SPECIAL REPORT: The key hotel trends of 2014

The top experts discuss what to look forward to in the next 12 months

Young affluent travellers are a growing market, and one that is increasingly booking rooms online with less than a day's notice.
Young affluent travellers are a growing market, and one that is increasingly booking rooms online with less than a day's notice.

Attracting young, affluent travellers as well as young talent are some of the key trends emerging in the hotel industry for 2014, as is the ever-growing presence of mobile as a customer service tool.

Holidays were once essential for people to relax and switch off from the stresses and strains of their lives and recharge their batteries. However, it would appear this is changing with more people wanting to keep in touch with friends and relatives back home, not to mention check in with colleagues and business partners.

The World Travel Market (WTM) Industry Report published in November 2013, states that once on holiday, approaching half (43%) of holidaymakers use social media — to varying degrees.

At InterContinental Hotels Group, chief operating officer Pascal Gauvin says that the number one stress factor when travelling is not being able to contact home, commenting: “Over 53% of travellers globally told us that connecting with family is the top way to de-stress when they are away”.

In addition to the increasing prevalence of social media platforms for communicating while away, the use of mobile continues to grow. In fact, more than 65% of people who book their hotel room within 24 hours of checking in do so from a mobile device, according to Expedia.
Marriott International president and managing director, Middle East & Africa, Alex Kyriakidis cites research from GroupM Next, reporting 57% of business travellers aged 21-39 use their smartphone to book a hotel.

This, according to Jumeirah Group chief operating officer Nicholas Clayton, is due to a modern need for instant gratification.

He comments: “People want what they want…now! Of course the booking trends of our leisure customers reflect a greater number of holiday experiences executed with a more spontaneous mindset.”

Not surprisingly then, all of the senior executives that Hotelier spoke with at the end of 2013 cited the use of social media and mobile technology as trends that are growing across the board.

However, what also emerged is that it is equally as crucial to provide a personalised guest experience across these platforms, as is having enough well-trained talent on the ground to make the most of the opportunities for interactive customer service that digital technologies present.

Apps and mobile
The big hotel industry players in the Middle East are seeing a huge rise in online and mobile bookings heading into 2014. For example, Starwood’s mobile bookings are growing five times faster than web bookings did 10 years ago, with revenue from web bookings up 1000% year on year.

Jumeirah Group has seen more than 1,400 room nights booked globally via its mobile service site since January 2013 and Fairmont has witnessed a triple digit growth in traffic to digital platforms originating from mobile and tablet.

It’s no surprise we are seeing the development of apps, provision of mobile based services and user-generated initiatives across the industry as a result of this trend.

Jumeirah Group launched its mobile site in late 2011, and has recently enhanced it to offer content in five languages including Mandarin and Russian — targeting two of the BRIC markets. Meanwhile, Wyndham Hotel Group has developed Express Book to cater for the growing number of guests looking to make same-day reservations.

Bani Haddad, Wyndham vice president for the Middle East and Africa, comments: “Express Book is a simplified booking path available on our mobile platforms, with far fewer fields that require completion than you would find on a traditional website. This includes the user not having to input a credit card number. It is a booking path which is far more consumer friendly.”

Marriott recently announced its intention to roll out its mobile check-in application worldwide in 2014, with Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel and Suites, Jeddah Marriott Hotel and Amman Marriott Hotel the first hotels in this region to benefit from the service.

A number of large hotel groups are not only expanding the use of mobile apps to simplify the booking process, but they are also looking to facilitate a range of customer service functions.

Fairmont’s mobile app for example allows guests to research offers and packages, book a room, manage a reservation, explore dining options and access click-to-call dining facilities.

Mohamed Hussein, director of digital marketing, Middle East, Africa & India at Fairmont explains: “We are close to launching our breakthrough local apps which will serve as a two-way communication channel between the hotels and our guests, and will be tailored according to the different needs of our guests at each hotel or destination.”

Applications are also allowing for slicker MICE operations. For example, Marriott International has recently launched its Red Coat Direct app, which allows event planners to contact staff at the touch of a button to make real time requests and customise the meeting space.

This comes as part of the group’s new Travel Brilliantly campaign, which is aimed at re-establishing Marriott as one of the pioneers in the travel industry, and targeting the next generation of travellers who ‘seamlessly blend work and play in a mobile world’.

The Marriott Travel Brilliantly Campaign has also seen the launch of the new Co-Creation platform which invites guests to share their ideas on improving the modern travel experience. Similarly, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has created www.everyonesanoriginal.com — a platform for guests to share their experiences at Fairmont properties across the globe.

This user-generated content allows guests to have a more interactive experience, going some way to satisfying a need highlighted by Christopher Norton, president of hotel operations Europe, Middle East and Africa at Four Seasons, for brands to make customers feel “like they’re appreciated and understood – brands that speak to them in the places where they are converging – online and on mobile.”

This is linked to a demand for personalisation, always important for luxury hoteliers but predicted to be even more essential in 2014 in the luxury travel market. While a growing prevalence of digital communication signals a decrease in face-to-face interaction, it also suggests that brands must now deliver the same customer experience online that they did before in person. Starwood is one group that is doing just that, explains Guido de Wilde, senior vice president for the Middle East.

“Digital innovation allows us to better connect with guests and customers and deliver a more personalised service in our hotels. As of June 2013, 42% of our site visits are through mobile, up from 16% just two years ago. By 2015, we expect interaction with our guests via mobile to surpass that via desktop. We will continue to accelerate mobile innovation so we can connect with guests via mobile at every touch point, before, after and during their stay,” he says.

While user generated content can help hoteliers to understand the needs and wants of guests, it doesn’t allow for much control over marketing content. One challenge that has been highlighted is that staff must be up to speed with digital platforms being introduced by large hotel groups in order to make the most of them and communicate with customers in the most valuable way possible.

Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Middle East & Africa comments: “The challenge will not just come from creating mobile and tablet compatible content, but will extend to training staff on these new distribution channels. Hotel Groups will need to invest even more resources into digital in order to adapt to the changing distribution models for travel.

“The challenge for hotel groups will be to help drive the conversation so they will require a clearly defined strategy for social media as well as the necessary resource to successfully manage the brand reputation online,” asserts Alzaabi.

This ‘driving conversation’ is something that can be done with what travel technology expert Tnooz defines as employee generated content (EGC). EGC gives hotels a platform for influencing online conversaions and providing expert insight into what a product has to offer.

Four Seasons has introduced new ways to leverage its human talent in the digital sphere using local expert blogs by concierge team members, providing information on some key destinations.
Norton says that empowering staff across the organisation to think creatively and elevate guest experience is crucial to effective digital interaction with guests: “At Four Seasons, re-imaging the way we share travel experiences and engage with consumers around the globe has energised and inspired our team as we look forward to the opportunities that new technologies will bring in the year ahead,” he comments.

Getting the right staff to drive online conversations with guests is tied up with another challenge that has been highlighted for 2014 – that of recruiting fresh talent. This is especially relevant given industry optimism about growth for the coming year, with the global economy beginning to recover following the recent financial downturn.

In fact, according to the WTM 2013 Industry Report, nine out of 10 senior executives globally reported that they felt optimistic about prospects both for their company and for the wider industry in 2014, with only 4% highlighting economic stability and consumer confidence as potential barriers to growth.

This optimism extends to include the Middle East, with the travel market in this part of the world having jumped from 3% growth in 2011 to 12% in 2012, with double-digit increases predicted through 2014, according to a recent PhoCusWright report.

It’s no wonder then that the hoteliers we spoke to outlined ambitious recruitment plans for the coming year. While Rezidor is looking to attract 2000 new employees, Fairmont is hoping to take on 800 more staff in 2014, and Marriott aims to hire 12,000 over the next five years. Furthermore, hoteliers are looking at new ways of securing talent this year to overcome recruitment challenges in an ever-competitive market.

As a result, social media has been highlighted, not only as a tool for attracting the new digital traveller, but for recruiting the right type of employee. One added benefit of staff attracted via this method is that they are likely to be social media savvy themselves, and thus more likely to embrace their employer’s online initiatives.

Rezidor Hotel Group area vice president, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, Mark Willis comments: “Social networking is most certainly the hottest new recruitment strategy right now.”

“Today’s savvy workers are our new consumers and they expect to be wooed. They want to know why our company is a good choice for them and what they will gain from working for us. An emphasis on strong employer branding is needed in order to attract new, young talent,” he adds.

Haddad from Wyndham Hotel Group agrees that communicating in different ways with target employees is key. He comments: “We have to understand who we are dealing with to better attract them. The needs of Generation Y and (soon) Generation Z are centred on a work—life balance, flexibility, social connections and a strong desire for recognition.

That presents opportunities in the communication channels we utilise to reach new talent and also in the messaging we use.

Social media is increasingly important — and not only the more obvious channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — we’re receiving feedback which suggests that gaming forums are a really valuable route to market when it comes to reaching the younger generations.”

While grabbing the attention of the right people is one thing, moulding them to drive forward a successful brand is another. At Four Seasons, Norton comments that the group “hires for attitude and trains for skill”. This is something that a number of other hotel groups will be doing in 2014, often carrying forward training programmes that have proven to be successful. For example, Marriott’s Voyage Global Leadership Development Programme recruits graduates into a single property for 12 months, allowing them to specialise in a chosen area.

InterContinental offers its ‘IHG Academy’ — a programme that has been developed in partnership with local education providers to attract and foster talent into the industry.
“In total we have over 250 IHG Academy programmes running throughout the world with almost half of these in our Asia, Middle East and Africa region,” comments Gauvin. “More than 10,000 participants have received training to date with more programmes in development that will soon be implemented”.

Other hotels suggest that building a strong skillsforce relies on excellent leadership and looking inward for talent. Fairmont executive director of human resources, Rachel Moosa comments: “To achieve a winning workforce we have four key principles: lead with the best, train and develop, recognise and reward, and crucial to our brand success – select the best.

“It is our responsibility to offer our colleagues a career path within our brands. We already know that our strategy works as in 2012, approximately 65% of our management leadership positions were filled by staff within the organisation”.

Jumeirah Group claims that nurturing staff and having a leadership strong enough to attract new recruits is one of the main secrets of the group’s success.

“Inspiring leadership will entice and retain bright young people in the industry – that is leaders with passion and integrity who are willing to share their organisation’s successes,” says Clayton.

It seems clear that making the most of young talent will be essential to achieving the industry’s goals for the year ahead, particularly when it comes to understanding a new generation of guests and meeting their ever-demanding needs.

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