Stay ahead of the guest expectations curve with tech
 
Stay ahead of the guest expectations curve with tech
08 NOVEMBER 2017 1:07 PM

The driving force behind ever-changing guest expectations is the digital transformation. 

To be successful in the hotel industry and make our guests happy, we have to give them what they want.

Today, guests seek the comforts of home in their hotel room while being able to enjoy their business or leisure stay. As guest demands become more specific, we must provide customers with hotel solutions that address their needs seamlessly and quickly. Our challenge is to offer these comforts and experiences now. If we cannot meet guest expectations, they will turn to alternative accommodations instead.

As recently expressed by Stan van Roij, of HSMAI’s Europe Revenue Management Board, the way in which guests make their selection of hotels and evaluate their experiences has radically changed. “It is the digital transformation of consumers, our guests, that is the driving force behind these changes in our industry,” he said. “Every day, for example, there are new hotel booking sites and artificial intelligence guiding how we get things done.”

So yes, it’s apparent that technology is re-shaping how consumers enjoy their entire travel experience. Whether hotels feature Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home in the rooms, a customer today now expects these technological privileges. And these home-like features are the foundation in which hotels can keep up with the emerging role of technology and address the growing need for comfort and convenience while traveling. For example, if guests stream television shows or movies when they’re at home, it makes sense that these same guests would expect this amenity during their hotel stay.

Another growing demand is the need for fast and reliable Wi-Fi, as well as an internet connection with a larger bandwidth. Guests are utilizing a minimum of two to three devices, all simultaneously. Our guestrooms must allow for convenient and accessible charging for all devices without interruption of service.

The emerging trend of hotels that enable guests to use their smartphones as room keys, resonates with our increasingly tech-savvy customer. In some cases, not only will that same smartphone device permit entry into the guestroom, but with opt-in permission, it can also enable the hotel’s CRM to connect with guests in real time via geo-targeting.

This means customers will have more control over their experiences. If a guest with an enabled device simply walks past the restaurant or spa, he or she may receive a notification for a special or promotion—particularly if the CRM recognizes that guest from a previous visit. Talk about customization and personalization at its best! Guests can now have more access and control of their experiences.

To some extent, we are trying to follow the airline model. For instance, when you book an airline reservation, you can determine your seat location, and even have the ability to upgrade. We have an opportunity to create our personal travel experience as best we can. We can control our choices. Similarly, a number of individual hotels have begun to offer guests the ability to pre-select their room type, the floor and even its location in the hotel.

We see brands now actively using points as currency so that loyalty guests can reward themselves with one-of-a-kind or one-time-only experiences. It took our industry a while to get here, but these are the types of creative moves we need to make to remain competitive in the market today.

And, whether it’s an auction or a purchase with loyalty points, guests today can acquire and enjoy activities that are not traditional hotel amenities. Some may say this is not typical of a hotel to hand-hold the guest at every point of travel or experiential journey. While that’s correct, we need to get creative and start thinking differently. Why shouldn’t we become that guests’ travel companion every step of the way?

Many hotels are inviting guests to consume their points during the stay to add to their overall experience. For example, guests can now enjoy the spa or dine at the on-property restaurant, thanks to the points they’ve accumulated. This accomplishes a few benefits: our guests stay on the premise as they use our amenities, and it strengthens the value of our loyalty program. The ability to use points in such a manner also gives us a competitive edge over online travel agencies.

As Roij stated, to compete effectively with our competitors and disruptors who are focused on technology, and to meet the expectations of our tech-savvy guests, we do need to evaluate our vendors and partners.

“Our review of such partnerships, programs and solutions must be based on a common vision, with forward-thinking strategies for continuous improvements in technology, the ability and the desire to execute successfully,” he said.

We live in an age of the “internet of things,” which allows for the instantaneous and provides endless advantages and challenges, all at once. Our job is to determine how to make better sense of this to create a positive impact on our guests.

Hotels should continue to build profiles so we grow to understand guest preferences. When a guest is a loyalty member, and we are able to send a text with great information, we can accommodate the customers’ needs and enhance the experience. It’s time to push our limits and think differently.

Allen Fusco is owner and operator of both ANABRA Associates and Plainview Associates, which operate the Holiday Inn Express Horseheads, New York and the Holiday Inn in Elmira, New York, respectively. Allen serves as the 2017 Chair of the IHG Owners Association and can be contacted at allen.fusco@ihgowners.org.

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