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Today’s traveller is faced with more choices than ever before. Advances in technology have revolutionised how people research and book travel. With airline loyalty steadily dwindling (between 2014-2016, British membership of frequent flyer schemes fell 35.29%) travellers become agnostic towards who they fly with, opting for convenience and price as purchase drivers. Want to compare multiple airlines across the same route? Skyscanner can help. Want real-time alerts as to the lowest prices on specific routes? Download Hopper and grab a deal.

This has also caused considerable upheaval in the hospitality sector. Looking for flexibility to come and go as you please and live like a local? Airbnb, naturally. Want something more off the beaten path than a ‘chain’ hotel? Refer to those coffee table Mr & Mrs Smith books... or just jump on their app. Perhaps you want an amazing last minute deal at an eclectic design hotel? One Night has your back.

But, amid all these travel options, there lies an interesting paradox. Major hotel chains, since 2016, have been growing, at pace. Faced with the challenge of digital diversification and unforeseen competition, the old guard has reinvigorated its offerings, from how it connects and sells to guests, through to the end product – and they’re reaping the rewards.

So what’s changed and why is it working so effectively?

Firstly, they have recognised that the hotel shopping mentality needed to be shifted further upstream. The search for inspiration of where to visit is intrinsically linked to where you stay during your trip. If you’re transfixed by a visit to Rio de Janeiro and a hike up Corcovado, seeing the elegant view from a hotel balcony overlooking Ipanema helps bring to life that potential vacation, letting you imagine yourself on the trip and bringing you (hopefully) closer to making a transaction.

Now traditional chains recognise the importance of leveraging inspirational content beyond amenities and benefits and are integrating this into their marketing initiatives.

Secondly, the art of customer relationships hasn’t been forgotten by the major chains, but this is now fuelled by in-depth data analysis. The mass of information available on customers from sources such as loyalty schemes, CRM as well as first party sources like booking statistics or stay satisfaction surveys, has allowed major hotels to become more adept at analysing what does and does not resonate with customers, and adapting accordingly. This type of data can impact any aspect of the customer’s experience from front-of-house processes, to room design or even mini-bar stocking policy, thus allowing continual iteration and improvement of their service.

Thirdly, customers are looking for consistent standards and experiences from their accommodation. The past couple of years have seen a multitude of Airbnb horror stories; negative reviews being taken down from listings, difficulties in gaining access to properties, photos misconstruing what venues look like, even people being exposed to discrimination or harassment during the booking process. 

The fear of a sub-par experience is pushing consumers back to the major hotel chains. The ability to almost guarantee a positive experience, to know you’ll get a clean room in a safe, 24/7 environment, standardised facilities with courteous staff and top-notch amenities is very appealing and the reason many to choose it over a peer-to-peer service such as Airbnb. 

Charlie Almond, brand experience director, Isobar Canada

This article originally appeared in The Drum Network Travel Special. For more information on how to get involved, please contact tehmeena.latif@thedrum.com