Integrating online with onsite

Each year around this time, Monscierge, an interactive software company that helps hotels connect today’s savvy traveler to trusted local recommendations, publishes its GEM Report highlighting what’s trending in the hospitality world and what will be in vogue for the following cycle. Mandy Green, the social media director at Monscierge, was kind enough to give me an advance copy of the white paper for Q4 2013, which you can view here.

While 2013 was all about the “visual revolution,” the vast majority of savvy hotels have already taken this progression to heart in one form or another. As we ease into 2014, one prevailing trend will be dealing with the ebbs and flows of mature Internet-borne social networks. Outlets like Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Instagram and YouTube are all household names, and if a hotelier needs a refresher on best practices in any of these, he or she need only consult Google for several hours.

True, there are newer entrants still making waves — namely, Vine and Snapchat — but the current overriding question is: Now what? How do we utilize these mature products effectively as both marketing and relationship-management tools? How do we start a grassroots “word-of-mouse” campaign amongst a populace that has literally seen and heard it all before? How do we directly quantify then translate our online interactions into real income?

The answer, to distill it down to one word, is integration. The hotels that will gain ground in 2014 will be the ones that effectively coordinate the online and the onsite experiences. For this, you’ll require both a shotgun and a sniper rifle (figuratively speaking, of course).

Your road to success will start from your catchy, robust and mobile-ready, and then spray out to touch upon numerous social media, third-party OTAs, blogs and travel review sites (not exclusively TripAdvisor, as is made clear in the report). Reach consumers where they are consuming, but once you’ve found them, drill down to learn about their individual wants and needs from a hotel experience — a rather large time investment, but still critical.

Here’s the rub. Many hotels are using social media monitoring or aggregate tools, but they are still treating social media as a separate department. This approach simply will not work. If a promise is made to a prospective guest online, it must be fulfilled or rendered during the onsite experience. In order to never fall short of the expectations formed from online communiqués, your social media team cannot exist in isolation; it must work in tandem with many other aspects of a hotel’s operations.

Last year was also a time for nurturing an “authentic local experience.” This is still a noble pursuit, but most leading hotels are wise to the fact. The 2014 extension of this concept is to lengthen it to perpetuity — to continually offer guests the best possible authentic experience no matter what changes occur in the surrounding city or region. And this all boils down to educating and reeducating your front desk staffers — the nexus of any hotel — into what the people at Monscierge have dubbed “veteran locals.”

It goes without saying that with their smartphones at their disposal wherever they go, travelers nowadays can and will do their own independent research when it comes to formulating their very own authentic local experience. It’s a rewarding process, but it takes its toll — namely time and energy. Hotels are all about serving their guests, which in essence means making their lives easier. In this regard, the power of veteran locals is unsurpassed by any travel website or blog.

For example, you could spend 15 minutes browsing through online foodie recommendations to find a place to eat that evening. Or, you could have a five-minute conversation with the concierge or front desk clerk in the lobby, then let them handle all the details while you sit and relax.

Service at its finest is something the mobile craze of the past few years has failed to fully emulate. And so, as a final note, ask yourselves: What are you doing to best serve your guests? Is there anything you can do to enhance personal onsite rapport and guest satisfaction? These types of questions are fundamental to hospitality success, whether a property is operating in 1914, 2014 or 2114.