Live from the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit: Insight, Engagement, and Service

By Hallie Mummert

October 9, 2012

Presenters at this week's Cornell Hospitality Research Summit are up for the challenge of identifying industry trends and providing advice on how to drive performance.

With a theme of "Service Excellence and Performance Growth in the Global Hospitality Industry: Strategies and Approaches for Navigating Forward," here are some highlights from the first day of sessions pertaining to social media, search marketing, and overall trends.

The Right KPIs for Social Proof

As part of a current research study on determining the ROI of social media, Peter O'Connor, Professor of Information Systems and Associate Dean of Hospitality Management at Essec Business School France, discussed the mismatch between the metrics that leading hotels track and the information that makes a business case for investment. He reported on this gap in the session, "Measuring the ROI of Social Media in Hospitality: Approaches, Ideas and Challenges."

The most common KPIs gathered include reach (e.g., fans), activity (e.g., posts), traffic (e.g., clickthroughs), and engagement (e.g., likes). However, said O' Connor, these metrics are aimed at helping the manager at the community level gauge social media activity. Instead, he pointed out that middle management needs data around leads, conversions, Net Promoter score, and revenue in order to sell social media to their executive team.

O' Connor urged hotels to learn from other sectors and draw ideas from what they have learned. For example, they should benchmark their efforts against those of other similar size travel companies or brands, not all companies in their travel and hospitality niche. Industries to pay attention to include alcohol, soft drinks, and food.

The Future of 'Getting Found' Online

Considering the pervasive role digital media plays in our daily lives, travel and hospitality firms must keep pace with changes in search marketing to help prospects and customers "find" their brands when planning their travels across devices and platforms.

In the session, "The Evolution of Search & Hotel Online Marketing Strategies for the Future," Milestone Internet Marketing CEO Anil Aggarwal shared the following four keys to success in search:

• Search is SoLoMo, or a combination of social, mobile, and local content; support content development across all these platforms.

• Website on-page optimization is a fundamental element to your strategy, including a focus on content, freshness, engagement, and user experience.

• Implement schema markup, where you are developing and tagging content according to the attributes that search engines value (for the travel vertical, think about location, history, events, dates, etc.); this approach helps get your deep, long-tail content served.

• Leverage a universal approach, so your efforts are coordinated across channels for consistency.

Trend Watch: Data, Data, and More Data

Big Data has come to the travel sector, said David Peckinpaugh, President of Maritz Travel Company. What a broader focus on customer analytics will allow the industry to do, he explained, is to have "a more focused crystal ball" that helps better predict what the customer wants. Until now, travel and hospitality firms have been more reactive; Big Data will pave the way to being proactive.

Summing up the challenge of Big Data, Ted Teng, President & CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, noted the lack of visibility into what activity truly drives business. "Today, there are so many layers," he noted, that stand between the seller and the buyer, making it tough to see if the media planner, the brand, the loyalty program, or other source helped drive the booking. Many travel firms, he said, want to cut out the "pirates" that shave dollars off each transaction.

With a better attribution model that provides insight into where to cut unprofitable activity, Teng emphasized that travel and hospitality businesses might be able to find budget to invest in training and service for improved customer satisfaction.

Hallie Mummert is the former managing editor at Monetate. For the past two decades, she reported on trends and best practices in the marketing field for Target Marketing, a business-to-business trade publication. She also moderated webinars and created paid content for the magazine's parent company, North American Publishing Company.

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