January 2013: The Protea Hospitality Group is developing a state-of-the-art digital brand platform that will revolutionise the hospitality industry online user experience in South Africa.
The online brand redevelopment encompasses both Protea Hotels (including Protea Hotel Fire & Ice!) and the luxury African Pride Hotels portfolio.
The Protea Hospitality Group’s Head of Online Distribution, Clinton Arnot, explains that it’s all about the CUSTOMER experience.
“We’ll be going live with the new brand.com sites in the second quarter of 2013. They won’t just be a relaunch or rehash of our current digital real estate; the front end (customer) will be integrated with social media channels, allowing for GUEST interaction and the use of rich media and digital assets i.e. high quality still images, relevant content and inspiring hotel videos.
“Pervasive 24-hour online access through computers, tablets or smart phones is changing the world and how people interact with it,” Arnot says.
“It’s changing consumer behaviour in such a profound way that companies are having to completely rewrite the rules of engagement. What the marketing textbooks said a decade ago has to a large extent been overtaken by the rate at which technology is evolving. We’re in a consumer-driven environment and we have to adapt to engage with them the way they want.”
Danny Bryer, Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the Protea Hospitality Group, says the thinking behind creating completely new digital real estate rather than the more cost-saving option to upgrade the existing platforms was entirely driven by consumer behaviour and demand.
“The whole story is contained in Google’s 2012 Traveller survey, which was released in August 2012 and polled a sample of 5 000 respondents. It’s very simple; approximately 70% of travellers research trips online and 96% of them decide on a hotel based on what they’ve researched.
“Interestingly, leisure and business travellers used different methods to obtain information. Most leisure travellers (62%) used search engines to find information, while most business travellers (69%) go directly to hotel websites.”
Bryer says the biggest lesson he’s taken away from the survey is that the hospitality industry nowadays has to be all things to all people – an incredibly tall order for any brand to fulfil.
“To appeal to leisure travellers you have to showcase an experience and a destination from a perspective of a leisure traveller. When you’re reaching out to business travellers their first question is invariably ‘does the hotel have free Wi-Fi’ and what else does it offer that’ll make my trip more comfortable and efficient.
“That’s why leisure travellers prominently use search engines and business travellers – including the conference and incentive market – go straight to a hotel website; they have very different needs and expectations of their travel destination and accommodation.” At the end of the day most customers would inevitably end up at our brand.com sites irrespective of how they began their search process because of the brand equity it represents, the best rates guaranteed policy and the quality of the user experience.
Bryer says hotel websites have to become more than just information portals about specific properties.
“Whether travellers reach you via a search engine or they go straight to your brand.com, you need to fully satisfy their requirements. That means you have to showcase your property and provide all the answers a traveller seeks, but you also need to market the destination as a whole with experiential travel information.
“If you get that balance right, your brand.com becomes the most valuable marketing tool in your arsenal and a portal that absorbs a growing percentage of your booking traffic, which is clearly the ideal.”
Bryer believes that the new African Pride Hotels and Protea Hotels websites – including mobi platforms – will fulfil that brief.
“We’ll be integrating social technology (networking, media, relevance and CRM) over the next 2-5 years into the websites and the business platform which will all become one at the end.
“If you want to create a platform that consumers love and want to use, the best way to do that is to ask them what they want. We can study every international survey available for broad strokes outlines, but ultimately we’re going to listen to our real CLIENTS.”
The new websites will contain among other things a plethora of property information, rich media, a very user-friendly booking engine, social media, an interactive space for Prokard loyalty card holders, experiential destination information and infographics, but perhaps most importantly it’ll be the go-to place for the best available accommodation rate.
Bryer says the price tag for the digital redevelopment might at first glance seem steep, but it’s an investment in a future that’ll see rapid digital technology development.
“Do we need to be sinking substantial capital into this complete redesign of the Protea Hospitality Group’s digital presence? The answer is categorically yes. If we want to keep customers engaged with our brand and grow revenue in future, we have to take the brand into their space and keep them engaged by providing the information they need in the format they want, in the place they choose to seek and accept it. That space is the internet and the time to get your GUEST engagement right, is right now.”