Technology has radically changed the way hotels do business, perhaps more so than any other arm of the travel industry. In-room internet, on-demand movies and other tech amenities are playing a larger role while guests are in-house. On the selling side, a basic website showing facilities, rooms, amenities and location is a must for any property to survive in this digital age. A decade ago such sites were mostly acting as a living brochure and placeholder on the internet for a hotel, much like being in the yellow pages, but today they’re responsible for much more and customers generally expect a full-service site from properties they’re considering.
Customer to business bookings are perhaps the most powerful aspect of a website, enabling guests to connect directly with the property, make a booking and payment with no middlemen or agents. Hotel wholesalers like such as Agoda and Hotels.com are also playing a major role in filling rooms, in many cases eliminating traditional advertising costs for properties. One thing is for sure, from websites to in-room amenities, technology will continue to play a larger and larger role in successful hotels’ operations.
David Lees, founder of Ariyasom Villa, an ultra-boutique property in the heart of Bangkok which opened in late 2008, credits the internet and his website for much of their success. “The internet and now social media has made huge differences to sales and marketing. I think it would have taken twice as long as it did to establish ourselves if it had not been for the internet.” “The development of an effective website has become not just important but essential. Now a huge percentage of our customers search for their accommodations online so they have to be able to find us and more than that they have to be able to read reviews of customers who have been before.”
Lees whose property enjoys high occupancy rates stresses that being content with your website is a danger and is constantly on the lookout for new ways to stand out. “Today I received a proposal for a particular video tour of Ariyasom Villa to be embedded in our website. So in the future all our customers will know so much about us before they have even arrived.”
Technology is also keeping hotels on their toes according to the Anantara Golden Triangle’s Director of Elephants, John Roberts. “The ability for information to travel fast will force service standards up. In a marketplace with much choice, those giving poor or dishonest service rely on their being no word of mouth. This luxury is fast disappearing.”
Roberts also uses Twitter to stay in touch with guests and finds its role increasingly important to enhancing the Anantara-guest experience. “With Twitter people ask me about flooding in the area, weather and special programs we have going. This will only become more effective and interactive as coverage increases.”
Technology has also changed the way guests book rooms and has required leading properties like the Four Seasons in Thailand to alter their promotions explains Director of Sales Betty Chan. “The accessibility of information and choices have made travel easier and more user friendly.” “The booking lead-time thus has been shortened, instead of booking in advance, consumers are now waiting for last minute promotions. To combat this trend, some hotels have launched early bird bookings by offering very attractive rates online if they book in advance.”
It wasn’t long ago that travelers booked rooms at least half-a-year in advance, but it seems the internet has put information and booking power in the hands of consumers, tipping this former trend on its head. Peer-to-peer sites are also having a huge impact on the way travelers make decisions but Chan doesn’t worry about potential guests relying on one website when forming their travel decisions. “I believe consumers are now more sophisticated when come to reading information online. They spend time to read more than one comment and website, and they make up their minds on the overall comments given on a variety of sites.”
Cambodian hotelier Alexis Suremain feels hotels need to go way beyond the tradition business model to succeed in today’s market. “Hotels traditionally provide just rooms and beds to people. At the moment the experience we provide is very important. People are ready to pay for an experience that makes them live. What’s really important is to give people a strong experience that they’re going to be able to relate to, tell their friends about when they’re back and impact their holiday. We can gain some market share if we provide people with strong experiences.” “Providing things like an evening where you can have a drink and interact with the staff, hear a local provide a small talk – it’s a small thing but connects people.” “We’d like to organize lots of things that are not traditional tourist destinations but make a lot from little things and places. It’s providing people with new experiences and setups that will be putting them in different and unexpected adventurous situations.”
Hotel technical amenities are also playing a larger role in attracting guests. In-room wifi, iPod docks, video ports on televisions for computers and interactive display screens throughout hotels are just a few of the more popular extras to emerge at leading properties over the last couple years. While such technologies may be the deciding factors when choosing a hotel in the west, Leslie Overton, Senior Travel Planner for one of America’s leading travel agencies Absolute Travel, says Asian hospitality is still a property’s main draw. “Asian hotels are generally on the cutting edge of technology and will probably continue to be so.” “One thing about SE Asia is that the level of service is such a part of the culture that technology has not been allowed to take over the personal level of service. I think in other places technology has been allowed to replace the human element, but not in SE Asia. The personal connection is still there.”
The digital age is radically altering the way hotels do business through the entire process. From marketing and acquiring guests to enhancing the in-property experience and the ever-important post-stay peer feedback stage, properties that embrace, manage and cultivate technology will likely be long-term winners. But all the technology in the world cannot trump the hospitality of staff, especially in highly competitive regions like SE Asia.