Mark Willis, area vice president, Middle East and Turkey, Rezidor Hotel Group discusses how the Internet has altered consumer behaviour.
Imagine yourself on a business trip, winding down in a hotel room. You turn on your laptop, tablet or smartphone to catch-up on your emails, contact your family or watch the latest episode of your favourite TV show. This is all very normal today, yet at the turn of the 21st century, this behaviour would have been highly unusual. The truth is that these habits have only emerged fairly recently, in tandem with the proliferation of a new technology. I am referring to, of course, Internet connectivity.
Now picture this: Same situation, yet you have to pay for your WiFi. For any frequent traveller, the thought of having to pay for a service that you can receive at the purchase of a small coffee in your local café would elicit feelings of deep indignation. Pay for wireless at a hotel? Outrageous! And yet, complimentary wireless in hotels is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, when we introduced free WiFi in our Radisson properties in 2005, we were the first international hotel group to offer this service. Since then, guests, no matter where the location, expect to have access to the Internet as a basic utility, like water and electricity.
The Internet is the best and most obvious example of a technology that has transformed the way that people live, work and play. A Cisco survey of American consumers found that up to 70% of mobile users consume WiFi via a public hotspot, with 57% using this service at least once a week. According to the survey, consumers log into public wireless systems everywhere, from trains, restaurants and, of course, hotels and we can expect the adoption of similar behaviours here in the Middle East. As per research from the International Telecommunications Union, the rate of mobile broadband subscriptions in the Arab world is expected to rise by 12% in 2015.
For hoteliers, the sheer ubiquity of WiFi makes it an integral part of services. From hardware to network management, to hiring IT staff, to making sure bandwidth is elastic enough to meet guest requirements while still being cost efficient, providing connectivity to guests is a sizable investment.
Considering that we are living in an age where hotels have progressed from a pit stop in a traveller’s diary, to an essential part of customer experience, ensuring that we evolve our behavior alongside our customers is essential. The worldwide web and by extension WiFi, has transformed the way people travel.
The proliferation of travel sites is one example of how the Internet has altered consumer behaviour. A 2014 white paper by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) found that people are increasingly dependent on travel-related content prior to making travel plans. And the statistics supporting this fact are eye-opening: 60 days before travelling, consumers visit an average 13.6 unique websites, with an average visit of 2.9 visits to each website. That is 39.9 travel-related visits per customer. A quick visit to websites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com will show that these portals offer a staggering amount of information on everything from hotels, tour guides, flights, to restaurants. And through the reviews section, these websites have included a crucial human aspect of travel.
The growing popularity and influence of guest reviews has the potential of being a market disruptor, whereby the hotel star classification system is no longer a major draw for travellers. However, with every challenge comes an opportunity. Hoteliers should look at these review systems as a marker of their performance. In fact, the UNWTO has encouraged the integration of reviews into hotel rating systems. If implemented, this new classification will result in the democratisation of a quality system that goes beyond a checklist of amenities in a property to include the quality aspect of service.
Rather than looking to technology as a challenge that results in additional expenditure, hoteliers should look at how solutions can turn these obstacles into opportunities. Currently, aspects of Big Data have yet to make a mark on our sector; however, there is great potential to improve how hotels provide services. For hotel groups, Big Data will only be transformative when all the minute details of a guest are hooked up to a cloud, thereby enabling access from any hotel around the globe. The result? Better insights on a guest, as the hotel will have intelligence on their likes, dislikes and preferences, no matter if they are checking into a hotel in Dubai, or Singapore, or London. For a service- based sector, a future where we can have this level of understanding of people will help us to continue to flourish.