Key Luxury Hotels Book Digital Strategy

Hotel-imagesThe Internet has had no small impact on the hospitality industry, with half of hotel bookings now handled through digital channels compared to 1% a decade ago. But hotel companies for the most part have not focused heavily on developing a digital strategy and operations.

Some stand out for digital innovation. A new study ranking more than 50 luxury hotel brands based on their Web site, social media, mobile and digital marketing efforts cited Four Seasons, Hilton, and Marriott as the top names in the business. The analysis conducted by digital think tank L2, in partnership with Buddy Media, assigned hotels digital "IQ" scores from 70 to over 140 corresponding to ratings from “feeble” to "genius.”

Only the top three, for example, earned the “genius” label with scores of 140 or higher. Four Seasons edged out Hilton by 150 to 149, while Marriott had a score of 143. About a dozen, or 23% of the hotels studied were rated as “gifted” including Hyatt, Sheraton and Westin. The bulk of hotels (38%) were deemed “average” or “challenged” (29%), forming a bell curve in the hotel rankings. 

Only two were dubbed “feeble” -- Raffles and Rosewood. That’s a big improvement from last year, when a third of hotels scored in the “feeble” category for their digital dysfunction. A year ago, only 10% made the “average."

At the high end, “brands that nabbed 'genius’ or 'gifted’ rankings experimented across platforms with tactics including concierge mobile applications, on-site user reviews, shareable destination guides, and programming on Instagram, Pinterest, and other emerging platforms,” stated the L2 report.

Taking an in-depth look at the Four Seasons’ digital offering, the study highlighted its $18 million site relaunch, accounts on all the major social networks, and an integration with TripAdvisor that includes curated reviews on pages showcasing hotel properties. 

L2 also found that hotels with multiple brands significantly outpaced independent hoteliers on digital platforms, registering an average digital IQ of 109, versus 92 for independent private brands and 87 for independent publicly traded ones. Brands such as Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood and Hilton leverage technology investments across their portfolios through shared online and mobile platforms, digital marketing tools, and cross-selling.

While hotels indicated that they would spend more than a third (34%) of online budgets on site upgrades and optimization, companies have been slow to adopt best practices, according to L2. Many hotel sites added the Facebook “Like” button last year and other social-sharing enhancements, but only 40% overall offer such features.

Still, hotels continued to expand their presence on social media. The percentage of brands with both global and individual property pages on Facebook rose from 73% to 95% in the last year, while the proportion on Twitter rose from 56% to 70%. Nearly two-thirds have set up on newcomer Google+ and 60% are using Foursquare. 

Like social media, mobile has become an increasingly important channel for hotels. Two-thirds of brands now support a mobile-optimized site, with all of those providing mobile-booking capability. Companies with a strong mobile presence may be capturing the most profitable bookings, since 70% of bookings via mobile are for same day (high-price) stays.

Android and iPad apps were the main focus of mobile development last year, mirroring the mass adoption of the Google operating system and Apple device, respectively.

Regardless of platform, the study faulted luxury hotels for making limited use of user ratings and reviews, except for Four Seasons and Starwood. L2 noted that sites employing user reviews send 39% less traffic to online travel agencies, “suggesting that on-site reviews gave customers more confidence when booking.” That’s assuming, of course, the reviews were mostly positive.

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