In the era of digital transformation, hoteliers find themselves grappling with the challenge of surpassing a basic guest experience. Once considered a sneak peek into the future, hotel stays were characterized by groundbreaking technologies such as air conditioning, color TV and on-demand entertainment, offering a truly futuristic ambiance that delighted guests.
However, what was once futuristic has now become the norm, and the contemporary hotel stay often fails to match or exceed the technological conveniences found in people’s homes today. But that potential to recreate a truly futuristic experience persists, as advanced technologies like predictive analytics, automation and generative AI stand ready to enhance the guest experience. Yet, a critical element is missing in the hospitality industry: insight into guests’ on-property experiences.
While hoteliers can access information about guests’ pre-booking journey and reservation experience, once guests arrive on the property, they seem to enter a stealth mode. The absence of visibility into their preferences and behaviors during their stay creates a gap in understanding.
This year marks a crucial turning point for property owners who aim to fully capitalize on their technological investments. To unlock the full benefits across the spectrum, it is time to remove the blindfold on guests’ on-property experiences, driven by these five trends to watch:
- Demand for AI will drive the need for more data. There’s lots of talk about how AI can transform the customer experience and, according to IDC, hoteliers expect over 40% of their AI investment next year will be allocated to predictive AI. But they have to start collecting customer data in order to make this AI investment worthwhile. Gathering insights into guest behavior is essential for personalizing their experience, and there’s no room for guessing—misguided recommendations and poorly-placed offers can lead to a subpar guest experience. As the potential for AI applications gains more attention, hoteliers will have to find ways to gather the right data, driving the need for on-property behavior and preference tracking.
- Increased digital integration through mobile. In the cruise ship industry, there’s been widespread deployment of wristbands to provide key card access and point of sale transactions while also gathering on-ship experience data per guest. While these wearables are welcomed at sea for their convenience and functionality, back on land, most business and leisure travelers aren’t as keen to wear RF chipped wristbands since their stay is more multi-purposed. Instead, practically the only way to gather this on-property experience data is through the one item all hotel guests have with them at all times: their mobile device. A wider deployment of services like Passpoint can tag users’ devices and use geolocation to track the guest journey in real time, as they experience it. This capability allows hoteliers to know where guests visited for how long and tie this all to their guest profile. This not only provides an unprecedented glimpse into on-site behavior but also enables hoteliers to deliver delightful experiences. For example, if a guest dined in the restaurant during their last stay, offer them a free appetizer on the next visit. Or did they visit the spa for a massage? Offer them a discounted service for a return visit. In some ways, it’s a similar tradeoff to Google advertising—search users get the information and cultivated results they want in exchange for their data, which can be used to deliver an even more curated experience. It’s a win-win. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2026, nearly two-thirds of hospitality/travel brands will have added location-based awareness to their unified customer data strategies, aiming to drive loyalty and lifetime value while increasing offer/marketing effectiveness by 35%.
- More data requires updated infrastructure. Of course, all of this data gathering will require networks with the capacity to handle the bandwidth. Not to mention, guests have greater bandwidth demands than ever before. Right now, unreliable or slow connectivity to support on-property architecture is hoteliers’ #1 operations challenge, and 55.8% plan to increase spending on physical infrastructure in the coming year, according to IDC. This investment in upgraded infrastructure has a dual benefit: brands get the data they need and effectively power the technology onsite, and guests get the connectivity they demand.
- Integration across the organization. One of the challenges many organizations currently face is disconnect when it comes to their data and how to use it, and that disconnect costs them a lot of money. It’s not uncommon to have three or four different departments (marketing, sales, customer service, etc.) all paying big bucks to services attempting to optimize the guest experience, but the on-property experience–arguably far more important than the reservation journey–remains a mystery. Not to mention, IT is left completely out of the conversation: no one is talking to them about integrating systems in order to access on-property data to personalize the guest experience. The people buying the big data analytics covering before and after the stay have not contributed to the cost for capturing the on-property portion of the guest data, perpetuating the gap. This year, that has to change in order for brands to get the most out of their customer engagement strategies and stop leaving data at the door. Getting the two groups together will help fund the expense so that IT can deploy it. Integration, cross-departmental collaboration, and a cohesive strategy will become essential to staying ahead of the competition.
- Talent gaps will force more digital interaction. Attracting and retaining talent continues to be a challenge in hospitality, leaving guests shortchanged on face-to-face service. Some brands have attempted to compensate with self-service lobby kiosks like those that have become commonplace in food service or airport check-ins, but it’s just not been a good fit for hotels.
Yet, as guests have grown more comfortable interacting with smart technology like voice assistants at home, the hospitality industry has not kept pace with large scale deployment of these devices on-property.
Hotels must reconsider including in-room smart devices to address the growing technology divide between guests home and hotel experience. There are a multitude of benefits to smart room technology, including enhancing guest services, filling gaps created by lean staffing and the ability to access realtime assistance that match the same level of sophistication guests are accustomed to at home. In addition to providing a better guest experience, these technologies can also provide valuable data collection of guests’ wants and needs to inform and guide better on-property service delivery.
As guest expectations become more sophisticated, it’s no longer enough to focus on the customer journey up to and through the booking process. Implementing technology and infrastructure to gain a 360-degree view of guests’ on-property experiences will be essential in delivering a consistent and relevant engagement strategy that keeps loyal customers coming back and attracts new ones with a spectacular, futuristic experience once again.
Speleos Dravillas is Chief Revenue Officer and responsible for Nomadix’s go-to-market strategy and revenue growth through the execution of technology integration partnerships, strong channel and customer relationships, and industry alliances. He also is responsible for global sales and channel growth strategies and their plan executions.
The original article appeared in Hospitality Net.