The practice allows guests to feel like part of the decision-making process, and in turn, they become the best brand advocates, says Sarah Vining, a Cvent blogger and creative marketing manager at Destination Hotels and Resorts in Washington, D.C. It also helps brands establish a dialogue. “I think it makes the brand feel more human,” she says. “I predict that in a few years we will see a hotel that will be completely crowdsourced.”
Hotels are using crowdsourcing in creative ways, Vining says, including asking travelers to help build hotel bar menus; voting on logos and room key designs; recommending names for new hotel spaces and suites; and
selecting games and entertainment options for lobbies. Industry website Hotels.com also applied crowdsourcing last year for its #GuestCensus campaign, which used Twitter, a blog, and a voting site to identify the areas and amenities most important to travelers.
“People talk about hotels however, whenever, and wherever they want. The big play is just to be listening better because you can use a lot of this information for management actions,” says Josiah Mackenzie, publisher of the Hotel Marketing Strategies blog. “It’s an extremely powerful opportunity. Either they can listen to what’s being said, organize it, and use it to communicate their brand, or they can sit on the sidelines, and the conversation is going to go on without them. They need to tap into the potential of the crowd.”
Crowdsourcing, fast-paced and effective, has been used to harness the power of online communities for about five years in several industries. The hospitality industry, long concerned about the financial risks of implementing new ideas and fearful of sharing those ideas publically before an official rollout, began incorporating the trend into their product development pipelines and marketing efforts about two years ago, according to Mackenzie.
“You have all of these people suggesting ideas and tweeting and posting photos,” he says. “There was an opportunity for hotels to say, ‘Can we pick up on that?’ Now there is an opportunity to be a little more strategic with crowdsourcing and have guests as content producers.”
For Marriott, crowdsourcing has provided a way for executives to create focused design challenges, pull in ideas from a big audience, and bring guests into the co-creation conversation—all while successfully positioning their brand in the market, says Katie Krum, director of digital marketing for Marriott Hotels. The Travel Brilliantly website, part of Marriott’s multiyear global marketing campaign, shares innovations under development and solicits user-generated ideas. One of the campaign’s taglines illustrates this perfectly: “Marriott is shaping the future of travel, and we’re making you a part of that.”
John Hardy, owner of the John Hardy Group, says crowdsourcing keeps hotel executives from working in a “bubble” when discussing ideas and attempting to solve problems. It’s the root of his annual Radical Innovation competition, which is essentially a form of global crowdsourcing to generate design concepts for hospitality. Previous submissions have included pop-up hotels, ecotourism, venture tourism, and medical tourism. This year, the idea for a drone hotel was submitted.
“This competition is a way to make the industry be open-minded and not shut ideas down right away,” Hardy says. “The hotel industry, by and large, is not very innovative because of the operating constraints on the [hotel] and the risk that could be involved. The innovation tends to come from outside the industry from people who don’t know about all of that. It provides new avenues for growth.”
Executives must understand the elements of a successful crowdsourcing campaign so it remains genuine and avoids appearing like a gimmick to guests. If done properly, it can help hotels gauge the guest’s true perspective, show that brands truly care about the guest’s experience, boost Internet search visibility, and obtain free and candid market research, Mackenzie says.
“You want people to share information and be creative,” Baer says. “Social media is about influence and your ability to wield it, but the key things are not the platforms themselves. What’s really important is you are engaging your following. You’re looking to sustain and build a reputation, and in many ways, it’s worth more than money.”
Brands are bound to benefit from strategic crowdsourced design initiatives, if they’re done correctly, from beginning to end, Mackenzie adds. As interest and excitement surrounding current crowdsourcing projects continually build, hotel executives nationwide are taking notes and starting to think outside of the boardroom, which is a surefire way to attract the next generation of guests and earn their brand loyalty, he says.