Money Listens: How Ears Drive Hotel Success

You rarely hear anybody say that money listens, and it’s easy to see why. As a maxim, it doesn’t have much of a ring to it. Money talks—now there’s a maxim for you.

But in the world of professional hospitality, the smart money does listen. Listening is a proven driver of business and success. In fact, not listening—whether to current or prospective guests, businesspeople in the community, industry research, or hotel staff members—is pretty much proven to add a strain on profits, morale, and just about every other tangible or intangible asset a hotel can have.

Did I just write “proven”? 

Yes I did and, whilst proof in business isn’t as well-defined as proof in science we can get fairly close. It’s possible to reach a point where refuting the evidence is impractical, if not illogical.

To start with, consider the 2014 hospitality study by Gallup. Only 22% of respondents indicated that they were “engaged” with a hotel brand, meaning they have a sense of brand loyalty when booking hotel rooms. Of those, nearly 80% indicated that the hotel they visit most frequently takes care of their needs. This means that if hotels consistently listen to their guests and make an effort to anticipate needs and wants, the number of “engaged” guests increases. Guests are not only more likely to come back, but more likely to act as brand ambassadors to people they know. The survey repeatedly finds that service and attention are key factors in building the level of customer engagement. (It is worth noting of course that there were 78% of respondents NOT engaged with the brand, so there is a big listening opportunity here.)

New surveys and studies are popping up all the time. Some are from organizations with an academic slant, such as the International Journal of Hospitality Management. Others are from OTAs themselves, like the recent string of amenity-related surveys by hotels.com. In 2012, the company found that free wireless internet was not a secondary consideration, but a key factor in the booking choices of many travelers. Many hotels continue to defy this trend and charge extra for an amenity that is, today, as rudimentary as basic cable was 20 years ago. And how about more complimentary spring water in the room, with healthier food options on the menu? Respondents have also indicated that bathroom phones are obsolete, while other amenities such as in-room massage chairs are gaining traction.

It’s not as though every last survey and study should be taken as gospel truth, but hotel companies who aren’t at least monitoring the torrent of meaningful research out there—and evaluating their strategies accordingly—should probably have their listening caps refitted.

Other types of listening are equally if not more important. The aforementioned Gallup study found that listening to staff (and providing meaningful, ongoing training) is the key to better meeting the needs of guests. That is to say, interactions between hotel staff and guests are another defining factor in whether the guests needs and feedback are ultimately taken into account. Listening to staff and including them in decision-making processes also contributes to morale and work ethic, which can only be good for business.

There’s also the question of listening to guests directly, whether in person or online. OTAs and review sites have become critical battlegrounds for reputation management. Unanswered complaints (or worse, complaints with curt or combative public responses) aren’t likely to garner a favourable response from prospective guests whereas sensitive responses to both positive and negative reviews are hugely beneficial. And yes, there’s a study for that. Detailed research, conducted by Cornell University back in 2012, found that hotels can increase prices by over 11% (and maintain the same levels of occupancy) for every point they gain on the five-point aggregate review scale. Is this absolutely true in all cases? Of course not. But as anecdotal evidence, it’s difficult to ignore.

The power of listening 

Hotels have always been a service-oriented business. As the world becomes more interconnected, the importance of listening (and responding, and evolving) is that much clearer.

Money talks, nobody is going to deny that anytime soon. But there’s another old adage: If you’re talking, you aren’t learning. For hotels operating in the 21st century, this is perhaps the single most important principle to grasp.

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