Brand execs talk balancing high-touch with high-tech
Brand execs talk balancing high-touch with high-tech
20 MARCH 2019 8:26 AM

Guest-facing hotel technology can take many forms, and brand executives say it’s important to prioritize spending so it matches what guests want. 

BERLIN—Seamless functionality and personalization are top on the customer-facing technology priorities list for many hotel companies, though how each interprets those trends depends largely on what their guests want.

Speakers on a panel titled “Blending technology and the customer experience” at the International Hotel Investment Forum all came back to guest preferences as the driving force behind transformative tech.

Thomas Page, partner and head of the hotels & leisure division for CMS, which last year produced a research report on customer-facing technology in hotels, shared some insights to set the stage for discussion.

The key findings of his company’s research is that top tech demands for millennial travelers in particular is still fast and free Wi-Fi, followed by climate control capabilities, USB charging ports and a well-functioning hotel app.

“Really, it’s about getting the fundamental basics right,” he said.

“Customers are looking at hotels and restaurants as an experiential service, and they still want the service to be delivered by humans,” he said. “Tech (in our research) was seen as smoothing the hassle of processes, not replacing the human interaction.”

Smaller brands find niches
Víctor Fernández, CEO of RoomMate Group, said that mix of tech and touch is especially top of mind for RoomMate, which is “always trying to recover the human touch in business and trying to recover the magic of travel,” he said.

“Tech is a tool, not a goal for RoomMate,” he said. “Our goal for tech is that it has to be connected to our DNA.”

Fernández said that means investing in back-end data and what he called “listening tools” that help RoomMate interpret what its guests say about the brand on social media and similar online forums.

“We get information and try to develop an empowered customer journey and personalize the stay and the whole experience with RoomMate,” he said.

Lisa Bovio, chief commercial officer of Yotel, shared that sentiment and said when it comes to guest-facing technology, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and hotels must consider their market, their target guests and their own resources.

She shared the example of the “luggage robot” at the Yotel New York: “It was a phenomenal amount of money, but now people go to that hotel to see that robot,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get ROI at the moment of investment, but it was a risk and it paid off.”

Overall, she said, it’s important to be mindful of the relationship between what guests want, how much a hotel can spend and that ROI factor.

“It’s all about making as much money as we can for our shareholders while providing the best experience for our guests,” she said. “You have to look at your operations—are you running a super tight operation or a luxury operation? There’s a spectrum, and you need to adapt to the areas you’re targeting.”

Whether it’s guest-facing technology like check-in kiosks or back-end technology like systems that track food consumption and expiration dates for hotel kitchens, Bovio said “you have to look at the various ways you can use tech to deliver a good customer experience, but also make more money.”

Bigger companies, different priorities
Maud Bailly, chief digital officer for Accor, came to the conversation from the perspective of a much larger company that is transforming from “a non-digital-native company to a digital one.”

While Accor is implementing many large-scale projects to enable that shift, Bailly said customer-facing tech still comes down to simplicity.

“Tech is a tool,” she said, echoing Fernández’s statement. “It’s a tool to enhance the final performance. People own the customer relationship, and that’s our real value.”

She said Accor is testing various tech innovations at different brands that make sense for those brand’s customers.

“People want more fluidity and simplicity in their journey, so how do we interpret that?” she asked. “At Ibis, we’re developing devices with a new PMS that allow us to have a more proactive welcome experience. Guests walk in and instead of waiting in line, someone comes up to them to welcome them, check them in and send them to their room. It’s a fluid experience.”

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