Feb212014

Inside Radisson & Radisson Blu Americas Conference 2014

Since 2010 I have attended the annual Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Conference as a media representative. For me, the value of the hotel conference is getting insight to the hotel industry from an inside perspective  as a blogger focused on hotel loyalty programs.

There are so many facets of the hotel industry I have learned from meeting executives with IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Best Western and Carlson Rezidor over the past few years. Sharing those insights with readers is truly a challenging task since hotel loyalty programs are typically not the focus of these meetings.

The past couple of days at the Radisson Americas Conference provided me with stories I would like to share. Like the Radisson sous chef, a woman from Quito, Ecuador who received an award for employee of the year. Stories of charitable work and outstanding service by hotel staff members for their guests and communities. The ‘Yes I Can’ authority given to staff members to make things happen for guests at hotels. Programs for climate change carbon offsets and sustainability measures implemented at hotels. These are some of the stories and topics I have learned about over the past few days and in previous conferences. These are all valuable insights, but not the focus of this specific post.

The View from Inside

This year’s 2014 Radisson & Radisson Blu Americas Conference was held in the Radisson Blu Mall of America hotel opened March 2013 in Bloomington, Minnesota, 11 miles southwest of Minneapolis near the MSP airport.

Rad BluMOA-1

Radisson Blu Mall of America

A free hotel room for three nights, meals and activities are aspects of attending this hotel industry conference. Some readers might think that is the draw for me to attend the conference. While the room is provided free of charge, airfare is not, so it is an expense of money and time to be a media attendee. Often these industry conferences mean a 16 to 18 hour day of meetings and socializing with little time to write. Still, I enjoy the Carlson Rezidor Conference in great part due to the wonderful people I have met over the past four years and I look forward to seeing them again.

Club Carlson loyalty program was barely mentioned during the 3-day conference. If I were not reading my email and following other blogs while here at the conference the past two days, I would not have even been aware of the Club Carlson changes coming March 15.

TravelBloggerBuzz once commented on his blog that he is surprised I get invited back to conferences with some of my criticism of hotels and loyalty program decisions. Sometimes I think I might not be invited back since I create headaches at times for PR managers. Perhaps I was too negative about the Club Carlson changes announcement. Seems like most other bloggers were not as critical as me about the changes.

What is the value of attending an industry conference?

The Radisson and Radisson Blu Americas Conference is designed to inform and educate hotel owners, managers and key staff of Radisson and Radisson Blu hotels to the high-level overview of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group company, global plans, marketing strategies and tools, and business training seminars and workshops.

The Club Carlson hotel loyalty program, when mentioned at all, is primarily presented as a marketing tool based on the guest data accumulated from loyalty members and a bottom-line revenue enhancer for hotel properties.

From my perspective, the value of being at this conference is to learn how hotel loyalty programs fit into the big picture of the hotel industry.

Who Are You?

Steve Brown, Senior VP, Chief Information and Innovation Officer Carlson, gave a presentation describing the amount of data the hotel industry acquires about guests and the difficulty of actually sifting through the enormous amount of customer data for targeted marketing purposes.

As hotel guests, we use Twitter and Facebook and download apps and hold credit card memberships and loyalty memberships and make purchases and make complaints and sometimes even email thank you notes to the companies we interact with during our transactions.

We create a customer profile for a company.

Devil's Advocate

I could not help but think of this window I saw at Devil’s Advocate, a bar in Minneapolis.

“You are being watched. Your favorite beverages are being tracked. Your conversation recorded and your movements mapped.”

Augmented Reality

The day before arriving at the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Conference I read an article, Loyalty Programs: Tactics to boost results in 2014 by Bram Hechtkopf, Vice President of Business Development & Marketing at Kobie Marketing.

This article states, “For hotel managers worldwide, RevPAR is critical: how many people are traveling and what price will they pay for a room?” and then goes on to say that rather than offering loyalty members incentives that encourage mattress running, that hotels should

focus more on data analysis, understanding customer segments, and measuring behaviors before, during and after program participation. Only then can hotel brands consider specific loyalty tactics to boost program results – including tiered rewards structures, marketing to Millennials, targeting potential brand ambassadors with exclusive offers for area residents and incorporating augmented reality (AR) into the customer experience.

The executive presentations at the Radisson & Radisson Blu Americas conference mirrored this article.

Key Themes

Carlson presentation on Customer Experience Focus Key Themes

Some statistics:

  • 68% of hotel guests see little differentiation between hotel brands. Customers perceive airlines are more differentiated than hotels.
  • 50% of guests are willing to pay 10% more for their favorite hotel.
  • 55% of guests spend more than 2 hours shopping for a hotel and 10% of guests spend more than 8 hours shopping for a hotel.

Check-in is one of the primary areas where guest complaints arise. I heard the ‘5 minute rule’ mentioned in one of the presentations to describe the vital importance of making the first five minutes after the guest arrives a pleasant experience.

Augmented reality is a phrase I never heard before this week, yet it was mentioned in the Hechtkopf article and the Radisson presentation.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is moving beyond simple website photos and information text to allow guests an informative and interactive experience. An example is seen in this slide of a hotel room photo with the options to pull up information on the room size, bed size and description, view out the window, view of the bathroom and bath products. A guest can learn about the hotel, the rooms, the neighborhood and activities on their device prior to arrival.

The introduction of Radisson Red, a new limited-service, upscale lifestyle hotel brand is an example where technology will play a role. The mobile app for Radisson Red will allow guests to check-in, order drinks from the bar, control room environment, and book a taxi from their mobile device.

The idea is that many customers want less interaction and more on-demand personalized service they can control at their fingertips.

From the hotel industry perspective, I heard about services like Medallia and Revinate which allow hotel managers to receive real-time alerts on social media commentary about their hotels. Articles bloggers wrote Wednesday shortly after midnight about Club Carlson changes on March 15 were already known by the Carlson PR team when I walked into the lounge for breakfast at 7am. We are not anonymous bloggers in a Points & Miles blog world socializing, informing and educating each other in an exclusive club through the internet. We are being monitored, watched and tracked by corporate entities.

Welcome to the new millennium where travelers and travel companies are all so 21st century.

Not exactly big brother. More like big commerce.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. I knew Steve Brown when he was at Northworst. If he is their Chief Innovation Officer, Carlson is truly f’d. What a loser

  2. I like Club Carlson, but I find it sonewhat dishonest that they would hold a convention and not mention a word of the changes to the CC program happening at the same time. Does that indicate how little importance they think the program carries?

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