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The Custom-Made Hotel Stay

Online shopping tools are becoming more sophisticated as guests want to customize their experience before they arrive.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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The key to revenue planning is business on the books. Seems pretty simple and straightforward, right? Yet, due to a shrinking booking window because of the explosion of online and now mobile reservations, for many hotels getting a significant portion of their occupancy filled more than a few days out is fleeting.

On top of that, all guests have so many more ways to shop and search for their perfect stay, which leads to a heavier dose of competition to get eyes on what your property has to offer. Because of the growing traveler tendency to customize every bit of their journey, more tools are becoming available for you to help your guests get exactly what they need. Here are some ways travelers can now search for rooms and hotels based on their specific needs and to satisfy their every desire, and how that can affect your hotels depending on how you choose to leverage them.

One of the biggest issues for a traveler is getting the right room. Rooms requests have been a mainstay since the dawn of the industry (e.g. away from an elevator, high floor, atrium view, etc.), but because of unpredictable operational variables like check-in/check-out times and housekeeping schedules, oftentimes guests feel like their rooms requests are much closer to a crap shoot than a guarantee. Especially with online and mobile reservations, guests can’t be assured that a human is actually getting that request, if it’s even an available option during booking.

Room77, an online third-party intermediary, sought to change that by allowing guests to customize their room preferences based on information hotels provide about their rooms. In the site’s research while preparing for a relaunch in November 2011, Room77 found that 75 percent of travelers who book online report they have been disappointed in their hotel room, often because of view, noise and location, and 93 percent of travelers who book hotels using online travel sites believe they get an average or worse room in a hotel due to the fact they use these sites.

“Our site is a blending of science and service that tips odds in travelers’ favor, and it’s the first database of hotel rooms available online,” says Kevin Fliess, Vice President and General Manager of Product for Room77. “The impetus was to create transparency where there hasn’t been any before. Hotel rooms are a total black box, and you don’t know what you get until you get there.”

Not all rooms are created equal, and most guests come through your front doors with different needs. So providing specific room information to them gives them a much better chance of getting what they want.

“Our Grand Hyatt has a lot of different room types and views, and because you can’t put every traveler in the same basket, we want to match as often as we can,” says Andy Bishop, area sales & marketing director for the Grand Hyatt Seattle and Hyatt at Olive 8. “You know how it goes: more often than not, you get 10 generic pictures on a hotel’s website, and they may be suite shots when suites are only 10 percent of the inventory. But we let guests see three or four photos of each room – between the two hotels we have 771 rooms – and that allows guests to see, touch and experience what the room is going to be like when they get there. It’s also a nice reference tool for me to communicate in sales pitches.”

And room preferences aren’t limited just to style and location. Certain guests have very specific travel needs that aren’t always openly addressed. Mark Lazarovich, M.D., an allergist in Vermont, came up with the idea for AllerPassMD.com to help travelers worldwide find rooms that will suit their condition.

“Allergic and asthmatic travelers make up over 20 percent of the traveling public, and our primary goal is to provide a comprehensive listing of hypoallergenic accommodations for them,” says Lazarovich. “A large part of our job is to show patients how to help themselves. While these are very common sense things, you can’t do them everywhere. A patient who is dog, ragweed and dust mite allergic can end up in a place that looks nice, but if they wake up and they can’t breathe it will ruin the experience.”

While some companies are working on providing services to create hypoallergenic rooms, Lazarovich says some of these programs are misleading because they do many things more associated with cleanliness than being truly hypoallergenic.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding and mixing of ideas and concepts,” Lazarovich adds. “So we decided to do the research and present information in an unbiased, simple way so people can compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges, cats to cats. We aren’t looking at how they clean the bathroom, but we just want to be very simple and precise about allergies.”

AllerPassMD’s goal is to have information for at least one hotel in all major destination cities so that allergy-sensitive guests have the opportunity to find a place that suits them. Though to date Lazaravich and his associates have been compiling all the data first-hand, hotels can enter their own information, get a rating, and add themselves to the database, which will help make the service more robust.

While the ability to customize to the most minute detail is great for the guest, the question remains of how it affects the front desk. As the options for room specification continue to advance, the day may come where travelers can reserve specific rooms like they can seats on an airplane.

“I think that it should go to that level where guests can reserve a specific room, but there are kinks that need to be worked out, and housekeeping would have to be more streamlined and spot-on if you have a guest that wants room 235, for example,” says Anjali Agarwal, senior director, asset management for The Chartres Lodging Group, LLC. “Another concern on the operational side would be an example like convention hotels that have peaks and valleys, and sometimes you’ll shut off a tower, but if you have four rooms reserved in one tower, that could be an issue.”

But these would be minor inconveniences in rare cases, and it really wouldn’t cause any new issues from the room request system in place today. The potential for guest satisfaction could outweigh the challenges if the hotel has room selection set up to run efficiently.

“When you think about it, reserving specific rooms should be fairly a simple thing,” says Bishop. “Of course it’s always hard to guarantee a specific room, but we want to get you in the room you want, and that should be to translate electronically. In some ways it makes it easier at front desk, and if we can drill that down, it will result in hopefully a more enjoyable stay for the guest.”

Finally, the most important thing to remember – and perhaps the best reasons to motivate hotels to implement a better method for letting their guests pick their rooms – is that customers are willing to pay more to get exactly what they want. By offering them the option, and then making sure to follow through, letting your guests know that you care about their specific request goes a long way toward improved loyalty as well as raising rate and revenue.

“I’d like to see rooms requests as a revenue generator, where you charge guest for room with a view because they chose that specifically,” says Lisa Aviles, director of revenue for select service properties with Kokua Hospitality. “Then you have customer reviews for specific rooms, and you can charge up for it. In 90 percent of cases you could guarantee it the room, and though it can affect the hotel in good and bad ways, at the end of the day, customization is what guests want.”
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