December 9, 2020
Hotels have become more than just a place where a weary traveler can rest. They have become centers of activity that are heavily dependent on technology. The role of technology here is of paramount importance as it helps stitch together seamless customer experience and efficient hotel operations.
The word hospitality originated from the latin word “hospes” which means both visitor & stranger. In Europe, building a hotel for the lone purpose of hosting guests was unheard of until the 18th century. As long-distance travel was made easier by the introduction of faster and more reliable forms of transport and people began to explore the world traveling in larger numbers, the building of hotels became a necessity and an economic opportunity. While at the outset it looks more human interaction dependent, technology has truly been the driving force of this industry.
The key to success for players in the hospitality industry is to provide a wrinkle-free guest experience. Technological advancement in the hospitality industry has been the key driver in combining different facets of the industry and subsequently provide a frictionless experience. Omni-present internet connectivity & the proliferation of smart devices has helped people connect to the world and manage their preferences. While planning for a vacation people tend to look up local and up-to-date information that is always available to them via trusted sources such as google maps and specific websites for directional guidance, hotel reviews, etc.
In this blog, we will discuss some of the key offerings provided by hospitality providers that help people decide one hotel property over the other. These offerings provide a competitive advantage that translates in more bookings, repeat visitors, better reviews, and eventually the best-in-class customer experience.
Hospitality providers will undoubtedly agree that personalization can be the differentiating factor between a loyal customer and a bad review. Providing customized customer service is inevitable in the current business scenario where hyper-personalization has become the order of the day.
Hospitality providers can leverage on the data-backed insights gleaned from technology solutions to create a 360-degree view of each guest.
Analytical solutions that integrate seamlessly with Property Management Solutions (PMS) and Hotel CRM software can give a better perspective on people insights and help hoteliers tailor their offerings for a more personalized guest experience. This process also helps achieve operational efficiency because the staff is aware of individual guest preferences and hence is empowered to create a memorable experience for the customer. It could be as simple as having a welcome screen in the guestroom TV with the guest’s name on it or sending personalized emails with attractive offers or ensuring a differentiated service for loyal customers.
While most hospitality providers agree that personalization is a strategic priority on their roadmap, it is rarely found on hotels’ digital properties. Leading the pack, however, in terms of personalization is the hospitality behemoth Marriott. Marriott’s Bonvoy mobile app is built on a complex AI engine that leverages customer data, intent data, and attribution data to tailor recommendations around in-destination offerings. Its partnership with Salesforce has helped launch a customer recognition platform that provides a holistic view of each guest’s profile. Storing customer interaction data in a centralized location enables Marriott to serve exclusive digital content to its guests based on their behavioral and demographic data.
Research shows that 91% of the guests make a hotel booking decision based on the fact of whether they are offered free WiFi or not. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association survey, consumers expect “seamless transitions” between their life at home and on the road. According to a survey by English hotelier Roomzz, 65% of guests started using WiFi within seven minutes of their arrival on a property. Due to the proliferation of smart devices, the implementation of guest room automation, the installation of IP-based security cameras around the hotel premises and several other technology additions such as virtual assistance devices like robots, the hotel networks are strained to deliver an uninterrupted quality of service to guests.
Yet another issue that David Chestler, Principal of the Revenue Catalyst, brought out during a HospitalityNet Technology Sentiment survey is the availability of single sign-on. He said,
“My frustration is greatest with single sign-on. I have to sign on in my room; I have to sign on in the lobby, I have to sign on in the restaurant. I just want a single sign-on… please help me with that.”
Technology providers to the hospitality industry have come up with several innovative Passpoint compliant Hotspot solutions that can provide single sign-on, seamless and secure WiFi to guests. These hotel WiFi solutions provide a cellular like frictionless WiFi experience. They have realized and implemented solutions in which the network follows the guest thereby providing best in class hotel connectivity experience to the guests. The added benefit to enterprises is that they can unlock new value streams by making use of features such as proximity marketing and network insights to cross-sell and up-sell services offered on the property premises
According to reports, approximately 75% of guests use in-room entertainment and 28% considered it as the most important aspect of the overall hotel experience. In lieu of in-room technology, consumers are willing to forego business center (34%), fitness centre (27%), spa (24%), Room service (15%), and later check-out times (11%). Therefore, innovative and personalized in-room entertainment is the key to providing a wrinkle-free guest experience. Modern travelers are always on the lookout for technologies that can enhance their hotel stay. They expect their personal devices to connect seamlessly and instantly to the guest-room TV so that they can continue watching whatever they were viewing on their home TV.
The cord-cutting mindset has led to the transformation of the hospitality television landscape. Over the last few years, the Guestroom TVs have evolved from mere devices that help watch movies and shows to comprehensive interactive systems for providing a great guest experience as well as a tool for branding and communications. From controlling lights to streaming content and ordering room service, the hotel TV has adapted alongside guest expectations. Guests who are used to the latest technology at home expect the same in their hotel’s room. They prefer the interactive and content-based OTT services to the linear content that was once the norm. Besides that, guests can now get recommendations based on similar viewing patterns, thus adding personalization flavor as well.
A product of the latest pandemic scenario that has affected the whole world, guests now prefer contactless means for most of the interactions at hotels. Hospitality providers are increasingly depending on “contactless” technology customized for the hospitality sector to minimize interactions between the hotel staff and the customers, build customer experience, provide differentiated service and unlock new revenue streams. For hoteliers delivering a contactless experience means offering contactless booking, contactless check-in and check-out, contactless in-room service and entertainment, contactless payments, and an avenue to provide contactless feedback. Let us look at some of these in greater detail.
Contactless accommodation experience: The pandemic has greatly popularized the “contactless technology” that has propelled most hotels globally to use technology solutions to automate their check-in, in-room, and checkout experiences for guests. Some hotels have been ahead of their time, for instance, Starwood had introduced 2 robotic butlers at its Aloft hotel in Cupertino. These robots were powered by a combination of sensors and 4G/WiFi technology to communicate with the hotel software and easily navigate between rooms without any hindrance.
Contactless Dining Experience: Paperless menus, QR codes linking menus to smartphones, displaying menus on the interactive guestroom TV are some of the ways operators are leveraging tech for providing an enhanced hotel room service experience to guests. There is also the concept of automatic minibar solutions that uses sensor-based technology to determine which items have been removed and automatically charge the customer’s account. It also relays the information to the hotel management regarding which items are to be replenished.
Contactless Payments: On the payments front, contactless payments have become the new normal. According to reports, contactless payments can be done in approximately 15 seconds which is nearly twice as fast as a debit/credit card. Hotels must, therefore, upgrade their payment technology by investing in cloud infrastructure, near field communication technology, and mobile wallets to accept payments via contactless means.
The effects of COVID are here to stay for a long time. But its onset has compelled the hospitality industry to accelerate technology implementation. As per reports, while the older generation would exercise caution, millennials would form a majority of guests who would drive the revival of the hospitality sector. Tech-savvy and self-sufficient, millennials have high expectations in discovery, payments, and mobile experience prior to and during their stay. They are also the ones who are quick to leave reviews and feedback and wield the power to exercise influence over the previous and future generations. It is imperative therefore for hospitality companies to invest in technology that helps streamline their operations and provide superlative guest experience to a technology-driven customer base.