Alex Kyriakidis, president, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International, explains how the hotel group is embracing digital marketing and social media strategies to keep pace with guest engagement trends
What marketing and technology trends are defining the hotel industry right now?
There is a real shift towards more meaningful engagement with guests – engagement that is responsive to their immediate requests and that communicates with them before, during and after their stay.
Guests are also on the move with mobile and tablet usage increasing- the all-important Gen Y group is leading this trend. They seekmobile-friendly websites, hotel apps, reward programmesusing thelatest technologies as well as strong social media presence.
It’s also driven the need for hotels to offer free Wi-Fi connectivity.Marriott recently announced plans to provide free internet access to all 48 million members of our Marriott Rewards loyalty programme from January 15, 2015. This is a win-win move for us as it allows us to respond the evolving needs of our guests and build long-term relationships with them.
How is Marriott engaging the Gen Y demographic?
Catering to Millennials and younger generations will become increasingly important.
Marriott Hotelshas conducted extensive research into this segment, which in the Middle East and Africa comprises one quarter of all our guests. We created a multi-year global marketing campaign called ‘Travel Brilliantly’. This draws on the personal passion points and values of the next-generation traveller to create a visual that is emblematic of the new Marriott Hotels experience. It also defines the future of travel by welcoming guests to submit their innovative travel ideas to help make every Marriott stay a brilliant experience. This dialogue reflects how the lifestyle of Gen Y travellers, who blend work and play in a mobile world, can change their travel experience.
What role does social media play now play in marketing your properties?
The role of social media in marketing hotels is more important than ever before. A survey by leading online statistics portal, Statista,found 48% of respondents believed that by 2017, social media would be more important that pay-per-clicks via online advertising.
Earlier this year, Marriott International launched Middle East and Africa Facebook and Twitter social communities allowing our guests to engage directly with us.
From our own research we discovered Gen Y in this region is more likely to request Arabic as a preferred language in comparison to other generations, and in response to this we provided social media content on our MEA pages in both English and Arabic. They are the only Marriott International dual language platforms, signalling our commitment to tailoring our approach to what fits best.
To bolster our presence across these platforms, we recently launched our #30DaysOfMarriott competition giving page Likers the chance to win prizes from more than 15 Marriott properties across the MEA. The competition increased ourlikes by 82%.
What other Marriott initiatives cater to Gen Y behaviour?
Our research also found that 49% of Gen Y guests communicate with us via their mobile devices whether it’saccessing Marriott information or making bookings. Our launch of online platforms and mobile apps allows travellers to check-in and out easily and play a role in increasing Gen Y engagement. Since the app was launched in 2013, the check-in feature has been downloaded 2.5 million times and Marriott.com and receives over 4.5 million visitors a month from smartphones.
Our Marriott Rewards programme has also been adapted with the mobility trend in mind, with members receiving a push notification on their Apple iPhones or Android devices after 4pm on the day before their arrival alerting them they can check-in. Then they receive an automatic notification when their room is ready. Because payment information is stored within members’ profiles, guests simply walk up to the expedited mobile check-in desk where their pre-programmed key card will be waiting for them.
How will you evolve Marriott Rewards to keep pace with next-generation demands?
We are currently testing new concepts and innovations with our Marriott Rewards Gen Y members in mind. We have learned a key Gen Y trait is instant gratification and so one concept we are working on is called Plus Points, which allows members to earn points in real time through social media interactions with Marriott Rewards.
This allows us to amplify our social media presence and have a two-way dialog with our Gen Y members. It helps to satisfy their desire for instant gratification by rewarding them for their interactions with us.
How do you believe hoteliers interact with their guests in the future?
I can see a trend in the outsourcing of concierge facilities to call centres that provide ‘click-to-chat’ facilities whereby online resources respond to customer needs. I predict hoteliers will not completely embrace all concierge facilities via digital means until 2020 and while online concierge tools will be used to manage bookings and activities, and drive efficiencies by having information available in real time, Marriott International will continue to use its associates and latest technologies to fulfil guest needs and enhance their experience.