Among tech-savvy travelers, there’s a perception that booking hotel stays through an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia or Hotels.com will give them the lowest rates. However, hospitality marketers know there is more to “value” than the price tag.
Top hotel brands are fighting back against OTAs by incentivizing guests to book directly with the hotel via technology and providing additional perks not offered to guests who book through OTAs. Here’s how some of the major hotel brands are using tech-friendly privileges to increase direct bookings:
Marriot Goes Mobile and Wearable
Marriott’s new mobile app offers Marriott Rewards members a streamlined mobile guest experience. While using the Marriott smartphone, tablet, and Apple Watch app, guests who booked directly can check in and check out, review their reservations, and receive alerts when rooms are ready. Guests can also use Apple Pay, order from a menu of services and amenities, and make requests through a live chat before, during, and after their stay.
Virgin Hotels Introduces Mobile Personal Assistant
Virgin Hotels introduced its mobile app, Lucy, to the world right out of the gate in conjunction with Virgin’s 2015 hotel debut in Chicago. Designed to customize guests’ stays, Lucy transforms mobile devices into personal hotel assistants. Not only can travelers book reservations and check in or out with the app, but Lucy also allows guests to adjust their room’s temperature, make reservations at the hotel’s restaurant, request services, stream personal content to the room’s television, control the television, live chat with hotel personnel or other guests, and enjoy curated video and audio on demand. The app links to Virgin Hotels’ loyalty program, The Know, which eliminates the traditional points system and instead offers perks that will make guests feel that the hotel is their own. With the app, The Know members can personalize their stay further, right down to choosing the contents of the mini-fridge, preferred pillow types, music selections, or doggie treats for canine guests.
Starwood Opens Door to Keyless Entry
Starwood, who recently merged with Marriott, is known for its Sheraton, W Hotel, Westin, and St. Regis brands. Always technology leaders, Starwood offers mobile check-in and check-out, room number alerts, and digital room keys for guests to unlock rooms via smartphones or an Apple Watch.
Ritz-Carlton Adds Luxe Features to Mobile Experience
Using an enhanced mobile app, Ritz-Carlton Rewards members enjoy several capabilities, including remote check-in and check-out, notifications when rooms are ready, live tracking of charges, the total bill for their stay, and the ability to request services like room service or shoeshines. One of the coolest features of the app allows guests to convert their photos into vintage-style travel posters to share on social media. Ritz-Carlton has also added property-specific features that provide special offers during guests’ stays, along with local suggestions from each hotel’s concierge.
Hilton Worldwide Gives Guests the Gift of Room Selection
Through its HHonors app, Hilton Worldwide offers several tech-based perks to loyalty program members who book stays directly. Digital keys, remote check-in, free standard Wi-Fi, and options for customizing their stay — from ordering room service to requesting extra pillows — all provide added value for booking directly. Hilton upped the ante in 2014 by introducing interactive room maps on the HHonors app, in addition to allowing guests who book directly to select their own rooms.
WorldHotels Unlocks its First Virtual Loyalty Program
In 2014, WorldHotels launched Peakpoints, the industry’s first 100 percent virtual, point-based loyalty program. Points can be redeemed for free nights at any of the hotels in the group. Food and beverage vouchers and cash vouchers are earned on a 2-to-1 ratio for each euro spent on a hotel room, with four earning levels to allow guests to accelerate their accumulation of points. Additional points are often added to reward guests who book rooms directly, providing individual hotels a way to reduce a growing dependence on OTAs.
Hotels are constantly working to outshine the convenience of OTAs, while guests are slowly discovering the limitations of making third-party reservations. Major hotel brands will only continue to win tech-savvy travelers by introducing innovative services and offerings using mobile devices as these brands work to further incentivize direct bookings.
Written by Junvi Ola.