Companies must find ways to be distinctive to combat disruption, part of PwC’s 22nd CEO Survey trends series
The hospitality and leisure (H&L) industry is big and diverse; it has traditionally claimed some of the closest relationships with global consumers of any sector. People eat, sleep, play games, cement friendships and seek cures in H&L facilities. Given this dynamic, it isn’t surprising that the ability to create brand awareness campaigns that feel like one-on-one communication with potential customers — that is, campaigns that speak directly to customers’ preferences and desires — has always been a keystone of success for H&L companies. But recently, for many parts of the hospitality and leisure industry, that connection to consumers has frayed.
Nowhere is this truer than in the hotel segment of the industry. Not long ago, marketing campaigns were focused on creating an image that distinguished a company’s hotels anywhere in the world — and consumers chose rooms based on certain perceptions they had developed about specific brands. They’d contact the hotel whose brand most closely matched their personalities and inclinations through the web, phone or travel agent and book the room directly.
No more. A growing number of rooms are now booked through third-party services. On these platforms, hotels are barely differentiated, except by price. And although brand still plays a role, its importance is outshone by consumer reviews and star ratings.
Partly as a result of disruptions in their ability to connect with customers directly, H&L CEOs are pessimistic about the future for their businesses. In PwC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey, only 27% of H&L respondents said that they were ‘very confident’ about revenue growth during the next 12 months, compared with 35% of all CEOs surveyed. (These H&L results are for the industry as a whole, although CEOs from the hotel segment represent by far the largest proportion of respondents.)
To overcome these very real obstacles (and revenue losses) from third-party booking services, hotels must find a way to again make themselves distinctive destinations for customers. If vacationers and business travellers alike develop preferences and loyalty for the facilities and amenities offered at specific chains and independent lodges, they’ll go to them first when planning a trip — instead of the third-party bookers.
Hotels must provide a more highly personalised experience that anticipates and then goes beyond the needs of their particular customer base — and count on word of mouth and allegiance to keep this base coming back and expand the pool of potential customers.
Three strategic approaches should be priorities: modernise the service offering; hire high-touch oriented employees who can make guests feel noticed, welcomed and pampered; and implement the latest technology to realise savings on back-end administrative processes, which could be invested in new digital-based programmes that improve the quality and convenience of the interactions between guests and the hotel.
To succeed in this new and difficult environment, hotels should reimagine the notion of brand loyalty, which must be built now on unique and unexpected conveniences and amenities. Importantly, hotels should go beyond the tried and true, testing out new features, taking risks with new ideas and anticipating what will be most attractive to guests. Hotel companies that make the right decisions about the services they offer — and that apply technology and skilled staff to provide these services at a high level — may find that connecting directly to customers and forging an ongoing relationship with them need not be a thing of the past after all.
EMEA Hospitality & Tourism Leader, Partner, PwC Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0)58 792 2191
UK Hospitality & Leisure Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 7764 235 446