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The 5 biggest hospitality trends of 2016 – and how they’ll keep impacting your business in the year ahead

For the hospitality industry, 2016 was a year of ups and downs – a year that saw clear signs of growth, but that left us with continuing uncertainty about the future.

As hoteliers plan for that future, here’s a look back at the five topics that left a mark on the hospitality industry in 2016, plus a look ahead at how each of these will continue to impact your business in the new year.

#5 – Mobile tech goes from ‘nice’ to necessary

2016 was the year that mobile technology really began to realize some of the industry’s hopes and predictions. Eighty-five percent of travelers now have smartphones. Mobile wallet technologies like Apple Pay and Android Pay have been embraced by merchants and shoppers alike. And, according to recent research, 71 percent of travelers are now using mobile devices to check their itineraries, while 59 percent prefer to do so in a mobile app. Not only are your guests more connected than ever before, but they expect to shop, book and get information about their travel on their mobile devices.

What’s next in 2017: Millennials aren’t the only ones who want to communicate, get offers and do business with your hotel via smartphone. We’re now in a mobile-first world, where millions of travelers will get their first impression of your hotel on a smartphone screen. Hoteliers must adapt by embracing the marketing and communications channels their guests prefer.

#4 – Pokemon Go helps hoteliers catch potential guests

Within days of its launch in July, millions of Pokemon fans were ready to “catch ‘em all” as Niantic launched Pokemon Go – a mobile game that uses real-world locations and augmented reality to let players capture the mythical creatures. The app broke download records on its way to becoming a global phenomenon.

Hoteliers quickly found ways to capitalize on the game’s popularity. Sabre Labs offered ways for hoteliers to play along with guests, as well as helpful background information on how the game works so that management and hotel staff could support Pokemon Go-playing guests while also welcoming and building a rapport with the community.

What’s next in 2017: Augmented reality games aren’t new, but Pokemon Go was the first one to hit it big with a mainstream audience. Augmented and virtual reality games and activities will continue to provide opportunities for hoteliers to connect with guests by helping them create unique experiences they can’t find anywhere else. Hoteliers can also use augmented and virtual reality to make the on-property experience more unique and enjoyable.

#3 – Millennials dominate hospitality industry discussions

Where will Millennials travel? How do they prefer to book hotel rooms? Will they be loyal to traditional hotel brands, or will the sharing economy lure them away? All these questions and more dominated industry discussions throughout last year.

Although many Millennials still book on computers, research by Sabre found that 55 percent of Millennials used a mobile phone to shop for a hotel during the last year, and 27 percent used a tablet – proof that hoteliers need to make shopping and booking easy across a variety of devices, not just for Millennials, but for all of today’s connected travelers.

What’s next in 2017: There’s been so much talk about Millennials that it might seem easy to tune out at this point. But as Millennials take their place as the world’s largest travel segment, with an estimated $200 billion in buying power this year in the U.S. alone, hoteliers must continue to consider this generation’s unique desires and how to fulfill them– especially in a world where, increasingly, travelers choose destinations as a mark of social status as well as the promise of a good time.

#2 – European uncertainty and the post-Brexit world

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union sent financial markets reeling and left millions wondering how the decision would impact their industries. But as European hoteliers worked to chart a post-Brexit course, they could find guidance in other businesses who’ve reassured guests and worked to build bonds of understanding in a difficult world.

Sabre’s deep-dive report on consumer behavior and trends in Europe and the Middle East found examples of businesses who tapped into people’s love of their hometowns and their desire for relevant information – examples of consumer trends that can help hoteliers reassure European guests, overcome adversity and build a rapport with travelers.

What’s next in 2017: The political and cultural issues impacting Europe and the Middle East aren’t likely to fade this year, and the post-election political climate in the U.S. has created a whole new type of additional uncertainty. While many hoteliers are waiting to see how all these political changes might impact business, they can provide incentives to travelers by emphasizing the value of local culture and heritage – and the understanding and acceptance that can come from learning about the communities and people they’ll meet by staying with you. Authenticity is an important quality that today’s travelers seek, especially younger travelers who are foregoing the traditional tourist experience in favor of chances to experience local life when they take a trip, regardless of whether it’s for pleasure or business.

#1 – The move from ‘Big Data’ to actionable data

Now more than ever before, hotel guests are willing to share data with you in exchange for things they find valuable. According to Forrester Consulting research commissioned by Sabre, more than half of travelers said they don’t mind when hotels use their personal information to offer relevant deals, discounts and loyalty points. Personalized guest experiences lead to a greater emotional bond with your hotel.

But hoteliers are finding that siloed data warehouses, legacy systems and a lack of ways to parse this data are preventing them from fully unlocking the potential of Big Data. New platforms, partners and approaches are needed to help hoteliers turn massive amounts of data that can’t be easily acted upon into relevant insights they can use to better attract and retain guests.

What’s next in 2017: This year will see many hoteliers updating their systems to fully realize the promises of data-driven personalization. For example, according to Starfleet Research, 27 percent of hoteliers who didn’t update their PMS during the last three years say they plan to do so within the next year.

The hoteliers whose systems allow them to act on the data they gather from multiple sources will be able to provide better experiences to guests. A new report from Sabre Labs gives an overview of three technology trends that will impact the travel industry. Hoteliers can start by assessing what they can know and what they might like to know, then leverage these technologies – including connected devices and message-based communication interfaces – to build loyalty and give guests reasons to want to stay with you this year and in years to come.

Hugh Fisher
Data Storyteller
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