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Raising the Emotional Stakes

To create true loyalty these major industry CEOs prove that forging an emotional connection is what truly spurs loyalty. Here’s what they think.

Monday, June 23, 2014
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Hotel industry presidents want to get in your head. No, it’s not because they want to upset you or control your actions like some bad 1950s-era B movie. Rather, these industry leaders are trying to better understand the wants and desires of their present and future guests to better connect with the traveling public in a way that builds true loyalty.

And they better figure it out quick because loyalty these days seems to be a waning phenomenon as travelers are beginning to experience points fatigue – too many programs not enough real recognition – and younger generations don’t seem to stick with brands for a lifetime like their older brethren. Throw in leapfrog technology advances and suddenly hotel industry CEOs are thrust into a situation where they have to reinvent the entire process of getting people to make that stay decision. Or else risk being sent to the dreaded commoditization zone where hotels are forced to fight for business on price alone.

But these CEOs also know they have one big trick up their sleeves; experience. That is, providing indelible experiences and moments prompting positive emotional responses of the magnitude that forges top of mind brand awareness and favorability.

“The closer we get to the customer, the closer we are to that connection, the more loyal they can become. We are building a connection to [our] brands where we know our customers and they know our brands and benefits,” said Simon Turner, President, Global Development, Starwood Hotel & Resorts Worldwide, during the NYU Hospitality Investment Conference earlier this month. “We need to know the why of travel.”

David Kong, President and CEO, Best Western International sees making that emotional connection with the guest is the silver bullet needed to keep at bay the commoditization beast.

“We have to find a way to connect emotionally with the guest. Fundamentally we are in the hospitality business and it is called that for a reason,” said Kong, explaining that it is having the right people on staff that makes those critical unforgettable connections. In fact, the company’s marketing tag line is “Stay with People who Care.”

Kong continues: “From comment cards we see they are emotionally invested and they care about what they wrote and 95 percent of what they write is about people. We pay a lot of attention to customer care not just customer service.”

Makes sense, and that’s a theory Kirk Kinsell, President, The Americas, IHG ascribes to as well.

“We need to understand the emotional needs of people when they travel. Ask ourselves ‘What are they trying to fulfill?’ Then we have to build brand standards around specific stay occasions,” said Kinsell.

He said creating true loyalty is not just about the recognition of an individual, it’s about understanding their inherent emotional needs and then finding ways to satisfying them. “Loyalty is not about buying people’s business it’s about recognition. The most important part is personalization that occurs within the hotel,” said Kinsell.

Great point. That’s why we are starting to see major hotel brands move away from forcing an endless series of guest amenities the hotel owner must pay for to a more effective strategy of having a few key elements highlighting a brand’s point of view and positioning. That, plus Kong’s statement about customer care is the only way to successfully avoid that commoditization trap.

The industry has come close to commoditization before during the early 2000s. At that time after 9/11 many brands panicked and gave away their inventory in the early internet days to online travel agencies at deep discounts, thereby unintentionally training the consumer to think about price alone.

Now these company leaders are hoping to leverage technology to their advantage by making the hotel experience so personalized guests will trade price for that aforementioned experience.

“It’s about that smile and recognition for what you need. It is wonderful if they know who you are and what you need,” said Kinsell.

“We all feel like a number sometimes and at our hotels want to eliminate that and extend that sense of hospitality,” said Kong.

“But travel also must be hassle free and efficient. That is what I want,” said Turner.

One final thought from Kong on that emerging Millennial generation. “They are a very important segment and from research we found they have certain needs and wants that are different from other generations. They actually believe in price value relationship and they don’t want to pay too much but they want a lot,” said Kong.
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RE: Raising the Emotional Stakes article link
It is very enlightening but that is what "Hospitality" is all about. It is a very people-oriented service that not many hotel managers (management) realise. That being said, staff cannot be replaced no matter how advance technology is.
Posted by: Mr. Chin Keong Liew - BA

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