UK: Yesterday in London, Serviced Apartment News and the Travel Intelligence Network launched the inaugural Serviced Apartment Digital Benchmark Report.
At an event held at The IDeaS Innovation Hub, key findings of
the report were presented by Mark Harris of the Travel Intelligence
Harris explained that the aim of the 32-page study was to assess the digital marketing activities of leading serviced apartment brands through website functionality, social media activity, online reputation and loyalty marketing. The serviced apartment and extended stay companies assessed had their websites benchmarked by Hubspot's Marketing Grader and the online reputation benchmarking was done by ReviewPro, which looked at more than 330,000 online customer reviews.
Setting the scene for the event, Harris said that there are 2.8 billion internet users in the world, more than 2 billion smartphone users, and that 20 per cent of travel bookings are now made via a mobile device.
Moving on to serviced apartment operators and agents' use of social media, it was found that the companies with the top five in terms of social media followers were all brands of one of the major hotel chains. Ascott in 6th and Citybase in 7th were the highest rated dedicated serviced apartment brands.
A review of 25 company websites found that just eight were fully optimised for mobile use - a worrying number when more than 90 per cent of abandoned bookings are due to customer frustration with the booking system.
Companies were also graded on their online reviews, evaluated by ReviewPro's Global Review Index, and ranked according to service, value, location, cleanliness and rooms. A standout performer was London owner/operator Cheval Residences which was ranked first in five categories and second in a sixth. Cheval director George Westwell said: "We are absolutely committed to continuous improvement and we are delighted that the efforts and hard work of all our staff has been acknowledged by the public opinions unveiled in this digital benchmarking report. This is an incredible accolade for us."
Concluding his presentation, Harris said: "For a young but rapidly hospitality sector, the disparity between the focus given by serviced apartments to social media, online reputation management and even basic website functionality is alarming. There is much work to be done by the sector's digital marketers. Brands jostling for awareness and a greater share already have the means to do so at their fingertips. In January 2014, Travelclick reported that 34.8 per cent of hoteliers surveyed planned the biggest increase in their marketing spend in social media. One in five planned to increase their marketing spend in GDS advertising and mobile, and just under a fifth (18.8 per cent) were opting to put the largest increase of budget into search engine optimisation. We eagerly await the results of this investment.
Harris's presentation was followed by an open panel 'in the round' discussion hosted by Piers Brown, CEO of International Hospitality Media with industry experts Brian Reeves of GOPPAR Digital, and Michael Kessler of ReviewPro.
Brown got the ball rolling by reasserting a figure from a Deloitte study which claimed that there has been a steep decline in consumer attachment to hotel and travel brands, with just eight per cent of consumers remaining loyal to the same brand of hotel.
Kessler said that not only do good online reviews provide an important buying signal for future customers, but that operators can use the words of their guest reviews to rewrite their web and marketing copy.
When asked for some top tips for a more effective spend on digital marketing budget, Reeves said: "The single biggest advantage an operator can get is to move their digital marketing to a cost-of-sale model rather than a fixed budget. The hierarchy of the travel buying decision making process is price, urgency and customer reviews. There fore it makes sense to get revenue and marketing teams to work much closer together - price is the most important factor in the buying decision but it is not controlled by the marketing department."
"The hospitality could learn a huge amount from Amazon when it comes to mobile sales and marketing," added Reeves, who also urged serviced apartment companies to study the Booking.com website - which he described as "a masterclass" - to see if they can incorporate elements of it in to their own sites.
Many of the invited guests in attendance at the report launch then adjourned to the Blackfriars Wine Bar, where Serviced Apartment News' parent company, International Hospitality Media held its first "Hospitality Mashup" - a drinks and networking event bringing together professionals from the serviced apartment, boutique hotel, hostel, budget hotel and vacation rental sectors.
The evening was a great success and raised more than £500 for the Action for Children charity.
To order a copy of the report, priced at £299, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel +44 (0)20 8340 7989.