5 Future Developments that will Revolutionize Online Hotel Marketing.
By Jitendra Jain (JJ).
Monday, 20th October 2008
"For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today", says a famous proverb…and what better fit to apply this than in the world of technology and marketing?

The breakneck speed of tech evolution is inspiring (and often scary) but the two keywords that will set winning developments apart from the ‘also ran' are ‘love' and ‘simplicity'. It doesn't take a degree to understand that people adopt technologies that fuel their imagination & passions…and the rate of adoption is in close sync to the simplicity of its interface and operation. Great technology needs to adapt to the needs of the user and future breakthroughs will bear testament to this.

Given another 5 years of development and refinement, here are 5 developments I think we'll see in the world of online hotel marketing and distribution:

1. Choice is king.

The clear winners of the online distribution race will be suppliers and 3rd parties that provide the most choice to the customer. "Experience building" will become key to the looking and booking process online. This will mean that successful suppliers (hotels) will have to break down elements of their inventory like rooms, dining, sports, spa and supporting services into individual units that can be booked and packaged both internally and externally.

The more elements you provide to what I like to call the "Experience Engine", the better the choice available to customers to personalize and tailor their experiences. This creation of experience units will also allow tourism industry suppliers to collaborate more effectively online, as well as spur the evolution of 3rd party providers who provide superior experience engines, taking destination marketing to a whole new level.

2. Search rankings become irrelevant.

Currently, with the heavy emphasis on search rankings and generic paid search, this statement may come as a bit of a shock…but surely, this is the natural evolution of search. The days of pure search are already on the way out. Try a search on Google today and the evidence is there…a mashup of text, images and video results. That's not all…if you're signed in with a Google account, you'll probably see different search results and rankings based on your past search behaviour.

Combining personalization, multimedia, social bookmarking and niche search, it's not hard to see that the way we place importance on search rankings today may need a dramatic rethink. Aggressive paid search and website SEO to get at the top of Google search results just won't cut it. Successful hotel search marketing of the future will be more about optimizing content of all types and reaching the right audience through the right niche and social search channels. 

3. The evolution of online form.

Just as the separation of form and content on the Web allowed normal people like us to publish and create websites easily without having to learn web design, the next step will be the evolution of online "form" itself. The end purpose? To allow ‘web-sites' to become "omni-sites" that can adapt and display content automatically in any shape or form, be it on web browsers, mobile devices, televisions, holographic displays or billboards.

This will be made possible through the breakup of site design elements to functional, aesthetic blocks that can re-arrange themselves depending on the display device they sense. This means that yesterday's Flash vs. HTML debate for hotel sites will be replaced with a scramble to get to top ‘form' tomorrow. The new question will be "Can your hotel omni-site adapt to any display medium while retaining maximum impact and usability?" This will ensure hotel sites do justice to content and can display them on any device, be it the Internet, the guest's mobile device, public information screens or guest televisions without requiring redesign.

4. From content to meaning. From interaction to relationship.

The lines between supplier and user generated content are increasingly going to blur. With ever increasing amounts of information and users on the Internet, our online social circles will become more specific and exclusive. Users will rely on a personalized, time-bound ‘zeitgeist' of the Web and their social networks to read the news, express opinions and aid their buying decisions. The ability to interact with hotel content and staff online will become the rule, not the exception.

Be it virtual guest service lounges created with online applications like Google Lively, where guests can interact with hotel representatives in a virtual space, or the ability for guests to instantly share experiences in rich media with their own social network, a meaningful dialogue between hotels and their guests will become a crucial online success factor. Guest social networks will become a strong niche referral and monetized distribution channel for hotels.

5. The real world and the virtual world collide…visually.

Increasing customer discontent with hotel photography due to outdated shots, limited views and image doctoring, combined with emerging technology will make reliance on supplier visuals a thing of the past. As the ability to go beyond linking text to hyperlinking images and video on the Web becomes easier, users will be able to experience augmented reality through their computers. Imagine this…navigating a destination using Google Earth, being able to zoom down to hotels and actually explore a 3 Dimensional view in photos and video of what the hotel and its environment actually looks like! And all this stitched together from images other guests and visitors have taken and posted on the Web. Sound far fetched?

The technology already exists…check out Microsoft's PhotoSynth, which takes a large collection of photos of a place or object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays them in a reconstructed 3-Dimensional space. This will eventually be possible with the millions of user generated photos and videos on the web, allowing us to become virtual tourists…and see the world as it really is.

Some of the above may sound like science-fiction, but interestingly enough, many of the underlying technologies for these developments are already under fabrication or refinement. In many respects…the future is already here.

For hoteliers who worry about keeping ahead of the curve and catching up with tech developments, there's good news. Great technology will always simplify rather than complicate our lives…and in the end, all the above developments will only empower consumers and offer a clearer picture of the world. Those who build great hotels and offer exceptional service will still come out on top…the technology will simply fade into the background and accentuate your success.

About the author: At work, Jitendra Jain (JJ) is employed with Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Dubai as an E-Commerce Manager and handles hotel online marketing & distribution. At play, he is the founder of various online initiatives like www.hotelemarketer.com , www.thetalentjungle.com  and www.younghotelier.com  (among others) that dream, connect, educate and share all that is glorious about hospitality, technology and most importantly…the people that define our times.
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