/ Faces of Growth

Pulling Hospitality up to millennial speed

“Ya have to keep up with the trends. Hotels didn't keep up with the trends.”

"Even though I took the marketing class, what they teach you in school has nothing to do with what you need in real life.” Rafik Hanna says this after being in hospitality for nearly 20 years.

He’s savvy enough to be in the know about online millennial marketing trends, and he’s got enough experience of being a hotelier to be frustrated by the way individual hotels are not keeping up with those trends in ways that prevent loss, much less increase revenue.

The man is passionate about hospitality. It’s rare these days (especially in the Bay Area) to find someone who sticks with a single career path for two consecutive decades. Rafik started in the industry while going to college as an engineering major. Fortuitously, he switched his major to Hotel and Revenue Management, and graduated with 0 loans and a heck of a lot of experience - he juggled 5 jobs at once while going to school. Over the course of his career, he’s ascended the ranks from front desk ops and night audits to general manager and hotel consultant at large, earning success among boutique and large hotel chains alike.

Although the hand-written rack rate has been replaced by newer booking systems, I was pretty surprised when Rafik outlined its evolution. The archaic DOS based Global Distribution System, (which still requires hotel reservationists and travel agents to book a room by writing lines of code...there’s nothing like being your own reservation engineer) and the hotel’s respective website are the two main channels for direct booking.

“Millennials,” Rafik says, “are the buying power of today.”

With the endless sea of options available via online travel agencies (OTAs), individual hotel websites struggle to keep up with the Millennials’ ever changing demands and shifting attention spans. Rafik says that OTAs and the global distribution system make up for “more than 50% of a hotel’s bookings,” which means revenue is being drained from the hotels and redirected towards third party commissions.

His solutions are straightforward:

Give Millennials the options they want. Make what they want easy to get.

So I asked Rafik what would help these individual websites convert lookers into bookers? His reply: “Attacking the conversion rate via attractive offers, customer reviews, sending an email to your database, paid ad campaigns through Google. ...Personalization that makes it easier to use and provides more options that are catered specifically to the millennial individual and their personal tastes.”

He explained that power of predictive personalization comes at a price many hotel owners are hesitant to invest. “But what they don’t understand is, you have to spend money to get money.” When the audience trends are understood, that investment pays for itself, incrementally. A hotel website that intuits a looker is seeking a hotel date around the time a major conference is happening in San Francisco, will be able to offer a rate that is competitive with the other nearby hotels, and not risk low-balling a price, thereby losing out on revenue. Applied messaging on the webpage makes it even simpler and more direct to get through the funnel to the final booking stage.

“A lot of what I do is a reaction to something, because trends change all the time. So you have to start seeing the trends, how people are reacting, and react to it,” Rafik explains.

Needs and wants should be anticipated upon arrival to the website, just as any guest would want the hotel to anticipate their needs without having said a word.

So you want to improve your hotel’s website booking rate? Get with the times - know your audience, offer them all the options that will be relevant to them, and make it easy to attain on your website. Take a Millennial leap and make your investment count.

27336904_10160115984045271_293559807773918624_n-3--2 Rafik Hanna can be found on [LinkedIn (http://linkedin.com/in/rafikmhanna)].Also check out his Facebook group, HSMAI Northern California Chapter to stay up to date on hotel sales and marketing activities and meet-ups throughout the Bay Area.