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As much as hotel companies continue to invest in mobile, digital solutions for their guests, they shouldn't overlook the simplicity of simply handing guests a printed map or a brochure, suggests a new study.

A new survey conducted by the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley University suggests print isn’t dead — at least not when it comes to providing visitor information to hotel guests.

The “Hospitality Visitor Information Survey” found that 98% of the 1,560 hospitality professionals surveyed value printed visitor information for their guests, and 94% provide guests with brochures, leaflets, and flyers. The hospitality professionals surveyed included concierge and front desk staff from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and Greece.

Eighty-three percent of respondents who have visitor information available for guests via a brochure display in their hotels said they consider providing tourism information to be “extremely important.”

Only 89 hotels in the survey did not have a brochure display, and in those hotels where there are no displays, 53% of hospitality professionals still observe guests using brochures. In hotels that have displays, 86% of respondents observe guests using the brochures either always or often.

What kinds of printed materials are guests asking hotel staff for? Printed brochures (27%), printed maps (26%), printed guides (22%) are tops, while in-room publications (13%) and electronic visitor information kiosks (9%) lag behind.

An important distinction to note, however, is that the survey was commissioned by the International Association of Professional Brochure Distributors (IAPBD). While Bentley University researchers were able to come up with the questions and methodology for administering the survey, IAPBD chose which hotels and hotel professionals received the survey.

So, it’s worth noting these numbers with a grain of salt.

Professor Ian Cross, the director of the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley University, said he was personally surprised by the results of the survey. “I had an expectation that in 2016 there would be some sort of skepticism about the value of print materials,” he said. “But as we dug into the research, it was clear that the people charged with actually helping guests find paper to be much more user friendly than digital.”

For example, when a guest is asking a concierge for restaurant recommendations, it’s much easier for the concierge to take out a printed map and mark it with directions. “From a concierge’s perspective, it’s a more hospitable way of doing it that way, and it’s easier for them,” Cross said.

Having that personal connection was something on one Marriott shareholder’s mind during the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on May 6. Marriott, along with its competitors, has increasingly invested in offering tech-based customer service solutions for guests, but is the company sacrificing more personable customer service for the sake of technology? Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said no, and when you consider the results of this Bentley University study, the value of face-to-face interaction with hotel staff seems to be reinforced.

Cross said that while more guests and travelers are using their smartphones and devices to do research for their trips, when they’re actually at the hotel, seeing a print display with brochures “drives spontaneity and impulse.” Cross also noted that a 2014 study showed that women with families were much more likely to pick up a brochure from a stand than men would. The brochures are helpful for guests planning more last-minute trips to local attractions, restaurants, and the like.

Cross also pointed out that the study’s findings do not discount the use of providing visitor information to guests via their mobile devices. However, when given the choice between obtaining visitor information from a printed brochure or a digital kiosk, more guests, the study suggests, are picking print over digital in that instance.

Most recently, for example, Starwood’s The Luxury Collection, is currently working on producing digital destination guides for their guests by harnessing content from the Instagram community. By contrast, another hotel using an Instagram community to create guidebook-like content for its guests — The Embassy Row Hotel, A Destination Hotel — is placing that content onto easy-to-take-with-you paper cards to be given to guests at check-in.

Cross also pointed out that while the study didn’t look at how guests are accessing visitor information through their phones, that connectivity in certain hotels and destinations varies greatly, which could be another reason why print may be more favorable than digital information in some instances.

“This idea that electronic data is always easy to connect to is not universally true,” he said. “It’s incredibly easy to connect with something in print. You just pick it up. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best solutions. For whatever reason, if you’ve totally bought into the digital revolution and you redesign your hotel lobby to be sleek and offer all these tech services, you may be doing a disservice to your customers if you totally get rid of paper.

“People still like it.”

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Photo credit: A robust brochure display in the lobby of the Hotel Indigo Dallas Downtown in Dallas, TX in April 2016. Skift

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