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HSMAI Section: Emerging Media and xR Issues for Hotels

HSMAI Section: Emerging Media and xR Issues for Hotels

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March 01, 2017
Max Rayner

©2017 Hospitality Upgrade
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An explosion in visual content is already overwhelming and soon we'll enter the xR “boss” level: voice I/O and virtual, augmented and mixed reality


The Quick Read

xR (virtual, augmented and mixed reality) are hot new trends, but a hotelier would do well to get his or her basic UGC and media handling in order first:

Companies like Ditto Labs and Flip.to offer solutions that process the torrent of UGC (Ditto Labs) or proactively reach out to engage in digital conversations (Flip.to) or aim to do both (BCV).

Hoteliers must go beyond traditional digital marketing. One prescription for hotelier sanity includes a series of building blocks:

  • Get control of content and view UGC as your friend.
  • Engage and energize users to elicit even more content.
  • If images and video are well under control, then you can consider xR.
  • Determine whether you should have a property-centric or location-centric xR strategy.
  • Introduce xR in ways appropriate to your brand before it’s too late, but only if cost effective.

In case you’ve been too busy to pay attention to the structure of video games, the “boss level” has nothing to do with higher floors where senior executives hang out in your chain’s headquarters. “Boss level” or “boss battle” is the higher level of difficulty fight against a much tougher opponent which you can only reach in a video game after you overcome basic opponents and hurdles.
The analogy here is that hotels need to solve the basics of handling the issues around user- generated content (UGC) and content with images, then video and live content before confronting the challenges of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

Ancient views on content assumed that people actually read text, which as I’ve discussed in Hospitality Upgrade’s Spring issue is wrong to start with (Content Creation Strategy – Mobile Takes It Beyond SEO). As a general rule of thumb, people don’t read more than seven words.

Still, those ancient views on the need to manage verbose content led to content management systems (CMSs), which started out text-intensive and evolved to incorporate rich media. Gaps in CMS media handling features eventually led to ancillary systems such as digital asset managers (DAMs).

These tools (CMSs, DAMs, etc.) fooled us into thinking we had digital content under control but were plagued by two central fallacies:

The assumption that the content that mattered most was the corporate- generated content we wanted to push.

The idea that persuasion is best achieved by overwhelming prospective guests with eye-chart tests and images rather than allowing guests to dictate what’s emotionally satisfying to them.

Those two fallacies (that corporate content mattered more than UGC and that words trump images) have direct implications for current problems most hoteliers are experiencing. But it may be good to take a step back and consider the nature of publishing from early days to now. Broadly speaking, authoritative “corporate” content was ignominiously defeated by internet-scale UGC.

The nature of technology changed enough that things that used to be competitive advantages (such as the ability to publish and reach a mass audience or good content and a decent CMS) are now merely hygiene factors … that is, they are required but no longer differentiating.

As users everywhere became creators, the volume of content started challenging traditional media companies and most definitely overwhelming hoteliers. The solution here can’t be to hire an army of people to analyze and respond to social and micro-blog content. That is a losing battle.

It’s in this context that a mix of solutions have arisen to help hoteliers: some at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI) and predominantly technology powered, others offering a mix more akin to social and content engagement service bureaus.

Images>>Video>>Live Video
The companies chosen as samples are not the only ones in their areas but were selected because they are clear examples of distinct approaches to deal with rich media and social interactions. 

In a way, these three companies address linked phenomena:  the explosion on social interactions is driving the explosion in visual media. 

Indeed, even beyond static images, Facebook and Twitter not only introduced live video but are experimenting with live 360-degree video.  WeChat has similar capabilities although in China, Inke seems to still have the lead in live video.

Ditto Labs: AI to The Rescue
David Rose, CEO of Ditto Labs and researcher at the MIT Media Lab, recently asked this provocative question in his keynote address at 2016’s HITEC, “3.2 billion photos are shared every day on social media. What do they say about your brand?”

The honest answer for most is that we don’t know. Ditto Labs uses AI and computer vision to process every public photo on social media to provide an answer and allow you to take positive action.

As the world turns from corporate-generated to user-generated content, and not only that, but also from verbose text to visual content, the sheer scale of internetwide UGC (so not just your guests but anybody else in the world reacting to anything one of your guests may have published) meant that people power alone would not cut it. Ditto Labs uses AI to analyze context and location and identify brands and categorize sentiment.

Hoteliers may still introduce a final human review step before engaging or republishing content, but by the time it reaches your marketing team they no longer have to parse all of Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, etc. Your staff can focus on the items that affect your business and are flagged as deserving special attention.

BCV: Hybrid of Technology and Service Bureau
BCV is a hybrid, with technology-driven analysis that is then backed up by human staff that engage prospective, current and former guests in social interactions 24/7.

CEO of BCV Benji Greenberg said, “We saw hoteliers had urgent needs in both positive and defensive engagement. BCV was created to enhance brand reputation and monetize social media for our clients, and we do this by capitalizing on opportunities and mitigating threats to brand reputation, as well as precision content targeting daily.”

Greenberg thinks it’s still too early for conversational AI, and that it isn’t where it needs to be to engage with guests effectively. He said, “We parse social data to boil it down to a relevant subset and then use highly trained communication specialists to engage each guest in the optimal way while further fine tuning our algorithms. The flood of content being shared about hotels on social is continuously increasing and hotels ability to simply ignore it and not operationalize it, simply won’t play in 2017 and beyond.”

Flip.to: Eliciting Rather Than Scanning Conversations
Flip.to takes another route that focuses on growing a hotel’s audience through advocacy. Rather than attempting to parse the “firehose” of data coming from social channels, it encourages known guests to share rich UGC about their stay across their entire travel journey. All content and its impact is tied back to a real person, and it’s easy to see real, trackable growth for the hotel.
Edward St. Onge, president of Flip.to, said, “We offer hotels a way to let their guests tell a story that genuinely reflects their passion and experiences during their stay. Less the guest relationship and the impact, you’re left with only a photo. To grow your audience and see the impact of that growth, you need advocacy. Our data suggests that advocacy mixed with UGC is far more effective in generating demand than pay-per-click or property advertising.”

While images and video are going through the roof as part of a tidal wave of rich media UGC, technology has evolved enough that images and video creation has been democratized. These are well within reach of most guests, which is precisely why they are growing so fast.

Perhaps a little farther out are high quality 360-degree video and beyond that, virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, which we’ll collectively refer to as xR.

Starting with 360-degree video, this can be produced at an entry level by “prosumers,” but can only be done truly well enough by professionals, which explains why only brands with significant resources can afford to have it. For example, look at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, which provides comprehensive resortwide 360-degree video.

The video richness and the attempt at merging xR with YouTube and back again are noteworthy. Then again, Jumeirah makes a 24-carat gold iPad® available to guests at Burj Al Arab, so their resources are not scarce.

Aside from 360-degree video, Marriott’s Teleporter, VR Postcards and Vroom Service are notable as xR experiments. Together, they take Travel Brilliantly from a marketing campaign to the edges of what it means to travel.

Max Rayner is a partner at Hudson Crossing and his practice areas include strategy, transactions, agile transformation, product innovation, technology and user experience.


What exactly are augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality?

AR adds digital content (often informational or infomercial) on top of physical world environments. Users are where they are and AR provides added info.

VR immerses users in a mostly digital world.  Visually, emotionally and by using extra dimensions, such as smells and programmed physical motions, VR helps users go where they aren’t.

MR integrates a physical environment with virtual entities, and often uses mis-cues (such as slight misrepresentations of turns in a physical room) to allow a finite physical space to appear boundless.  It does this while preserving users’ ability to interact with both physical and virtual entities.

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