Design Hotels’ Bernd Neff and InterContinental Hotel Group’s Jo Hill on the latest digital trends
Travel suppliers are constantly looking for new ways to enable meaningful experiences with their target consumers. Ultimately suppliers try to ensure the customer gains more value by engaging with them directly.
It is clear that mobile, social, search, and local are emerging as key areas of consumer transformation.
EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta recently spoke to Bernd Neff, Vice President Brand, Marketing & Communications, Design Hotels, and Jo Hill, Director of Web & Interactive Marketing, EMEA, InterContinental Hotel Group, about the latest digital trends.
Neff and Hill are scheduled to speak at the forthcoming EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing & Social Media Europe 2011, to be held in Amsterdam (October 10-11) this year.
Which according to you has been the most striking or potentially path-breaking digital trend? Would you call it a real innovation at this stage?
Bernd Neff: Obviously, a big new trend is social media. It’s a true innovation in the sense that it’s becoming a complete parallel Internet. People chat, react, send emails and buy all within the same digital environment. However, for the time being, it’s not that much about buying; it’s more about interacting. Most e-commerce companies still need to find a way to produce sales through this new channel, as generating revenue through it is still difficult. This is something we see throughout the industry.
Jo Hill: Most recently, it has to be the growth of Smartphones and Tablets and the new products that continue to emerge, such as Apps. Recently, we announced our latest mobile app strategy with Windows Phone and iPhone booking apps for each of our seven brands. These new apps provide guests with the ability to find and book hotel rooms, check rates and view or cancel reservations. In just over a year, we have seen a nearly 1,000 percent increase in room night bookings from mobile devices. In the first five months of 2011, we have surpassed our 2010 total number of room night bookings from mobile devices. The travel sector is changing and location-based services and technologies have a lot of potential.
What should one be wary of the current digital trends? How should one take a call in terms of allocating resources and budgets for the same? How should one approach the latest digital trends?
Bernd Neff: It’s definitely important not to miss out on deep trends. To fully leverage the impact of social media, it should be part of every department’s integrated marketing approach. Everyone should understand how he or she can be inspired by it for their own channel. Yet, it’s important to be cautious when it comes to budget considerations.
In the early stages of SEM, it was difficult to gauge whether it would generate sales, but it quickly proved itself as one of the most effective acquisition channels. Social media sites and services may in future become equally effective at driving revenue, but we don’t seem to be quite there yet. This has a lot to do with the perception of the consumer and how they use various online destinations. Social media is used for sharing and interacting, and shopping is not (yet) a primary motivation for seeking out these platforms.
Jo Hill: Digital trends aren’t something companies should be wary of; they are exciting and can offer the opportunity to engage with customers in a new way. Companies should embrace online tools, as we’ve found at IHG it can change the way you do business. Eighty-five per cent of our hotel bookings have an online element. Our website is the number one hotel website, with 330 million visits every year. That equates to 10 people visiting the site every second.
It is being underlined that travel videos are the most important and fastest growing trend in travel planning today and users want more visual options to help them plan the perfect trip. Recently, online travel community IgoUgo predicted that more than half of travellers will use video to plan trips by 2012. How and why should one go about video content at this stage?
Bernd Neff: We also feel that video helps people to make the right choices. Companies need to be careful about how they produce video content, as the quality of it has a very strong impact on how the consumer perceives the product.
The style has to fit to your positioning. For instance, a rough smart-phone clip would be in line with a budget hotel. If you want to address an affluent consumer set that is willing to spend 300 Euros per night, then the online experience needs to be as carefully crafted and high in quality as your physical product.
Jo Hill: There are a lot of different ways to approach video but it’s always important to do it in a way that fits with your brand. The concierge videos for InterContinental hotels are a great example of this. InterContinental hotels help guests to get under the skin of the place they’re in. InterContinental has over 1,000 concierges worldwide to help guests discover the local secrets of each city and videos are featured online to introduce guests to the city before they travel.
According to SAS, many organisations cling to old paradigms, using social media for one-way flow of marketing messages, instead of capitalising on the opportunity to monitor, analyse, and participate in millions of conversations among consumers. What do you make of the situation?
Bernd Neff: Social media definitely has to be a two way conversation. It’s important that you engage the customer with topics that you feel are relevant and interesting rather than only talking about promotions and advertising messages in disguise. Our positioning is based on the belief that the consumer is interested in behind-the-scenes information. We make sure that we find ways to interact with our fans and followers to bring them value, but also information and recognition.
Jo Hill: There is some truth in that, but more and more companies are figuring out how to capitalise on social media and realising that it can’t be subjected to a standard ROI-type measurement. We use social media to listen to what guests are saying about our brands and hotels as well as to engage in conversations with them. We have dedicated Facebook and twitter pages, which are constantly monitored.
Can you list do’s and don’ts when it comes to mobile advertising? How should travel marketers approach mobile advertising at this stage?
- Do test and learn.
- Do look at what mobile devices are relevant to your product and make sure you develop online destinations and communications that are appropriate for the specific device.
- Do know where your users / bookers are located in the world and target them with appropriate networks.
- Don’t overspend if the revenues aren’t there quickly. It’s unlikely that they will come at a later stage.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of the creative used. Even if your advertisement is very small in size, your copy should be sharp and your visuals should be striking.
- Don’t make it complicated. The usability must be the top priority. This is even more crucial than with a PC experience; if the user can’t find what he’s looking he will drop out very quickly.
- Do be thoughtful about how your customers want to engage with you via mobile and collect and analyse as much data as you can to inform your mobile messaging and approach.
- Don’t build an App just because of the buzz; or treat Smartphones and Tablets the same way.
How do you assess the maturity level of location-based-applications that allow users to ‘check-in’ at a location at this stage? Can you elaborate on challenges associated with monitoring location-based engagements across multiple locations and conduct ongoing competitive analysis for traffic and engagement?
Location-based applications are getting more and more popular, especially those with check-in functionalities. However, in the next few years we may see a true technological revolution with location-based applications that add virtual reality functionalities. Monitoring engagement on these applications shouldn’t be more difficult than monitoring traffic on other online destinations. It’s more a question of having the right analytics solutions in place that cover all online destinations.