The wave of concern about consumer data hasn’t yet focused on the hotel industry or travel in general, but it seems like that shift will happen sooner or later.
There are clearly many business benefits from knowing as much as possible about your guests. Getting to know people on an individualized basis has become a regular talking point on how the industry needs to evolve to meet changing consumer desires.
But the industry is quickly approaching the point where it will have to ask itself, “how much is enough?”
From my perspective, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” the hotel industry, along with the larger travel space, will be pulled into the swirling tides of consumer blowback related to Facebook and other tech giants amassing (and perhaps not properly handling) huge troves of information about individuals that they then seek to monetize.
The hotel industry has been embroiled in a low-key war with third parties like online travel agencies to get better access to information about their guests, and motivations for that are clearly understandable. The more you know about your guest, the better you can take care of them. The better contact information you have for them, the better you can reach out and potentially gain them as a repeat customer.
Go to any hotel industry conference and you’ll hear someone evangelizing about how guests today want you to anticipate their needs beforehand to create a more streamlined and satisfying experience on property. And those functions are more easily fulfilled by amassing various data points on guests (from loyalty programs or other sources) that can better predict behaviors.
But hoteliers have to be mindful that, in the wrong context, those practices seem particularly unhospitable.
My colleague Bryan Wroten recently made the good point that hoteliers are in a position where they must keep an eye on the regulatory aspects of this conversation (with the European Union’s adoption of new data standards and the potential for U.S. Congressional changes related to Facebook), but beyond that, you should also think of the guest perception tied to it.
I was somewhat taken aback reading through another piece by Bryan, who was reporting from the Choice Hotels International brand conference in Las Vegas, when President and CEO Pat Pacious commented that his company has (in Bryan’s words) an enormous amount of guest data that it hands over to franchisees. In a room full of owners, this is an inarguably good thing. And in fact that brand is likely using that data to ends that benefit their guests. But think about hearing that comment in a vacuum.
Regardless of how ethically and properly that data was amassed and used, the idea of culling massive amounts of data on consumers sounds bad in a vacuum. The hotel-guest relationship has a considerably higher level of intimacy and required trust than what you’d see with online platforms like Facebook, so hoteliers should be out there letting the world know that guests’ online presence is in the safest of hands and the information collected is at the guests’ discretion and to their clear benefit.
That’s not a message I’m hearing right now. And if I don’t hear it soon, I’m afraid it will be too late.
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