In­no­va­tion drives Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing

The pos­si­ble routes for dis­rup­tion in hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try are not too hard to find. Even, as we read this, en­trepreneurs are chip­ping away at the gaps that tra­di­tional play­ers have left open.

TravTalk - India - - Guest Column -

Adam Smith is fa­mously at­trib­uted with the term ‘in­vis­i­ble hand’ in how it cre­ates equi­lib­rium be­tween sup­ply and de­mand. Joseph Schum­peter was more di­rect and more bru­tal – ‘ cre­ative de­struc­tion’, a term coined by him that im­plied one thing – In­no­vate or Die.

The ho­tel in­dus­try will do well to pay heed to the two gen­tle­men prophets of eco­nomics. Ho­tels in In­dia are es­sen­tially, in a state of flux. A storm of in­no­va­tion in tech­nol­ogy, and the crop­ping up of al­ter­nate business mod­els, is buf­fet­ing the in­dus­try, while giv­ing very lit­tle el­bow-room. Just when a business model seems to be set­tling down, along comes some­one with a dis­rup­tive business model to ‘de­stroy cre­atively’.

Can the ho­tel in­dus­try be un­der the il­lu­sion that it will be pro­tected from this rapidly-chang­ing world? Can it af­ford to wait for its Uber mo­ment?

Look at Uber. Who had heard of it a cou­ple of years ago? Bank­ing is­sues not­with­stand­ing, to­day they are hand­ing out nightmares to almost all es­tab­lished play­ers around the world. A mo­bile app, and pro­vid­ing height­ened con­ve­nience to cus­tomers, is the core of the model.

The pos­si­ble routes for dis­rup­tion in hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try are not too hard to find. Even, as we read this, en­trepreneurs are chip­ping away at the gaps that tra­di­tional play­ers have left open; cre­at­ing so­lu­tions, pack­ag­ing them and sell­ing them back to the same tra­di­tional play­ers.

One of the big­gest gaps that the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is leav­ing open is in the dig­i­tal space. And be­fore we go fur­ther, let me make this state­ment. Dig­i­tal in hos­pi­tal­ity, can­not work when di­vorced from the brick and mor­tar. That is, dig­i­tal in hos­pi­tal­ity is not just a web­site and driv­ing traf­fic to it and try and cre­ate con­ver­sions.

The cur­rent gi­ants in ecom­merce – Ama­zon, Flip­kart, et al, have built their business model of sell­ing prod­ucts, which can be stan­dard­ized. When you buy a smart­phone, you know ex­actly what you are go­ing to get. There are vari­a­tions in de­liv­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, pack­ag­ing etc, but at the end, if the prod­uct is fine and you get a good deal, you will buy again.

Not so much in the dig­i­tal space for hos­pi­tal­ity. Here, the model is of ser­vice e-com­merce. This can only work well when there is a vir­tu­ous cy­cle cre­ated be­tween what the guest is sold and what they ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence. A good dig­i­tal mar­keter might be able to cre­ate the best ex­pe­ri­en­tial web­site and lure the guest to book us­ing visual tools and ex­cel­lent UX ( user ex­pe­ri­ence) de­sign and great deals. But if the guest has a be­low av­er­age ex­pe­ri­ence, or god for­bid, a bad one, they will ex­press them­selves - on TripAd­vi­sor, Face­book, Twit­ter and so on.

We all know peo­ple re­search us­ing the In­ter­net be­fore mak­ing any pur­chase – prod­uct or ser­vice. But here is the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence. For prod­ucts, peo­ple search for reviews of the prod­ucts them­selves. For ser­vice, they look for reviews of the ser­vice provider. For buy­ing a Canon DSLR, you will not re­search reviews about Ama­zon. But for a hol­i­day, you will search for what peo­ple have talked about the ho­tel!

So, when we talk about the fu­ture of dig­i­tal in hos­pi­tal­ity, we need to start with not­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing this very crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence. Ho­tels will need to keep on tight­en­ing the syn­ergy be­tween what is on­line and what the guest will ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s great if the promised smil­ing ser­vice is ac­tu­ally felt on the ground when the guest is check­ing in after a long ride from the air­port. The home-cooked food ex­pe­ri­ence is a great talk­ing point, if the food ac­tu­ally tastes like what your mom may have made (ok, so even if it’s close, peo­ple will love it!). The op­er­a­tions team and the dig­i­tal team can­not live in al­ter­nate uni­verses, and need to be aware of what is hap­pen­ing in their own do­main. The up­side? Guests will talk great things about you who will come up in search re­sults and the good old word of mouth will grow your business at in­ter­net band­width speed. The down­side? Haven’t we all read reviews which had words like “not at all how it looked on their web­site”?

This brings us to a re­lated field in dig­i­tal that of­ten tends to be over­looked, be­cause of our ra­zor-sharp fo­cus on vis­i­ble RoI – so­cial me­dia. So­cial me­dia is the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of a mas­sive loud­speaker. And it is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a part of the search re­sults when a po­ten­tial guest is search­ing for the next stay. And TripAd­vi­sor is sim­ply the tip of the ice­berg. Face­book, Twit­ter, Google Plus, Google Business list­ings, Google Business reviews, YouTube, In­sta­gram are just the ma­jor ones we should be look­ing at and man­ag­ing. Th­ese are places where peo­ple are talk­ing about how they feel about you. If you are not on them, not only are you los­ing po­ten­tial cus­tomer voices, but avoid them long enough, and you will soon be con­sid­ered a business in the Pa­le­olithic era.

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