From chatbots to virtual and augmented reality, a German hotel management chain says tech drives engagement, direct bookings and loyalty

Daniel Wishnia, a digital marketing consultant at GCH Hotels, is a strong believer in investing in new technologies. In fact, his day starts with news from multiple sources that focus on the latest trends in tech.

“At GCH Hotel Group we always try to be one step ahead,” says Wishnia, who is confident that technology, which both assists the traveller and leads to operational efficiencies for hotels, will succeed in becoming part of the ‘tool box’.

“There is no doubt about it, from our perspective it absolutely works,” he says.

Right now, Wishnia’s main focus is on chatbots, and 360-degree virtual and augmented reality. So, ahead of EyeforTravel Europe in June, where he will be sharing more data-driven insights about GCH’s current digital projects, Wishnia gives a sneak peak into how investment in technology is ‘absolutely working’ for Germany’s second biggest hotel management chain.

Chatbots aren’t hype

In Germany, Emma is a popular name, derived from the name element ‘ermen’, which means whole or universal. For this reason, it was an obvious name for GCH hotels’ chatbot, which is already operable on Facebook for some of GCH’s Wyndham, Holiday Inn and Mark Hotels. Operated by Gooster, a company delivering a ‘hotel concierge in your guest’s pocket’, Emma has been developed to provide assistance to travellers at every stage of the travel journey.

Right now Emma is only reachable from some hotels’ Facebook page, but the plan is to settle her in to standalone websites in due course!

Importantly, Emma will be personalised for every hotel. So, if the establishment is near a major shopping area or a mountain park or the sea, she will share information that highlights the uniqueness of the hotel in question. Additionally she will be able to share personalised information for particular types of traveller or travel groups. 

Says Wishnia: “The aim is for guests to have an assistant at all the difficult points of the travel journey, to know which sources they can ask questions and receive automatic answers on just about everything, even before they arrive at the hotel.”

It’s very important that customers have answers at their fingertips

According to Wishnia, the results they are seeing from Emma are already “amazing”. People are using her during the pre-booking stage, as well as in the hotel for food & beverage or spa treatments, and even post-stay to book their next reservation. Information guests are looking for includes everything from the hotel’s physical address, to parking arrangements and activities in and around the hotel.

That guests are using Emma is not only useful for customers, it is also good for hotels, which now have hard stats on what people really want. As a result, hotels have already been able to make the content on their websites more relevant.   

Although ancillary revenues are likely to be small to begin with, Wishnia sees scope for doing more e-commerce within the chatbot.

The mobile experience is a clear driver too, because for common questions and concierge related queries, “it’s very important that customers have answers [literally] at their fingertips”.

OTAs – ‘just another search engine’

For GCH, online travel agents and metasearch companies are not a threat.

“OTAs and metas are not my competitor. They are an opportunity. People come to our hotels through them,” he says, adding that they deliver around 30% of the group’s bookings.

This includes Google Hotel Finder, which Wishnia believes acts like a metasearch, and, besides, costs less and takes no more effort than an AdWords campaign. 

Aside from delivering bookings to GCH, Wishnia believes that travellers are increasingly using OTAs as a search engine.

“They cut and paste the exact hotel name, and because we have good SEO for all our hotels, which means we rank highest in organic search, this means that the guest lands directly on our website,” he says.

Or for that matter, on one of the standalone Virtual Reality page, with a Book Now button embedded. Every virtual tour is built as a website that can be promoted separately from the main hotel page. And every step in the virtual tour can be directly reached by the users or as a landing page.

People are using the tech tools, they are engaging, and then they are booking – direct

GCH’s vision is to create a VR site using VD Room technology for every one of its hotels. Already there are some examples, which you can view here: Best Western Hotel RastattIbis Hotel Dortmund West, Wyndham Duisberger Hof and Radisson Blu Badischer Hof Hotel.

According Wishnia, “people are using the tech tools, they are engaging, and then they are booking – direct.”

To back this up, he says that one hotel in the south of Germany that has been showcased in 360-degrees, received 215,000 views in just six months.

A cut and paste job

The rationale behind 360-degree VR, says Wishnia, is that guests, when booking a hotel room, no longer want any surprises. They want what he refers to as ‘true information’.

“People are using this kind of technology and they are actively looking for it because they want to know more about the hotel than they can find on the OTA’s website – which is essentially a 2-D image,” he says.

It is the responsibility of the hotel to take this opportunity to secure a direct booking

More choice means that travellers today can fly with a low-cost airline, they can find a hotel online or they can stay with Airbnb. But if they are choosing to book a hotel, they want to know more about it, because they know that a hotel is “more than just a bed and a pillow”.

He knows that consumers are literally cutting and pasting because when “studying our standalone website we see that they are putting the exact name found on the OTAs into Google”.

There are all kinds of sources that deliver potential customers to a hotel website, which for Wishnia is good news. But, he stresses, it is the responsibility of the hotel to take this opportunity to secure a direct booking in the future because that “is always in our hands”.

Join us in London (June 4, 5, 6) for EyeforTravel Europe where Daniel Wishnia will deliver more hard data on the what it sees as a tech success story 

EyeforTravel Europe 2018

June 2018, London

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