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Op-Ed: How small hotels can attract guests in a cost of living crisis

Exclusive: SiteMinder Chief Product Officer Leah Rankin believes small accommodations should embrace data and automation

Many owners of small accommodations might be feeling nervous about the rising cost of living, in Australia and around the world.

However, if SiteMinder’s Changing Traveller Report 2023 told us anything, it’s that many people are determined to incorporate travel into their lives, with 88 percent of Australians planning to travel over the coming year as much as they did over the year prior.

Will travellers be seeking alternatives to their usual travel arrangements in order to try and find savings in tough economic times? Of course they will.

And, SiteMinder’s research shows that Australians are responding to higher accommodation costs by:

  • Staying at preferred accommodation but reducing costs (41 percent)
  • Choosing a cheaper room (18 percent)
  • Shortening their stay (13 percent).

These findings were reflected in a recent report by BDO, which found that, between December 2023 and February 2024, holiday parks and caravan providers recorded an average revenue 12 percent higher than the same period a year prior, as families sought more affordable holiday accommodation.

Read the new Autumn print edition of AccomNews HERE

What this means is that the antidote to current business pressures is thinking of new ways to identify, attract and retain guests. 

Small hotel owners often ask my team what more they could be doing to ensure their longevity in what macroeconomic circumstances have dictated is a difficult time for small and medium-sized businesses. 

The answer may surprise you.

It’s time to embrace data and automation

Although it may seem like a bridge too far for some, the reality is that processes informed and driven by data are increasingly becoming mainstream, even in smaller businesses across Australia

Some of these processes can be powered by AI – and not the shiny-for-shiny-sake type of AI, but the kind that takes away the repetitive, low-value, onerous-but-necessary tasks involved with running a small accommodation business.

A recent report from Professor John Mangan, an emeritus professor of economics at The University of Queensland, noted that the Australian economy will be boosted by more than $200 billion a year between now and the end of the decade, and create up to 150,000 new jobs, if key industries such as accommodation fully adopt AI at the core of their businesses. 

Hoteliers can leverage data and automation across all the various avenues of their business — from rate management, to guest communications and check-ins — in ways that work to drive simplicity, not create new complications. 

The automation of various business processes is often much more straightforward than it appears, as long as you have the right technology underpinning your operations. Too many small hotels still operate in Excel spreadsheets or even pen and paper, and this does not reflect the day-to-day reality of your guests. 

Today’s traveller is extraordinarily tech-savvy. And, as newer technology such as AI continues to embed itself in the every day, travellers globally will have even more power and more choice, as they are equipped with the ability to search and query travel options against very specific criteria, and use AI-powered chat assistants to receive answers to questions almost immediately, around the clock.

AdobeStock By khunkornStudio

It’s time for hotels to respond in kind, and use the technology at their disposal to offer guests flexible and dynamic options related to their bookings and overall guest experiences.

Automation will enhance the guest experience

Hotels benefit greatly from customising experiences according to their individual guests’ preferences. Data is a crucial asset to get this done right. Having the technology capable of knowing who your guests are, where they’re coming from, and at which stage of their booking journey they found you, will streamline the way you can be offering the best and most unique experiences to each guest. 

From a cost of living standpoint, accommodation providers with a deep, enduring and flexible understanding of their guests and their changing needs, on an individual level, will be the ones to come out on top. Time-poor or cost-conscious travellers will always choose to book or re-book with a hotel that understands and delivers on their preferences, from the booking experience, all the way through to check out and marketing communications and beyond.

How can small hotels get started on their data and automation journey? 

As with all new technology, it’s important to avoid the temptation to invest in all the fancy ‘bells and whistles’ that may not ultimately deliver value for guests. Instead of aiming for a complete overhaul of your entire business, identify instead what would be the most effective part of the business to automate. Doing this with a customer-centric lens, especially considering the cost of living crisis, will help with this choice. 

The potential for data and automation to improve how your accommodation is marketed, sold and managed is unlimited.

Could your front desk and check-in experience be due for an update? How about cleaning and maintenance informed by technology that helps teams stick to schedules and maintain standards? Or, a dynamic revenue system that informs you of an unexpected spike in demand, so you can adjust your prices? Such tools already exist or are not too far away.

No matter how you elect to incorporate data and automation into your small accommodation business, the most important thing to remember is that once you’ve taken that first (sometimes daunting!) step, all the other puzzle pieces will fall into place, and you’ll be supercharging your small hotel’s growth – even in times of economic uncertainty. 

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