What publishers can learn from the hotel industry, part II

Hotel chains old and new alike have taken the leap to focus on customer experience and continuous innovation. Will news publishers follow suit? A guest post by Nikolay Malyarov.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | January 25, 2018

Back in early 2016, I wrote an article about what media could learn from the hotel industry. At the time, publishers and hotel brands both:

  • Faced massive economic pressures caused by technological and societal changes
  • Were perceived to be threatened by new intermediaries/disruptors – online travel agencies in the case of hotels and social media platforms for publishers

It’s now 2018 and both industries still face those very same challenges. But when it comes to addressing them, their strategies diverge dramatically.

Many hotel executives quickly realised that they had to fundamentally shift priorities. They had to actually – not just claim to – put the customer at the centre of their decision making. That single (but obviously massive) change led them to take three strategic initiatives:

  1. Focus on delivering exceptionally good customer experience
  2. Invest in behavioural analytics to help deliver on the point above
  3. Constantly innovate with the customer in mind

Meanwhile, some publishers (but thankfully not all) chose a different path. Instead of investing in the lifeblood of their business – people – they reduced newsroom staff and sacrificed the quality of their core competency: journalism. They erected paywalls around commodity content nobody wanted to buy. They created bad, ad-infested online experiences and alienated readers by supporting only one-way communications.

The results are not surprising, and we read about the sad state of media every day.

So how are the hotels faring? Let’s take a look at two contrasting chains:


Ranked as the most valuable and powerful hotel brand in the world by Brand Finance, Hilton’s mission is “to be the world’s most hospitable company by delivering exceptional experience – every hotel, every guest, every time.”

It has a century-long history of breaking ground in the industry, being the first hotel company to offer central reservations systems and to put TV sets and air conditioning into rooms. It’s even been said that they invented the piña colada. (Yum! Gracias!)

In 2011, Hilton launched Home2 Suites – a new concept in the all-suites, extended-stay market for the cost-conscious traveller. Each eco- and pet-friendly room includes a well-equipped kitchen, free Wi-Fi, a media+work zone, a comfortable bed (custom-designed for Hilton), a large flat-screen TV, and furniture that can be moved around to allow guests to customise living and storage spaces. Each hotel also includes communal areas, a combined laundry and fitness facility, grab-and-go food, a salt-water pool, patios with grills, and an exercise trail. Cool, no?

Although Hilton still carries many legacy brands in its portfolio, the company continuously looks for ways to serve the ever-changing demands of today’s and tomorrow’s travellers. Just two years ago, it introduced a new brand of hotels that combine “simplicity and value without compromising quality and design” – Tru by Hilton. Today Tru has the fastest-growing developmental pipeline in the industry.


Recently, a reader of my original article asked me what I thought about Yotel. Launched in 2006 (five years before Home2 Suites, a decade before Tru, eight years before Moxy by Marriott, and nine years before CitizenM), this new breed of hotel brand is designed for busy international travellers who value “efficient luxury” – where luxury isn’t about size and opulence, it’s about the intelligent (if a bit minimalistic) use of space and time.

At Yotel, guests don’t waste time queuing at the front desk, instead using a smartphone app or touchscreen kiosk to check in or out whenever they like.

Rooms (called “cabins,” like first-class airline capsules) are the ultimate in effective use of every square foot. Each cabin comes with “technowalls” that control mood lighting, free ultra-high-speed internet, smart TVs that can stream personal video and music content, and adjustable beds that convert into sofas with the push of a button. Brilliant!

Guest-service robots are on call 24 hours a day to deliver amenities to guests on demand.

Club lounges offer community spaces where people can connect, eat, drink, and work.

Yotel might have pioneered today’s new experiential hotel chain, but it is not resting on its laurels. CANI (Constant And Never-ending Innovation) teams continuously evaluate new ideas while maintaining their commitment to sustainability to serve the ever-changing needs and desires of their guests.

Yotel’s focus on customer experience at all stages of the guest’s interaction with the brand has paid off in terms of industry recognition:

  • 2017: eCommerce award – Best Medium-sized company
  • 2016: TRAVOLUTION – Best Website User Experience and Best in Stay
  • 2015: UK DIGITAL EXPERIENCE AWARDS – Gold Award Winner – Best Travel Website
  • 2012: LEED® “Gold” certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, verified by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

Loyalty is not (and should not be) what it used to be

Travel brands have seen a dramatic transformation in customer behaviour in the past decade, particularly when it comes to trust and loyalty. It would have been easy to continue serving the needs of those already loyal to the brands, but top hotels knew that a rearview-mirror strategy would not succeed with those people who will spend more than $3 trillion (yes, trillion – a thousand billion) this year: millennials.

Gen Ys have not yet bought into travel loyalty programs as much as their older counterparts have – but, interestingly, millennials who do join are significantly more loyal to the programs than Gen Xers or boomers are:

That’s why Hilton, even with its enviable 70,000 members, completely revamped Hilton Honors in 2017 to attract more Gen Y consumers with millennial-friendly benefits such as points pooling and Amazon Shop with Points.

The brand’s investments in the person are paying off. In 2017, Hilton made Forbes’ Top 50 list of the most engaged companies in the world. Its membership grew by 15% and its stock rose 29.8%, outperforming the S&P 500 by 11%:

The takeaways for media

We’ve all heard about the attention economy – it’s not a new concept. In fact, it’s been around since 1971! That’s when economist, psychologist, computer scientist, and author, Herbert A. Simon, first described it in his book, Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World.

In the book, Simon said something that should resonate with everyone who feels the effects of what the web has wrought in the 21st century:

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Today’s digital media world is experiencing the poverty of attention in extraordinary fashion. In our efforts to attract as much attention as possible, we tend to focus on quantity rather than quality, counting page views and clicks as measures of engagement. But given that people, globally, spend an average of only 29 seconds on any given article, it is clear that the tactic is not working. Engagement isn’t about clicks; it’s about attention – the currency we, as professionals, should be measuring.

We need to take a chapter from the Hilton playbook and create a new mission for ourselves: “Be the world’s most engaging media company by delivering exceptional experiences – every article, every person, every time.”

Then we need to put the tactics in place that will help us do that. Like Yotel, we must never stop:

  • innovating,
  • investing in behavioural analytics to truly understand our audience and what they want,
  • and then giving it to them.

Netflix’s vice president of product innovation, Todd Yellin, shared that philosophy in an August 2017 interview: “The typical Netflix member, on average, will only look at 40 or 50 titles before deciding what they want to watch, even though there are thousands of titles available. So it’s important we present the right content to the right member at the right time.”

So if you are looking to pull yourself out of poverty of attention, remember this simple equation:

Then go out and take the first step: start listening!

> Read part I of this post

Editor’s note: The WAN-IFRA Report “Smart Data – Report 3: Sustain relationships by improving customer experience” contains detailed advice on listening to customers.
> More information is available here.

Nikolay Malyarov is Chief Content Officer and General Counsel of PressReader – the largest all-you-can-read digital content platform with a growing list of over 7,500 newspapers and magazines. Known for his thought leadership and vision, Nikolay offers provocative commentary on future trends in publishing at major international events. He frequently contributes to prominent global publications, exposing what’s between the lines on topics such as audience development and user experience, content distribution and monetisation strategies. He holds a Master of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of British Columbia.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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