Comment: The social hotel - reservations

How Middle East hoteliers can make the booking process more social

Iconsulthotels director Martin Kubler.
Iconsulthotels director Martin Kubler.

In the past few months I looked at turning kitchens and housekeeping departments in hotels into social powerhouses, but let’s go back a few steps to (almost) the beginning of a guest’s journey: reservations.

Reservations and revenue operations have seen big changes over the last decade — most of them technology-related, yet the process of taking reservations hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s still very much a matter of responding to travellers’ requests, selling and upselling rooms, and getting everything confirmed in writing. So, why and how should we make this process more social?

Equipped with multiple screens, short on time, and more fickle than in the past, today’s travellers obtain information about hotels from a variety of sources and also increasingly want to communicate with hotels via communication channels that suit them at the time of wanting to make a booking.

Perhaps a friend tells me about a great hotel deal on Twitter - rather than leaving Twitter and checking out the hotel’s website, I would much rather tweet the hotel there and then and make a booking. Other guests might prefer Facebook, sending an email, or even picking up the phone. It’s about giving your (potential) guests a choice of contact channels.

In November last year, Loews Hotels was the first chain to introduce bookings via Twitter (see also: http://goo.gl/sIwLgZ), but if you think this is more of a publicity stunt than “real” business, let’s look at some other ways to make it easier and more social for guests to talk to you. You might even save money in the process!

RANGE OF OPTIONS
If your hotel has a Facebook page and your booking engine offers a suitable widget, it’s a no brainer to place one on your page. Do you use Skype? Yes? Does your reservations department use Skype? No? Why? It’s free and you could even set up multiple Skype accounts for different target markets, e.g. a Skype account for Russian booking enquiries, which is answered by a Russian-speaking agent.

Google+ offers “hangouts”, which work similarly to Skype and allow travellers to contact you free of charge via a video call or chat. The bonus? If the guest has a question about room size or layout, your reservations agent can add one of your front of house managers to the call, who can use a mobile phone to live-stream a video of different rooms, to make it easier for the guest to decide.

All it takes is a little time for set up and training, and perhaps a change in mindset. If you have been looking to outsmart the OTAs, this could be an easy-to-implement way to excel in customer service and product information display.

Booking websites vary in quality and, by and large, aren’t very social. Why don’t hotel booking websites offer Facebook connectivity as standard? If Amazon can do it, why not hotels? The technology is readily available, but I’m still waiting for hotels to take the plunge. Let guests sign in with their Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, or Google+ accounts, browse your offers and make bookings. They get a more social experience and you get lots of useful customer insights and new ways to contact them post-stay.
Once a traveller has made a booking wouldn’t it be nice to give him or her the chance to share it via social networks? Again, this is already common in online retail, but sadly absent from hospitality.

THE BENEFITS
Why would travellers want to do that? Because you love them for it and give them money off their next stay, of course! Why would you want to do that? Because you’re harnessing the most powerful form of advertising: Word of mouth. Every completed socially enabled booking shared via Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms, ripples through the digital world.

If a traveller with 800 Facebook friends books a room with you and then shares this as a status update, that’s potentially 800 people who hear about your hotel (more, if any of the 800 clicks “Like” or “Share” on the post). And because you haven’t just made a booking, but forged a social connection, you’re much better placed to get back to the guest post-stay and ask for feedback or offer incentives to book again. Whatever you do: Keep it social!

Martin Kubler is owner, director and chief cook and bottle washer of Iconsulthotels FZE, an ultra-boutique hospitality consultancy in Dubai. Email: info@iconsulthotels.com or visit facebook.com/iconsulthotels

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