The future is full of revenue opportunities for hoteliers who try to monetize their guests’ data, but from the guest perspective, it may seem akin to living in a surveillance state.
The hotel industry is doing its best to catch up to other industries that collect consumer data and turn it into actionable items and, therefore, monetize it in one way or another.
It could be sharing guest data systemwide throughout a brand so that when a guest arrives at a particular location, his or her information is available so front-desk associates can make check-in a more personal, welcoming experience.
It could be using facial-recognition technology to not only confirm a guest’s identity, but also to determine a guest’s mood and recommend an action, based on that analysis, to improve the guest’s stay.
Some properties use beacon technology to send push notifications to guest smartphones, informing them about a sale or offering a drink coupon.
These examples and any number of untold ways can help generate revenue for hotel companies, but it also makes these companies, which supposedly want their hotels to be warm and welcoming, come off a bit creepy.
Hoteliers have many opportunities to mine guest data, from loyalty programs to booking behaviors and day-to-day activities on property. That data can also come from guests’ social media accounts and other aspects of their public online presence. For example, a colleague told me about a friend who stayed at a hotel that went through the photos on her Facebook account and printed and framed a photo of her and her new baby to leave as a surprise in her guestroom.
On one hand, that seems like a nice, personal touch for a new mom. On the other hand, that seems like crossing the line into invasion of privacy (not necessarily in the legal sense, but more in a “Why are hotel employees going through my Facebook account?” way).
As an occasional hotel guest, I prefer anonymity. When I check into a hotel, the only thing I want the front-desk staff to know about me is my name, my rate and how long I’ll be staying. By all means, be friendly and engaging, but it’s not necessary to know my life story to be nice.
The only exception might be if it were a property I frequented and got to know the staff there over time. The difference is that would be an informed decision to voluntarily share my personal information with people I would have gotten to know.
The other situations involve guests, for the most part, sharing their information, likely not realizing it will be shared and shared again, and facial recognition, which sounds scarily like a government-surveillance program in a dystopian novel.
I would wager most people don’t think about all the ways they can share and give up their ownership of personal information daily, whether it’s through website tracking, clicking “agree” on user license agreements/terms and conditions without reading and understanding them, or filling out basic information to sign up for a service. Generally speaking, we can all be a little shortsighted with what can be done with all this information, mostly because we don’t fully understand everything that can be done with it.
When it comes to using private information about a person for business purposes, I’m a proponent of allowing them to opt in. You could argue they opt in to whatever it is you’re going to do with their information when they sign up for something or book a room, but your average person (and I would argue even most detailed-oriented attorneys) don’t read and understand every word when they click to agree to the terms.
A good number of people might think twice before hitting OK if they knew what could happen with their personal information. It definitely wouldn’t be everybody, but maybe enough to pause and think whether it’s the right thing to do. Sure, it might create or enhance a source of revenue, but could it harm the guest?
All of this information collected about guests is valuable to hotel companies because it can make them money somehow. That’s also the reason hackers like to steal consumer information from commercial enterprises, particularly hotel companies. As the past few years have shown, it’s not if a hotel company experiences a data breach, it’s when. Collecting all of this information about guests increases the responsibility hoteliers should feel for gathering, storing and using it.
Technology advances constantly. There will be newer ways to collect, analyze and act on guest data. To some degree, that is necessary for the hotel industry. It’s important to stop every now and then and ask that important question: We can do this, but should we?
Am I being paranoid? Is my tin foil hat on straight? What do you think about balancing guests’ privacy with monetizing guests’ personal data? Leave a comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @HNN_Bryan.
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