What is a Digital Concierge for hotels, vacation rentals and accommodation
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A digital concierge for hotels and accommodation properties is a mobile app that does the tasks once typical of a human concierge, enhanced by the power of digital.
Digital concierge apps can have various features. Among the most common:
- digital maps with lots of geolocalized points of interest at destination, which function as travel guides, alternatives to expensive and bulky paper stuff;
- systems to chat directly with the customer, exclusive communication channels to make guests feel important and assist them 24/7, even if they are not in the accommodation;
- push notifications, useful for signaling the most important information to the customers and being sure that they have received it;
- in-app e-commerce to up-sell internal and external services that can be purchased by customer directly on the app;
- the automation of some operations, such as sending e-mails or assigning certain guest management tasks to specific members of the team;
More generally, the digital concierge apps increase customer loyalty, encourage guests to leave positive reviews about the accommodation that pampered them through its technological device, allow the host to get in touch with guests during all stages of the Travel Experience.
The different kinds of apps for hotels and accommodation properties
The phrase hotel app is used both to refer to those mobile applications that travellers from all over the world use to search and book accommodations. Both to talk about digital technologies for smartphones that traditional accommodations and vacation rentals offer always more often to their customers, such as Digital Concierge.
The first kind is used by travellers who have not booked yet. The latter instead it is designed for all customers who have already chosen their accommodation.
The second type of this technology for hotels and accommodation properties has 2 main purposes:
- it helps hosts to improve their guests’ Travel Experience
- it supports them in the property management
The models of app for hotels currently more widespread on the market are:
- the app realized specifically for an accommodation, quite expensive and accessible only to the big hotel chains that can also sustain the costs of technological updating over time.
- customizable solutions, such as the 100% personalized Digital Concierge, ideal for facilities that do not have the budgets of a big hospitality operator. In this case hotels, b and b, property managers need only think about customizing their application that will then be downloadable by their guests, without additional costs for software development.
How the digital has changed the travel industry: from the WWW to the Digital Concierge
With the arrival of Internet and mobile, the travel industry is no longer the same. Today we talk about digital tourism to refer to all the changes that have taken place in the way people travel since the progressive spread of new technologies on a global scale.
Changes in travel & hospitality in the digital age occur at a faster rate than in the past. This means that the most important travel trends of the last few years will evolve shortly into something that still today seem futuristic like: robot, AI, Internet of Things.
The greater speed of change requires a continuous updating of the skills and technologies used to manage an accommodation. Shortly managers of hotels and vacation rentals, Airbnb host and all other hospitality experts will no longer be able to work well without digital concierge, smart access, messaging systems.
Nowadays the tourist market is characterized by a traveler who uses the smartphone to travel in an easier and more exciting way, rather than cumbersome guides and maps. Travel apps, social media, responsive websites, e-mails are the most effective channels to let people discover the accommodation, up-sell tourist services and communicate with guests before, during and after their stay.
Contemporary travellers seek inspiration for their journeys on social networks. They are influenced by the online reviews of other users. They are able to organize their holidays. But at the same time, about 80% of them wants to receive personalized offers, useful to better enjoy their holidays.
The tourist 2.0 no longer wants to own but prefers to buy travel experiences to learn something new, do typical activities and participate in local life.
At the same time, the accommodation offer has changed. The new technologies have determined the evolution of the vacation rentals market, always existed, but now grown so much on a global scale that it is often much more than an alternative to traditional hotels.
The evolution of the travel experience in the Digital Concierge age
The travel experience has profoundly changed, in line with the mutations recorded in the travel & hospitality sector.
The travel experience begins even before the stay and ends after the returning home.
The travel experience includes 5 moments:
- The reservation. After searching for inspiration and information from both desktop and mobile, the user books accommodation and flight. The booking on average takes place 60/80 days before departure.
- Immediately afterwards, enthusiastic about the idea of a new adventure, travellers acquire essential services such as transfers and unmissable experiences (for example, a visit to the Colosseum in case of holidays in Rome). However, they are not ready yet to organize the whole trip in detail. Therefore, any offers of services and activities risk not being converted into purchases.
- A few days before departure, however, the future guest appreciates receiving advice and buying useful services, tours and activities.
- When the journey begins and the guests arrive at their destination, the check-in is the first thing to manage. Then customers dedicate the next 24 hours to explore their accommodation, from the pillow to the view from the window. Only afterwards they begin to visit the destination and buy services and experiences.
- Finally, the moment of the check out arrives with the possible choice of the transfer for the return. Once at home, the guest appreciates leaving feedback on the stay and receiving promotions. Despite this, there are too few accommodations that ask their guests for a review.
It is essential to note that the host is the only actor ever present in every step of the new travel experience. Furthermore, only the hospitality manager has a human and digital relationship with the traveller, unlike any OTA or tourist service provider.
Thanks to the Digital Concierges, the host can establish a relationship with the guests since their reservation. With this mobile technology, the host enters the customer’s smartphone demonstrating the innovative profile of the accommodation and building, prior to arrival, a privileged trust relationship with the guest.
Vacation rental industry and Airbnb
The number of vacation rentals has exploded in the last 10 years, driven by Airbnb. In 2008, on its website there was one reservation per day. Today there are 6 bookings per second. Italy is the 3rd country for active ad numbers on Airbnb.
At the same time, new professional figures were born, specialized in the vacation rental sector. This kind of property managers frequently complain about 3 critical issues, which distinguish them from hotel colleagues:
- logistically, properties are often located throughout the territory and do not have an operational office;
- the business model is different from hotel industry, with higher brokerage fees not offset by internal and external services sale;
- the technological offer (PMS, Channel Manager, Digital Concierge) is often designed for traditional accommodation.
The average stay in the vacation rental sector lasts less than 5 days and it is concentrated in 48 hours. In addition, around 40% of Airbnb bookings is last minute, concluded 14 days before departure.
The short rent: how it works
In Italy, the short rent is a temporary lease contract lasting no more than 18 months. The types of short rent are two:
- tourist rent, the most widespread form, which can not exceed 30 days and does not require registration at the Revenue Agency;
- temporary rent, which lasts more than 30 days but no longer than 18 months, for which certification with stamp duty is required.
According to the D.L. 50/2017, even the short tourist rent applies to “cedolare secca” regime. In addition, it is mandatory to communicate data on contracts, pay a withholding tax of 21%, apply the tourist tax if provided by the municipality.
It is important to clarify that you can benefit from the “cedolare secca” at 21% even when in addition to the rent you offer linen and cleaning services. But not for tourist rentals stipulated in the exercise of a business activity. In this last case your profit will be declared as business income.
The short rent, in particular the tourist one, has some advantages compared to the traditional one. It allows the owner to easily re-enter the property in case of need or sale. Furthermore, it is a fairly simple way to capitalise on unused properties such as holiday apartments.
Property manager: skills, tasks, tools
The property manager is a consultant who manages properties on behalf of owners, investors and companies. Property managers assist their clients in the purchase, sale, rental and management of the property.
In addition, in the vacation rental industry, the property manager also relates to the guest of the apartment or managed holiday home, until becoming an intermediary between the guest and the destination through the up-selling of services and customer assistance.
In Italy, the property manager profile does not correspond to that of the real estate agent, even if it partly coincides. The agent is a qualified consultant who participates in real estate brokerage and earns with commissions. The property manager is often a real estate agent, but may also not be qualified and offer the client a paid technical advice based on their training and experience.
However, since in Italy to manage apartments and holiday homes it is necessary to be “agenti a titolo onoreso”, it is convenient to be real estate agents.
A skilled property manager is not only an agent but also an expert on the market, always up to date, able to provide complete advice on tax, legal and marketing matters. He preferably has a degree in real estate and uses digital technology, such as software for managing reservations, digital concierge to optimize the property management and maximize profits.
Ideas and technologies to build customer loyalty
With the transformations of the tourist industry, the customer loyalty management strategies are no longer the same.
However, despite the various upheavals, loyalty remains the most effective method to turn occasional customers into loyal guests, disintermediate from OTAs and defeat the hard competition typical of the hospitality sector.
Among the most effective ideas and technologies to have loyal customers both in hotel and in vacation rental accommodation, there are:
- Data collection. The information on the travellers’ habits are the basis to target them and therefore to create an effective customer loyalty strategy based on personalized offers that make the guest feel special.
- Experiences, not stay. This means to offer the clients not a lodging but a unique travel experience, which in addition to standard comforts includes services and customized activities to make their stay unforgettable.
- Digital Concierge. Digital concierge in smartphone app format to assist customers better, communicate with them through dedicated channels, offer them info and services directly on their phone even when they are not in the accommodation.
- Loyalty programs, on condition they offer tailor-made benefits.
- Instant prizes and rewards. Also independent hotels can take advantage of loyalty programs, although they do not have the same availability as large chain facilities. But in place of points accumulation they will have to offer immediate benefits.
- Social and gamification. Loyalty programs can be made more interesting, creating personal accounts on the websites of the accommodations or thanks to challenges among members.
- Third party loyalty programs. Services such as Wanup also allow independent hotels to offer value advantages like large chains.
- Emails. An e-mail is a useful tool, too often underestimated, useful to remind the loyal customer about the expiring points and to suggest the prizes to which he is entitled.
Ancillary services: what they are
Ancillary services are the facilities that enhance guests’ stay experience and help to earn customers’ loyalty.
In the digital tourism age, ancillary service offerings are increasingly conveyed by the new technologies, such as digital concierge apps, smartphones and social networks. It is also possible to sell ancillary services in different ways in all phases of the travel experience (search, booking, purchase) before, during and after the stay.
Nowadays the type of services expected and desired by the guests is very wide. Therefore the host’s proposals must be customized according to the target of customer.
Some ancillary services are free, others with fee. Some are taken for granted by customers, while others are difficult to find and amaze the guest.
Among the most common there are room services such as a bottle of water, internet access and a safe. The usefulness of some services is often underestimated by the customer, as in the case of the bell boy or of the parking lot. Customer who instead tends to overestimate the use that will make of other facilities, such as the SPA. Some ancillary services are more often required by business customers: self check-in, early check-in/late check-out. Among the most common services there are also those for entertainment, TV, mp3, on demand.
Why use Digital Concierge to upsell extra services?
The tools useful to upsell effectively are emails and digital concierge apps. Through these latest, the accommodation properties can offer selected services at the right time and they can be sure that their proposals will be clearly visible to the customer on the smartphone, easy to purchase in just a few clicks.
In fact, internal and external services allow hospitality operators, hotels but also vacation rentals, to extend their offer to customers. These managers have also the great opportunity to increase profits by selling directly or using their partners.
Travelers spend on services during every stage of the Travel Experience. Too often, however, tourists buy services without the intermediation of hosts, preceded by OTAs. In fact, hosts frequently do not have the necessary technologies to intercept this need.
The accommodation properties that want to earn more through services must first identify what to offer and then choose the most effective tool to do it:
- you have to start from the study of guests and customers’ behavior who contact your property, in order to check the most frequent requests and complaints. It is also useful to check your competitors’ offer.
- then, you will inform your guests about your offer by different ways and times depending on the stage of travel in which they are. During the booking phase, it is preferable to push essential services such as transfer, leaving out those related to experiences to do. Tours and activities should be suggested a few hours before arrival depending on the type of client (couple, family, etc.). During the stay the offer of internal and external services will continue until check-out.
How to automate check-in by a Digital Concierge
The moment of checking in is one of the most important touch points between guest and host. Because it is one of the first communication occasions with the customer and it marks the beginning of the stay.
Too often, the check-in is identified with the registration. But it is much more. In fact it also entails filling in the forms with guest’s personal data and sending these to the web portal.
Instead, the automatic check-in via Digital Concierge has lots of benefits for both guest and host. Customers can insert data on the app by themselves, even from their home before arrival, avoiding going to the reception. Hosts will have all the personal data already entered by their guests. Usually the digital concierge apps for the check-in automation also allow you to quickly export data via a txt or csv file for sending to the web portal.
Furthermore, the check-in causes other operations, such as the key collection. The access to the room/apartment complicates both the organization of the arrival for the guest and the reservation management for the host, above all for non-hotel operators, Airbnb, property managers.
In fact, the moment of key delivering has become even more complicated since Airbnb arrival. Giving and reacquiring the keys is often a hindrance for those who rent apartments on the American platform and maybe even have another job. Sometimes it is necessary to pay another person to meet the guest at check-in/check-out. Or the host has to trust the client, asking him to leave the keys inside the apartment.
Nowadays, independent key collection services are spreading in the most important cities, or hosts can use the digital key service integrated into their digital concierge app.
Destination marketing: definition and strategies
The Destination Marketing is that branch of marketing that takes care of attracting travelers to a specific tourist destination through the satisfaction of their practical and emotional needs, without damaging, but rather improving the life of the local communities.
A Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) involves the various tourism operators present in an area, including traditional and non-hotel accommodation properties, as well as other types of companies, public and private entities.
The Destination Marketing puts together the factors that make the destination attractive and the services for travelers. And it includes a series of communication, promotion, urban planning initiatives, etc. aimed at improving the tourist offer.
In the current travel industry where every journey is a life experience, the Destination Marketing becomes even more strategic.
The accommodation facilities need to connect themselves to the destination in which they are located. First of all to be found by customers in the first phase of the trip organization, when the future traveler still has not chosen yet where to go and seeks inspiration on social networks and blogs.
At this time it is important that the property appears on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest associated with the location. It has to provide information on the destination on the blog and to be among search results when the traveler types on Google “hotel/ holiday homes/ b & b + location name”, for example by optimizing the Google My Business profile.
Secondly, the host must act as an intermediary between the tourist and the place, taking advantage of being the first to get in touch with the customer thanks to the reservation. So he can win the trust of the guest by providing him with all the information on the local attractions. For example, by providing paper material or, much better, a smartphone digital map (easy to do through a digital concierge app). Moreover, the host can act as an intermediary between tourists and essential services, such as car and bike rental. And finally he can offer suggestions and advice on travel experiences through which to live the holiday in an authentic way, sold directly or through other local operators with whom he needs to network in a destination marketing strategy.