As published on www.hotelexecutive.com on January 26, 2016
Data and social media are the twin forces of change within the hospitality industry. Maximizing the power of these tools - for the good of workers and guests alike - is (or must be) a hotel executive's principal responsibility. Data and social media are the currency of the Web, with their respective collection and conversion of so many ones and zeroes into words and actionable intelligence. They are also the indispensable ingredients of the hospitality industry. Whatever label we assign to the first of these two forces, whether we speak of Big Data or information in general, one thing is certain: Access to that material is no longer the exclusive province of the world's top hoteliers and premier digital marketers - and that is very good news for travelers and hotel executives alike.
By democratizing data, by automating this process (for convenience) and streamlining this concept (for greater affordability), hotel executives can have the solution to that singular question about travelers of every age and interest; they can have a quick - and thorough - reply to this query by asking: Who are my guests? That is, by knowing more about the online identities of specific patrons, by having access to the tools that transform numbers into names of longstanding loyalty for this resort or that property, hotel executives can refine their marketing and communications.
They can create a more detailed description - a more intimate and individualistic profile of a guest - who best approximates the actual man or woman on the other side of the screen of some Smartphone or tablet.
I write these words from experience and my own professional expertise, where, as the Founder and CEO of Ocoos, I seek to empower hotel executives with the means necessary to succeed in this dynamic economy. The practical benefits of this solution are instantly visible, thanks to what a hotel executive will no longer see: Reams of printed files, and one seemingly infinite scroll of numbers, dates and columns, which runs a from the corner of one wall to the far end of another - a paper trail, indeed!
By reducing these administrative tasks, a hotel executive can escape this self-imposed form of house arrest, and explore the grounds and the rooms, and speak with staff and guests, to get a better sense of the pulse of this living, breathing enterprise.
For, every hotel has its nuances and quirks; every property has its idiosyncrasies, both organic and inorganic, from the mannerisms of a sometimes mercurial maître d' to the ceremonial presentation of wreaths and flowers for visiting dignitaries to the sounds of the slow ascent of a passenger elevator with vintage grillwork and a metal mesh gate. A hotel executive must ensure that this vast network of men and women, and this interconnected collection of machines and mechanical devices, performs properly.
By assigning the interpretation of data to skilled individuals, there is more time for a hotelier to listen and learn; to absorb the comments and concerns of a particular guest, and to make slight but important adjustments - a tweak here, a modification there - that make a great institution a thing of pride and beauty, and a model of quality and efficiency. That opportunity is an argument, in part, for leveraging data.
It is also a restatement of the inherently social nature of a hotel executive's job, which must have an online corollary of equal passion and sincerity. In other words, data is one factor in a much larger outlook of the hotel and lodging industry.
That image, in all its luminescent glory, is the world - no, the universe - of social media: A constellation of friends, followers, likes, tweets, posts, photos, comments, videos and shares; a color-coded string of 140-character-count missives about workaday duties and exceptional events, of a verbal and pictorial conversation with visitors, vendors and soon-to-be-arriving guests. And, in the seamless way that experts can manage data, hotel executives can entrust social media marketing to professionals of comparable caliber.
That is positive news, indeed; because if there is a common denominator among the majority of companies on Facebook and Twitter - if there is a style (more like the lack of one) that characterizes how most businesses present themselves on these platforms - then mediocrity is the voice (and face) of this medium. Explanations abound concerning the causes of this problem, but it is an undeniable challenge of significant size; a surmountable one, though a hurdle just the same.
Put another way, when you outsource social media promotions and content marketing to the wrong people, or when you delegate this job to inexperienced and junior staff from within, the results are no different: The simultaneous rise - and fall - of a vanity site, which elicits clicks from fake accounts and bogus entities; a virtual ghost town, with a population of zero, save the supernatural friends and followers of this digital domain. Thus, it is better to have no presence, on social media, than to be the owner of some ramshackle mess.
It is better to wait, and stay silent, than have the emperors and empresses of social media engage in such an embarrassing display of public nakedness. What these "brand ambassadors" say, and how they say it, can ruin years of earned recognition and reverse the positive effects of word-of-mouth marketing.
A wise hotel executive already understands these principles. So, rather than make a halfhearted attempt on behalf of a full-time responsibility, it makes sense to enhance the democratization of data with the superior use of social media. Think of this practice as the fulfillment of leveraging the power of "Numbers and Names": On one side is accessible and affordable data; at the other is the relevant and robust use of social media.
The numbers showcase the names, telling hotel executives about their respective constituencies, a diversity of individuals and families - from young executives and avid vacationers to business professionals and weekend travelers - who, notwithstanding their many differences, have a universal right to supreme service and superb accommodations.
Social media is the articulation of these ideals, augmented by the give-and-take of commenters and responses from the account administrator overseeing a hotel's activity on one or all relevant sites. Hotel executives can help themselves by freeing themselves from these technical (albeit essential) requirements. They should conduct the due diligence, and ask the right questions - they should know to ask the right questions - about 'mining data and making social media more sociable.'
The collaboration that then ensues between hoteliers and their one-stop source of analysis and online advocacy is just that: A union of experts - a meeting of the minds - for excellence throughout the hospitality industry. That work is the mark of leadership. It proves that a hotel executive knows how to prioritize responsibilities that this professional will choose when - and where - to preserve, protect and defend the prerogatives of this office.
It means that a hotel executive can better apply the commodity of time, for the good of every guest and the morale of every worker. With a surplus of time, apportioned judiciously and appropriated scrupulously, a hotel executive can think. Time furthers introspection, as well as the chance to reflect on matters ordinary and extraordinary. It is one of the most valuable gifts a hotel executive can possess. Some of that time should, correspondingly, go to the men and women - the data scientists and marketing consultants - who have an innate respect for time. The subsequent dividends, the quantitative returns on investment and the qualitative advantages of a happy clientele, are, well, timeless.
· Every hotel executive should aspire to reach those goals.
· Every hotel executive has an ethical obligation to pursue those goals.
· Every hotel executive should at least acknowledge the nobility of those goals.
For, these goals will soon become - they already are - necessities. These goals will separate the purely ambitious from the astutely prepared, bestowing the latter with rewards aplenty. Let these goals inspire hotel executives to do their best. In the process, the democratization of data will accelerate among boutique hotels and regional resorts, as well as high-end brands of international renown and business locales with a global guest list. Hotel executives should be at the ready, eager to make themselves more competitive and fluent in the language of online sales and marketing. We should cheer this technological milestone and this cultural moment.
The data will record this celebration, and social media will commemorate this occasion. Notice, too, how these deeds - not words, or more verbiage of the kind inserted into most forms of marketing boilerplate - confirm that a hotel executive's job is one of action.
The office is a study in travel, within and beyond the physical limits of a property, in which a hotel executive plays the role of corporate emissary, recruiter, keynote speaker, featured panelist, critic (infused with discretion), counselor (suffused with humility) and ally on behalf of the hospitality industry in its entirety. Simply stated, the official makes the office. Welcome to the hotel executive's new reality.