After focusing on building their brands over the last few years, travel industry competitors are finally returning to the consumer, to identify new growth opportunities. Competitors include the hotel chains themselves, OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) and Meta-Search engines, and Vacation Rental sites.
In the past year, “Consumer Centricity” has been the key in determining the competitors’ innovations, M&A strategy and marketing tactics.
The Consumer Centricity approach takes the following 3 factors into account: Enabling Technology, the Consumer Journey, Consumer Trends.
- First, technology enablers: technological advancements have changed the hotel industry, causing the traveler’s path to purchase to rely heavily on digital means throughout the exploration, research, booking, traveling and departing process. The most relevant technology trend is the rise in smartphone penetration, which enables competitors to offer a seamless, omni-channel experience for the traveler’s journey and create significant service innovation. Another trend is that of “big data” which – when analyzed properly – can offer personalized experiences to the consumers.
- The Consumer Journey:
- The pre-travel stage can be triggered by an ad, social media content or the consumer’s own search. It tends to be a stressful stage, during which the consumer searches information and reviews on destinations and service providers. Sometimes, these activities take place on several devices such as a smartphone and a computer. Competitors have taken upon themselves to remove some of the stress stemming from this process, by simplifying and aggregating information. They have also adopted the concept of consumer reviews, acknowledging the fact that consumers will look for comparisons anyway.
On Site – the trip itself drives new needs, such as check-in, room service and check-out, but also cross-services and products such as event tickets, entertainment and dining. Competitors are responding to such demands by launching / acquiring services such as online restaurant reservations.
Post-Travel – consumers are encouraged to leave a feedback, post pictures and recommend services to their friends. Competitors are turning to CRM in order to drive repeating purchases, via email marketing, referral programs and loyalty programs.
- Consumer Trends. The main trends affecting the traveler today are: Convenience, Personalization, Social and Value for Money.
The Convenience mega-trend affects any consumer industry, and it stems partially from the fact that consumers are time-starved and partially from the fact that technology spoils us – we have come to expect instant, immediate gratification. Concierge apps, mobile check-in, and instant offers / booking are some of the more common examples in today’s industry, which aim to provide better, faster service.
The Personalization trend also stems from enabling technology, such as the collection and analysis of “big data”. Personalization can take many forms – for example, segmentation (recognizing the different needs of the business traveler, as opposed to the leisure traveler), micro-segmentation (recognizing specific parameters which characterize a particular consumer group, and targeting that sub-group), and personal-level service (based, for example, on the consumer’s social network and/or search behavior).
Social – beyond the consumers’ reliance on their social network’s recommendations, consumers have grown to trust other consumers, even if they don’t know them personally. This gave ground to the booming “Sharing Economy”, with Airbnb and HomeAway leading the way in vacation rentals, and OTAs following. As a result, the sharing economy has expanded into other areas and now includes services such as “EatWith”, where diners are invited to eat with local cooks, and of course car sharing such as Uber and Zipcar, which also collaborate with accommodation providers.
Better Value for Money – while some models were based merely on best price guarantee, today’s competitive market forces companies to think out of the box. Therefore, more companies have launched “opaque” services (where some of the service’s elements are hidden, such as the hotels’ name), and they are investing in their loyalty programs in order to provide more value. Other initiatives include providing the travelers with useful content, such as mobile apps that would otherwise cost money.
In conclusion, identify any key area where you are able to provide added value to the traveler across the path to purchase, whether by personalizing, providing the best instant service, offering better value for money, saving time or providing a stress-free experience to consumers, or connecting them to other consumers. Then, decide which tools or devices will enable you to respond to these needs across the traveler’s path to purchase.