International is betting that heightening the guest experience is the way to capture long term loyalty and business. To Choice it’s all about finding new and unique ways to make that passionate connection with the guest. After all, we’re living in an experience economy now. So a memorable hotel stay is more about emotional resonance than about throwing a bunch of random amenities at someone and hoping something sticks.
Last week Choice Hotels
held its annual conference where top executives shared their vision for leveraging advances in technology to get ahead of gust trends to create a more holistic stay experience.
“We want to anticipate needs to take care of guests. We are creating a future where the guest is the center of everything,” said Pat Pacious, COO of Choice Hotels
. “We are already developing new technology to bring guests to the door.”
Anne Smith, Choice’s VP of Brand Strategy agrees. “We are developing emotional hooks to drive guests to our brands. The guest is at the center of our strategy and we are truly understanding what makes them click,” she told conference attendees.
Pacious said the traveling public has become tethered to technology and the only way to predict the future for Choice is to create that future with technology implementation as a backbone strategy. He noted that by 2015, more mobile devices will be connected to the internet than people on the planet and half of internet traffic is already coming from mobile devices. Mobile bookings are exploding throughout the hotel industry and is now contributing almost 20 percent of choicehotels.com revenue, Pacious said, adding the company has the industry’s top performing mobile app.
Soon the company will launch technology with Ford called the “connected car” to allow booking while driving in a simpler and safer way. Drivers can actually talk to the car to search and book a hotel room.
Last year the company launched RapidBook, a feature allowing three click room booking on a mobile device. Also, choicehotels.com updated more than 5,000 individual property pages to keep hotel content fresh and according to Pacious “on the right shelves across the digital landscape.”
Now the company has also launched Verified Reviews, so guests can be confident a review is real while simultaneously keeping potential room bookers on Choice’s website. Pacious said 80 percent of reviews are four or five star and the program has already added millions in additional revenue since launching in January while also lifting conversion rates about two percent.
Pacious also talked about being where the consumer is when it comes to advertising on-line. “When they’re drinking that first cup of coffee, watching Good Morning America, we're there. As they check the daily news on their smartphone, we're there. We're there in customized emails that nurture relationships with your guests. On Facebook, Hulu, LinkedIn and YouTube, we're there.
Pacious also said they’re running a contest with YouTube stars Rhett and Link to appeal to their audience of 3.6 million younger followers. “If you haven't heard of them, that's the point. We're going after a new demographic,” he told attendees, of the contest featuring a $10,000 prize.
“It’s all about the human touch. We’ve made it easy for guests to tell us what they want. Now we have to listen and use the technology we’re developing to deliver the personal experience they demand and anticipate their needs,” said Pacious.
Smith said that if Choice Hotels were to compete only on value and price, it’s a “race to the bottom.”
“Competing on price alone actually encourages disloyalty. It makes it easy for guests to switch and book
somewhere else. Loyalty is built by delivering not just value, but deeper, more emotional benefits. And that’s why we’re developing the emotional hooks that will drive guests to prefer our brands, to book our brands and to be more loyal than ever before,” said Smith.
Smith said the company is looking at its data and learning more about what people value in a hotel experience. She said they’re looking at what they care about, where they spend their time and how they see themselves to find insights that will build a “stronger emotional connection to the guests and their story.”
It’s already part of the 2014 advertising campaign with ads such as “Marathon,” which relates a personal story of a woman preparing for a race and how her Choice branded hotel helped in her quest to achieve.
“Choice hotels hasn't simply glimpsed the future we are the future and we are in the zone for success,’ said CEO Steve Joyce. “We are seasoned enough to draw on decades of experience and expertise. We are smart enough to be adaptive and agile. This is a terrific time to celebrate the Choice legacy that was sparked 75 years ago and an even better time to set our sights on tomorrow.”