Think of this as the era of the self-serve digital concierge. Travelers can find and book in-destination activities on their own before -- and especially during -- the trip. Technology has reached the point of saturation, where each aspect of a trip is bookable, trackable, and manageable on mobile.
This modernization of the tours and activities industry benefits hoteliers in one crucial way: an increase in the digital distribution brings more opportunities to match guests with in-destination activities.
This matchmaking service has another name in hospitality: a concierge.
Re-defining ‘concierge’ for the digital era
The standalone concierge is dwindling in popularity, with only 20% of American hotels employing a concierge in 2016; that’s down from 27% in 2010. And this number is slipping fast, as guests prefer more self-service, leading to reduced usage of the concierge. With pressure to reduce operational costs, all but the most upscale hotels have eliminated concierges.
On the digital side, many hotels have ceded demand to online platforms. Rather than booking at the on-site concierge, guests are turning to digital discovery tools such as Google and Airbnb Experiences. Guests are also being up-sold by the online travel agencies post-booking, which keeps the margins squarely in the favor of these third parties.
Hotels must re-claim the rightful position as local experts that can ably and accurately recommend the best things to see and do in-destination. As Jack Nargin of Les Clefs d’Or recently emphasized, human curation is a competitive advantage:
“We are human beings. We are the people who know our cities the best. So no app, no Internet, can ever replace us.”
While human-powered recommendations still matter, there’s a middle ground that effortlessly merges human and digital to build a better guest experience.
The need for curation
Calls for the death of the concierge are misguided, as travelers are bombarded with so many options. The “paradox of choice” is alive and well when it comes to tours and activities! Whether it's on Airbnb, an online travel agency, or a tour operator’s own website, travelers have many travelers to choose from. It really comes down to which brand they trust.
With this trust, hotels have an advantage: guests that book with them are already somewhat inclined to trust the brand. That means that the hotel can be a trusted source of curation for guests overwhelmed with options.
By providing curation, the hotel positions itself as an expert and stands to benefit from increased incremental revenue. This expertise can be showcased in two ways: 1) through a standalone concierge interacting with guests, and 2) a digital channel that highlights the expertly verified and recommended experiences.
Today’s world of digitized commerce is the perfect backdrop for hotels to re-claim the “local expert” mantle. Now, even without a dedicated concierge desk, hotels can provide guests a curated selection of recommendations.
Here’s how that works:
Partner with a technology solutions provider in the tours and activities space to gain access to mobile-bookable inventory.
Verify each experience by actually going out and doing the experience.
Only recommend the best-of-the-best as part of the curated list.
Create content about each in-destination activity to highlight what it is and why you recommended it.
Infuse recommendations throughout the hotel’s operations: mentions at the front desk, placement of in-room collateral, callout boxes on all pre-arrival communications.
Ensure that all bookings can be completed wherever the guest wants: on desktop, on mobile, or even at the POS across property.
Throughout the guest journey, from before, during, and after the stay, there should be a complete integration of the “recommended for you” options. Often, there is an underinvestment in the integration needed to promote the curated recommendations through all available guest channels!
Booking sweet spot
Even if actual concierge services are on the decline, today's’ mobile-first guest is eager to engage with in-destination recommendations. Recent Checkfront research shows that hotels are ideally positioned to convert guests: the booking sweet spot is from one week prior to a trip up to the same day.
These stats underline how hotels can engage with guests both before and during the trip. Of course, this is nothing new; one of the concierge’s primary tasks has been booking in-destination activities. Even so, it bears repeating: hotels can deploy merchandising strategies to earn more incremental revenue from even the most self-serve guests.
Douglas Quinby, CEO and co-founder of in-destination conference Arival, warns against making the typical “set it and forget it” error:
"The biggest challenge is making the commitment to invest in understanding your guests, developing curated options that are relevant them and consistent with your brand, and tracking performance. The classic mistake made over and over is, the hotel or other brand resellers just plugs in a tech partner without thought to the options offered, the merchandizing, when and how they are pushed to the customer, and the special incentive for booking the experience through the hotel."
As an example of a brand doing this well, Quinby mentions Marriott Moments, which is a program done at scale and tied to the brand’s loyalty program. “But,” he continues, “there are lots of examples and even individual hotels can take advantage of this.”
Today’s technology stack empowers hotels to be more active as trusted digital concierges. To successfully capture this revenue, it just takes some investment to identify the technology -- and in-destination recommendations -- to offer a modern concierge that improves the guest experience.
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