Part II: Google centre stage as hotels draw direct swords
Sally White continues her look at hotel industry developments and finds that in the race to build brand kudos, new tech alone may not cut it
New-fangled technologies like AI, robots and facial recognition grabbed headlines for hotels in 2018, and will continue to do so. But this is not the only area where hotels could be gaining ground.
In the direct booking battle, for one, hotels seem to be taking some ground back from the online travel agents (OTAs), says media and research group ShortTermRentalZ. “Direct bookings will become more commonplace as guests look for an easy, instant option,” it states in a report, adding: “…those reserving have cottoned on to the fact that metasearch sites’ listings often include mark-ups….”
At the same time, Google has stepped up activity in the sector and can handle hotel bookings through a conversation with Google Assistant via Choice Hotels, AccorHotels, IHG, Priceline, Expedia, Mirai and TravelClic. More will be added. Assistant displays availability and pricing options from both online travel agency partners and the brand itself, if it is integrated. The bookings are powered by the partners’ ‘Book on Google’ integration and travellers can then reserve the room using existing Google Pay credentials.
Airbnb et al’s growth seems to have slowed, if the Morgan Stanley Alphawise Global Hotel Corporate Travel Survey is to be believed. Its survey found that 31% of respondents used alternative accommodations in 2018 against 35% in the 2017 survey. Looking forward, there are some 8% of non-users that are expected to use Airbnb in the next 12 months, versus 13% a year ago. Reasons listed in a separate Morgan Stanley survey included “privacy, safety and legal issues...and plateauing awareness among consumers…” Cities across the US, Europe and Asia continue to try to restrict the sector’s growth with tougher regulations.
Where to next?
The vacation rentals market is, meanwhile, drawing more hotel groups seeking to diversify, some entering via partnerships such as that made last year between Choice Hotels and Red Awning. Moves from IHG and Hilton are, it is rumoured, to be made this year.
At the same time, hotel groups are keeping an eye on the new tech experiences being rolled out by their rivals. Topping the list of last year’s of SiteMinder’s Travel Trends were China’s Pengheng Space Capsules Hotel in Shenzhen, which is staffed just about completely by robots. In the US, it was Marriott’s City Centre Hotel in Charlotte that is testing screens offering hundreds of virtual fitness classes, digitalised lighting to ease jetlag and a mood-testing booth in the lobby. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the Kameha Grand in Zurich is noted for its space suite with a live link to NASA, the US international space agency.
What makes people most happy in life, is the personal connections they have
Hans Meyer, CEO, Zoku
However, it is also worth noting how many of the guest comments quoted on Travel Trends focused, rather, on the super-attentive staff (non-robotic), food and drink, comfort, music, artwork and design.
On this score, customer-centric new brands like the Dutch firm Zoku, which is re-imagining the segment for extended stays, might have an edge. As CEO Hans Meyer, who was interviewed for an EyeforTravel white paper – Cracking the Customer Experience – puts it: “What makes people most happy in life, is the personal [aka human] connections they have”.
Although Zoku is experimenting with new tech, Meyer is clear that they won’t risk ruining the customer experience with something that does not yet work. “The last thing we want is a customer saying: ‘I slept with a home automation device. It was a very cool thing for five minutes then I started to hate it because it doesn’t work the way it should work,” says Meyer, who will be speaking at the EyeforTravel Digital Strategy Summit (May 21-22) in London.