Hoteliers who invest in a digital platform need to make it works for their guests, operators were advised yesterday at HOSPACE.
Delegates attending the conference at the Sofitel London Heathrow for IT and revenue management professionals were repeatedly told of examples of restaurants and hotels which don't back up their digital presence with prompt responses.
Dr Crispian Tarrant, chief executive of market research company BDRC Group, said it recently took six hours for a restaurant to respond to a reservation he made online, with the response only coming following several telephone calls.
He explained that his experience was borne out by a survey undertaken by BDRC which showed that the hotel sector was well behind supermarkets and banking in response rate to customer queries via Twitter. While supermarkets and banks replied 98% and 97% of the time respectively, hotels responded only 78% of the time.
Stephen Minall of Moving Food, which specialises in developing brands for retail and foodservice companies, said there is not enough empowerment within hospitality companies to react when things go wrong. "If an Ocado customer is unhappy with their order, the delivery driver is empowered to offer a discount on the spot," he explained. This is markedly different from a recent experience he had when staying in a hotel and he didn't receive his morning newspaper. "The receptionist wasn't empowered to make the necessary discount on my bill, until 22 clicks later. System controls have gone mad."
Andy Townsend, chief executive at Legacy Hotels, told delegates that he has had a great experience booking a hotel via his mobile phone, only to arrive at the destination which could not find his reservation. "This happens so often - the basic fundamentals are not backed up the initial expectation."
When operators set up their social media platform, they need to consider the busiest time of the day that customers engage digitally. Mark McCulloch, founder and chief executive of digital marketing agency We Are Spectacular, said the key time businesses need to be reacting to social media conversations is between 7.30pm and 2am. "In fact, we've found that that the optimum time can be 1.30am-2am, with people checking their phones just before going to bed."
In advising how independent hotels should move forward digitally, Tom Weaver, chief executive of Flypay, the mobile restaurant payment system, said that operators should recognise that they don't have to build everything themselves, but instead work with specialists in the technology sector.
McCulloch explained that individual hotels are, in fact, more agile to respond to change, compared to large hotel companies. "The digital world has never been cheaper for operators to get involved."