Many will recall the 2017 brand crisis, which cost United Airlines $1.4 billion in value practically overnight after a passenger incident where injured while being forcibly removed from a fully boarded, sold-out flight went viral. This situation showcased the enormous impact of customer experience, and arguably there is no industry in which the experience holds more weight than hospitality. So, it comes as no surprise that the recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Surveyrevealed an increase in IT investments into “Guest Experience” products, with 46.63% of respondents naming this category as the primary focus.
Hoteliers are in the business of curating exceptional experiences for a diverse portfolio of guests, across varied travel segments. Everything a hotelier does, from the aesthetic of a hotel property, the customer service standards, the amenities offered to guests, on-property experiences, room decor and upgrades, helps to piece together the guest experience. Modern guests crave a more intuitive experience, which not only lends itself to a deeper connection with their hotel of choice, but also provides a faster, more intelligent and convenient service model. Fortunately, with the use of cutting-edge, guest-centric technology, seamlessly personalizing the guest experience from pre to post-stay is entirely possible.
According to Kevin King, COO of Shiji, there is an industry-wide shift in focus to digital transformation which centers on continuously enhancing the guest experience, interactions, and converting guests into returning visitors and ambassadors to increase their lifetime value. Connie Rheams, Global Vice President, Global Accounts Sales at Oracle, echoed this opinion during a HITEC interview conducted by the Hospitality Net team, explaining that the technological investments which deliver the biggest ROI are always built around people.
As hoteliers actively seek out new technology and vendors who promise to deliver on enhanced guest engagement, what will act as the key differentiator? How can hoteliers remain ahead of emerging demands for personalization and knowing the guest on a deeper level?
Delving into the subject of the guest experience, Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey respondents were asked to name the top technology-enabled features they will always use when staying at a hotel. Wi-Fi (80.51%), climate control (43.75%), and USB plugs (33.82%) were the most popular choices for this segment. When asked to detail the one technology that causes the most frustration when booking or staying at a hotel, respondents named slow booking process, poor Wi-Fi connection, non-functioning door-lock key cards, repeating details at check-in, and more.
Hoteliers should strive to provide guests with enhanced convenience, in tandem with technology that allows them to control their journey. Fortunately, mobile technologies and social media have introduced more options for customers to interact, creating new opportunities and challenges. When guests do not have the freedom to choose their preferred communication channel, it causes additional friction. With the utilization of self-service functionality across mobile devices and kiosks, guests can use technology to shape their unique journey across every touchpoint of their stay. Many guests are opting to bypass the front desk to check in and to access their room via smartphones. Others prefer texting with a virtual concierge to get the answers they need quickly while others enjoy the one-to-one interaction with hotel staff.
The survey also queried organizations about the allocation of budgets for IT projects, which are purely serving innovation or research without any immediate expectations in ROI or guest experience. There was a noticeable divide between suppliers and hoteliers. 61.98% of hoteliers said “no,” whereas 73.42% of suppliers said “yes”. This seems to imply that suppliers may be missing the mark when it comes to technology development and priorities. This also sometimes holds true for top management and IT, who are two independent divisions within hotel companies. They should be aligned, on both the business and IT side, for their guest experience vision. Both the teams should choose the technology solutions together, keeping in mind the end goal.
These insights and trends make it clear that the guest experience revolution is just beginning. More and more, hotel organizations rely on technology to understand guests, provide quicker resolutions, empower personalized interactions, and proactive engagement before, during and after the stay. Technology and open API connectivity between systems are critical components that should drive technology strategies. When asked if APIs are expected to gain greater traction versus standards organizations such as HTNG or OTA, 78.51% of hoteliers said yes, while 65.82% of suppliers said yes. From a vendor perspective, 67.09% indicated that they currently have an API available for their solution.
As far as 2020 and beyond? The world is changing, and the way hotels connect with their guests also needs to change. By improving the guest experience and empowering hotel staff with technology advancements that drive engagement instead of transactions, hotels will increase both loyalty and revenue. The trends point to seamless integrations, predictive analytics, personalization, robotics, automation, self-serve tools, digital applications and artificial intelligence as the technology priorities that will revolutionize guest experience in the hospitality industry for years to come. In the end, the hotels that show a deep understanding of their guests and are proactive in responding to their frustrations are set to win the guest experience race.