement – cavernous ballrooms don’t play well in the virtual environment, so consider how you can rethink some of your spaces to make them more intimate and showcase the planner’s brand.
5. Utilize safer meetings technology.
Using the latest technology at your venue to assure a safer in-person experience for attendees will be a draw for planners who are sourcing for their next event. Temperature checkpoints with thermal cameras, like those at the Wynn Las Vegas, will likely become the norm as in-person gatherings resume.
Make sure the floorplans of your spaces are available on your website – even better if they are interactive floorplans. Event diagramming software allows for creating to-scale, socially distant event layouts so planners can not only visualize how their event can work in your space, but also assure it adheres to health and safety guidelines. It also makes it easy to plan for the positioning of sanitizing stations and chart how attendees will navigate safely through the event space.
6. Include interactive elements on your website.
To provide a memorable and user-friendly experience for planners researching your venue on your website, consider adding interactive elements. If you’re not sure where to start, think about the planner and what kinds of things they’d like to see on your website.
“Imagine you are the planner who will look at your hotel for an event,” says Matthes of Amadeus. “What will they see? What kind of information will they be able to get? Looking at what the experience is like through the lens of your customers is a really healthy first step.”
For example, on digital marketing expert and entrepreneur Neil Patel’s blog, instead of a simple filter or search box, he has an interactive filter. It says, “I want to learn about …” and users can select which topics they want to read about from a drop-down menu. For your own blog or website, the topics could be things like safer meetings, socially distant events, outdoor space, safer food and beverage, or any other topics that make sense.
Another option could be having users complete a quick three-question quiz so you can offer them personalized content based on what they want to read about, or direct them to the corresponding pages on your website. This can help with lead generation and segmentation, and it makes for a better user experience on your site.
As an example, the hair product company oVertone uses a short quiz to provide product recommendations for each customer. Their quiz asks a few questions about what your goals are for your hair, what type of hair you have, and what colors you’re looking for. They then provide a personalized list of their products that are applicable to you and will fit your needs.
While haircare is different than event planning, it’s easy to see how this kind of quiz can be utilized to discover the needs of the individual planners on your website and direct them to the content they want. Your hotel’s quiz could ask planners questions about what industry they work in, the size of their meeting, what kind of space they’re looking for, and what elements are most important to them, and then provide a recommendation of your available meeting spaces or amenities that fit their requirements.
7. Go contactless.
In a world transformed by social distancing, planners, attendees, and guests will expect contactless options wherever possible. According to a recent survey by AHLA and Morning Consult, 85% of guests say they’d feel more comfortable staying at hotels that use technology to reduce direct contact.
Four Sisters Inns recently implemented a messaging platform that guests can use to communicate with hotel staff and make requests, all in a contactless fashion. Other things like contactless payments, check-in/check-out, ordering room service, and mobile room keys can all be accomplished through a mobile app or online. Peppermill Casinos is now using Agilysys rGuest Express for self-service check-in/check-out, restaurant reservations, room ready messaging, and mobile room keys.
To create a safer working environment for hotel staff, providers like InvoTech Systems use RFID technology to offer contactless solutions for linen and laundry management. With this technology, staff can keep a safe distance from soiled linens and track daily movement of inventory, so the storerooms are always well-supplied.
8. Implement smart technology within guest rooms.
Including smart hotel technology within guest rooms is another way to assure a socially distant and safer guest experience. And since guests will likely be spending an increased amount of time confined to their rooms, it’s practical to invest in these kinds of solutions and will add to the overall guest experience.
Hotel Internet Services recently conducted a survey to determine how in-room entertainment and technology expectations have changed. Over 60% of guests surveyed said they would use voice control technology if present in the room and nearly 70% would use it for in-room amenities like thermostat and light controls. In addition to this kind of technology, 67% of guests also want the ability to cast personal content from their own devices to the room’s TV.
To bring the contactless experience into guest rooms, Google and Volara partnered to enable hotels to run the Google Nest Hub. This allows guests to use voice commands to request amenities, control the TV, change room temperature, adjust the lights, and more. Several properties are already using this technology, like The Gale South Beach and Viceroy Hotels & Resorts.
It's time to put these hotel digital transformation ideas to use!
At a time of tight financial constraints, deciding how to shift your investments and how to spend your money to start to thrive again is key.
“It will be necessary for hotel owners to watch every penny, but also to ensure that each penny spent goes to high-return activities that will make a difference in what will be an ultra-competitive hospitality environment over the next few years,” said PWC partner Jennie Blumenthal during Cvent CONNECT Virtual 2020. “You can’t make tradeoffs on what is important to customers if you don’t find out what matters to them during COVID-19, and you can’t deliver it without some aspect of digital. Now is the time to rethink how digital can actually accelerate your engagement with customers – often at a much lower cost."