Vail Daily column: Embrace technology — because your customers already have
July 25, 2014
We all like to think we're customer focused. I've never seen a business use its marketing channels to proudly claim, "We don't care one bit about our customers!"
Yet many businesses (and increasingly, municipalities) operate this way by being protectionist in nature in their interactions with technology providers.
Here's an easy solution: Embrace technology disruption. Welcome it. Be a leader by working with — not against — technological advancement. Even when it's seemingly difficult to understand or comprehend, embrace technological disruption even when it seems like a threat to our standard business practices.
Instead of fighting against online operators, embrace them and leverage them to grow your market share. Technology disrupts normal business operations. Much like the spoon in the movie Matrix, there is no normal. As soon as we embrace this, the better off we are.
At the same time, many businesses and municipalities fret over how to become attractive and welcoming to the Millennial generation.
Millennials are increasingly not only our future customers, but they are our current customers. We are running a parallel path by embracing technology and the disruption it causes to "normal" business and being a welcoming community to Millennials. It is not just about the Millennial generation. The fact is, customers of all ages utilize the technological advances we fight so hard against.
The idea of technology providing services and information to guests is nothing new. Unfortunately, fighting this change is also nothing new. I recall being in a meeting of hotel sales and marketing professionals when online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity were booming and a colleague commented that these OTAs "were the devil" and received a rousing round of applause.
That is exactly the wrong way to serve our customers and position the Vail Valley moving forward. Examples of technology disruption abound across many different industries that help fuel the Vail Valley economy. In each case, we would better serve our customers and all other stakeholders by embracing and working with technology instead of viewing these operations as the devil and fighting them via additional regulations.
Online operations including Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com) and Airbnb (Airbnb.com) are the newest opportunity for lodging operators and municipalities to embrace disruption. We can and should work closely with these operators to ensure homeowners know the local rules (business licensing and sales tax payment) instead of viewing these operations as a threat to our parochial business interests. An added bonus is the benefit to homeowners and renters who have the ability to rent extra space in their homes to short-term visitors.
Creating an even playing field with lodge operators opens our rental bed base significantly, often at a lower price point, to make Vail and Beaver Creek attractive to not only the Millennial generation, but others who might not perceive our destination as a good value.
It is not just the lodging industry that is impacted. Real estate applications such as Zillow and Trulia provide information direct to consumers and could easily be viewed as a threat to real estate professionals. Real estate professionals will always be able to provide a higher level of service than an app on a phone, but many potential homeowners will very well research via these apps prior to calling a Realtor. Working with these operators to ensure accurate and timely content benefits our real estate community, our sellers and our potential buyers.
Uber and Lyft have made quite the splash in Colorado and other states as they use technology disruption to change the traditional monopoly in existence by the taxi industry. These operators, currently in urban areas, will likely be in resort areas such as ours sooner rather than later. The opportunity exists to work with them in the interest of serving our guests in the way they want to consume services.
These organizations — regardless of industry — are not the enemy. In fact, these organizations are the future. We are better off finding ways to partner with them to leverage their reach and their customer base to grow our businesses and to uniquely position the Vail Valley as being welcoming to technology and their built-in customer bases.
Generally if a community (or an industry) thinks it needs a new regulation due to technological advancement … it's probably wrong.
A key component of being customer focused is to embrace what our customers want in ways they want to behave, and then find ways to best serve them through these channels. Fighting technological disruption is a waste of time and effort when these suppliers overwhelmingly are willing to partner to find mutually agreeable solutions.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.