Hospitality 2.0

By Christina Volpe | June 10, 2009

Web 2.0 is one of those concepts creating a huge buzz in the hospitality segment right now. A buzz that, for many, seems to leave an endless trail of misconceptions and unanswered questions in its wake: "It's a time waster, how can it really create brand loyalty and/or business efficiencies; what are the challenges associated with it; the only people using Web 2.0 fall under the 18-24 demographic, etc." The list of questions and fallacies about this young technology goes on and on. But when hospitality companies let their common misconceptions about Web 2.0 fall to wayside and begin thinking of ways to utilize it outside of the box, the opportunities can be quite surprising.  

Everyone knows the applications that fall under the Web 2.0 umbrella: Facebook (www.facebook.com), Twitter (www.twitter.com), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), YouTube (www.youtube.com), wikis and more; but what many fail to realize is that more and more people are using these tools to connect with peers and friends. Facebook for example, which started out as a way for college students to connect with their peers, has grown into a network of more than 200 million active users. And according to the social networking site's figures, their fastest growing demographic is those 35 years of age and older.

"The biggest misconception is that it [Web 2.0] is for the kids," says Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research and author of Technotrends. "I cannot tell you how many companies I have gone into and the CEOs don't want to hear anything about social media because they think that it is unproductive."

It's a marketing AND business tool
When incorporated into an operator's Web strategy, Web 2.0 tools can yield big benefits for hospitality organizations. First and foremost, Web 2.0 is the ultimate (and free) marketing tool that operators can use to create brand recognition and customer loyalty. Because community and social aspects are hallmarks of Web 2.0, hotels and restaurants alike can extend their relationships with customers to create dialogues between the two. This includes the ability to respond to and track user feedback, use discussions to develop new offerings, and promote special events.

That is exactly what The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa (www.groveparkinn.com) did when it took to the micro-blogging service Twitter to promote its upcoming 96th birthday celebration in July. In May the resort sent out a "Tweet" to those following E.W. Grove on Twitter offering a free one- night stay for the first 96 people to call into a 1-800 number. In less than 90 minutes all of the rooms offered as part of the promotion were given away.

"There certainly is a developing trend for the hospitality industry to promote on Twitter," said Ron Morin, executive director of operations at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa.  "With our move toward more of an online presence, Twitter seemed a unique way to give away 96 free stays."

In addition to marketing, Web 2.0 can also be used to create business efficiencies. Staying with Twitter for a moment, the whole purpose behind the site is to answer in 140 characters or less one question: what are you doing right now? "Why do we have to be limited to that question," suggests Burrus. "Instead of asking what are you doing why not ask what problems are you trying to solve."  By thinking outside of how Twitter was originally meant to be used, operators can now utilize that technology to create productive communications between its employees.

Twitter isn't the only Web 2.0 tool that can create operational efficiencies. Other hospitality organizations are turning to wikis as a way to create living documents online. The Union Square Hospitality Group (www.ushgnyc.com) is using PBwiki (www.pbworks.com) to create a virtual handbook that streamlines the training processes for their accounting department. Bookkeepers in different locations can even add special pages for additional notes and procedures that are specific to their location. And if they lose a controller, their replacement will be able to understand exactly how procedures were carried out at that location.

Best practices
Interested in taking the Web 2.0 plunge? Here are some best practices that can help your organization through the process.

1. Get out of broadcast mode: Web 2.0 can be summed up in one word: dialog. Broadcasting your organization's message is only one piece of the pie and it is important to listen to what your customers are saying, be it good or bad. By truly creating a culture of listening to customers' experiences and suggestions, hospitality companies will be able to respond in ways that reduce negative word of mouth and optimize the customer experience. Operators will also find that this level of engagement can also foster the creation of new products that your organization may not have thought of before.

2. Integrate Web 2.0 tools: "We see these Web 2.0 tools like wiki and Facebook as separate entities," says Burrus. "But it is more beneficial to integrate social media tools into your Web strategy. When they are integrated they up your Google searches and ranking. When they are separate they do not do that." Operators can accomplish this by making Web 2.0 tools an extension of their company websites. That is exactly what the creators of the KioskCom Self-Service Expo (www.kioskcom.com) did when they took to Twitter to provide followers with conference updates directly from the expo floor. Tweets directed readers to visit the conference website to read corresponding headlines throughout the show, thus driving traffic to the show's site. "When all of it is seen as one, that is very powerful," says Burrus.

3. Get creative: One of the biggest challenges with Web 2.0 is in capturing user attention. Because Web 2.0 tools provide guests with an infinite array of choices and a growing amount of control, marketers are left with the task of engaging guests like never before. This means that operators need to get creative in how they use social media tools. For example, operators can use YouTube as a means of posting humorous commercials to generate interest in their restaurant or hotel. The more entertaining it is, the more people will watch it. And don't forget to link that video to your website.

4. Consult Gen Y'ers: Because younger generations, especially Gen Y,  grew up using Web 2.0 applications, they can offer operators some valuable insight into how they use these tools, and can suggest hospitality applications that may not have been thought of before in strategy meetings. Operators don't necessarily need to bring in outside people who are familiar with these tools, they simply need to talk to their younger employees, suggest Burrus.

5. Utilize unused tools: Like any technology, there are tons of tools within Web 2.0 that are underutilized. For example, multiple tools within Twitter enable operators to analyze user behaviors. TwitterAnalyzer, which features more than 50 statistical measures, is just one. There are even tools online that can assist you in managing multiple Web 2.0 properties like Ping.fm (www.ping.fm). The best part about these tools is that most of them are free to use.

6. Think outside the box: Are you using Web 2.0 tools in the same way that your competitors are using them?  YouTube can be used to create instructional videos; an internal Facebook group can streamline company communication. The possibilities are only limited by the user's own imagination. "Web 2.0 is higher tech," says Burrus. "It isn't about the tools, it's about how operators use them. Don't get hung up on the perceived use of the tool" and think of new ways that you can use it to your advantage.

Excerpted from Consumer Good magazine: "Marketing in a Web 2.0 World," Parts I and II by Lori Castle. Additional excerpts from "Social Networks that Boost Your Business: How to Use These Applications to Make your Company Recession-Resistant" by Daniel Burrus, CEO of Burrus Research and author of Technotrends.

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