Trying To Get What You Wish For

Amarquee might have read, “what you see is what you get,” at the start of 90 minutes of stimulating discussion among hoteliers, consultants and vendors. As Lodging Hospitality magazine Editor Ed Watkins said, the overall theme was self-service. It was up to the participants to shed light on aligning what prospective customers see online with what they meet upon arrival.

“Our hotel has become extremely transparent and what you see better be what you get,” said Kevin Smith, vice president and general manager of the New Yorker, a midtown Manhattan hotel. Because of the immediacy of online feedback, it is imperative that properties deliver on what they present, he said.

Online goes both ways, said Carlson IT expert David Sjolander. Property websites enable guests to create their own profiles. At the same time, they allow a brand to “track their preferences, ease their pre-arrival experience with us, and through our online check-in program, reconfirm their preferences before they arrive so that we're ready to serve them better.”

Nick Price, the tech-savvy chief of Mandarin Oriental, said that even though guests at his luxury brand prefer online booking, Mandarin wants self-service to end there. “We want to make the rest of the experience very full-service; therefore we're seeking to displace certain other methods of booking and speak to that customer as an individual before they arrive.”

“People want to do things their way, which may not be the same way every time,” said Accuvia's Mark Ozawa. “It is a matter of choice that I want people to know who I am regardless of which particular way I am interacting with them…I expect that they know who I am as well as if I called the property.” The notion of service excellence must be at the core of a property's culture, he suggested.

BearingPoint's Sally Kelly agreed but cautioned that hoteliers must define their market and goals and anticipate customer expectations before they can present excellent service.

But the Internet also can hinder transparency, noted long-time industry observer Dave Berkus. “I worry about rate parity and screen scraping, the terminology we'll use for those that are taking your property and marketing it as their own,” he said. “That becomes one of the bigger problems as we begin to aggregate larger numbers of distributors for single properties — when the properties themselves don't know who's distributing them.”

TRUTH IN DIGITAL ADVERTISING

Image integrity and distribution are critical to the electronic marketing of hotels, said Leonardo's Jeff Thomas and ICE Portal's Henry Woodman.

Many booking sites display images in availability screens, so you must make sure that a king room is represented accurately, Thomas said.

“We have to Photoshop things out because hotels want to represent exactly what the client is going to get, because if people get there and that's not there, somebody complains,” Woodman said.

“People will find out about it because the peer review sites will complain that it wasn't what you advertised,” said Nick Price. “This comes back as self-serving from places you can't even dream about.”

Sites like TripAdvisor, said consultant John Burns, “keep people honest and will over time weed out the misrepresentation.”

Many salespeople and general managers monitor such sites, said consultant Mark Haley. Some even write for them.

Pictures may matter more than words, suggested several participants, particularly now that the pace of improvements in digital camera technology is accelerating. Properly imaging all the different room types can be challenging, especially in a complicated conversion, said the New Yorker's Smith.

If it works for retail, why not hotels, asked Dan Connolly. “A retail store has thousand of products in an online catalog, each with an image. It's costly, but retail is doing it.”

And independents do it better than chains, said Burns, who recently researched a trip for himself and his wife. “We went with independents because everything looked so good…in comparison to the corporate product with baseline photography, and it just didn't excite us at all.”

Accuracy is great but mystique may be more important. “You want to hold enough back so there is a genuine sense of surprise on arrival,” Price said. “If not, I think it just falls flat.”

“We think about mystique in a little different way,” said Cendant Hotel Group CIO Jeff Edwards. “We don't have many 360-degree views out the window of the Super 8.”

Peer review sites ultimately help, suggested the New Yorker's Smith. “Every now and then you get somebody who's loquacious and good with digital photography and it's those people who get really upset,” he said. “With the blogs coming out, you have to be aware of everything going on on the Internet.”


Part II of this Roundtable report will be a discussion of e-mail, CRM, data security — and drawing the line between self-service and impersonality. An audio recording of the Roundtable is available at Lodging Hospitality's website, www.lhonline.com.

Roundtable 2006

This is the first of two reports on the Lodging Hospitality Technology Roundtable held June 21 during the Hospitality Information Technology Exposition & Conference in Minneapolis. The fourth such LH-PRPro get-together convened 26 experts in hotels and in the technology hoteliers need for their increasingly complex and demanding operations. We will publish the second report in our Sept. 1issue. This one deals with online shopping for lodging and the best way to market your hotel.

The moderator was Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality. Here are the participants and their companies: Dave Berkus and Les Spielman, Hospitality Automation Consultants; Daniel J. Connolly, University of Denver Daniels College of Business; Mark Haley, The Prism Partnership; Jon Inge, Jon Inge & Associates; Sally Kelly, Bearing Point; Mark Ozawa, Accuvia Consulting; John Burns, Hospitality Technology and Consulting; Rick Munson and Mark Houser, Multi-Systems, Inc.; Nick Price, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group; Bob Bennett, Ginn Companies; Kevin Smith, The New Yorker Hotel; David Sjolander, Carlson Companies; Jeff Edwards and Stuart Ceruillo, Cendant Hotel Group; Jason Kippa and Steve Woodward, Centrada; Shannon Knox, Destination Hotels & Resorts; Mike Schmitt, Clairvoyix; Don Hay, Digital Alchemy; Henry Woodman, ICE Portal; Jeff Thomas, Leonardo; and Julie Werbitt and Jeffrey Krevitt, Tiare Technology. You can hear the whole Roundtable at www.LHonline.com, LH's website.

THE BIG IDEAS

Technology better, consumers savvier. The confluence of more sophisticated, less expensive technology and the do-it-yourself attitude of the tech-savvy consumer means hotel companies and individual properties must present verbal and visual information that gibes with reality. Armed with powerful digital cameras and relentlessly probing Internet searches, today's hotel guests expect the room they see online to be there on arrival.

Peer review sites can help, not hinder. Websites like TripAdvisor and Igougo can be brutal. They can be manipulated. Nevertheless, they keep the lodging industry honest and on its toes. Hoteliers ignore them at their own (and their properties') peril.

Keep your technology and your website up-to-date. Inert websites that aren't updated and don't present the best, most honest information in the most attractive, user-friendly way will fall by the wayside. E-marketing is a growing necessity; leveraging its possibilities requires vigilance, forward thinking-and investment.

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