Faster, Better, More Personal: What this means for Hotels Today

August 05, 2020

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We’re three quarters through 2020 already. Consumer trends point to radically changing priorities in the age of COVID. And while some habits have changed overnight (new cleaning protocols, contactless checkouts), a few macro and tech trends are only building momentum, and here to stay. We’re focused on three themes that will be critical to winning guest engagement in the year ahead.

Technology’s biggest impact though, is not so much on the devices or the apps that we use, but on our behaviour. Specifically, how we interact, how we travel, how we influence and are influenced. So what’s on our radar?

1. Faster: We’re less patient than before, and technology may have something to do with it

Millennials make up 50% of hotel guests today. Connected, digital-first and demanding, we want great design, high-quality amenities, smart technology, sustainable materials and locally inspired ambience, all packaged into a single hotel experience. But there’s also the bit about our short attention spans. One figure puts the attention span of an average millennial at approximately 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. A closer look reveals that these aren’t our attention spans at all. We’re just much better at filtering whether information we come across is relevant or not. Call it our 8 second filter. We have technology, smartphones, social media, and only so many hours in a day. So we’ve learned to get our point across quickly.

But one trend has emerged — technology is shrinking our willingness to wait. Our baseline for a good experience is one that works, and works quickly. Across age groups (millennials and otherwise), more than half (51%) of consumers said they would stop viewing content all together if it takes too long to load. Guests want things done exactly right, at scorching speeds. When hotels meet expectations they’re rewarded with customer trust and advocacy. Miss the mark and there’s hell to pay.

What hotels can leverage: Voice search, chatbots and predictive analysis to help staff respond in real-time.

The counterpoint: Is using tech in less obtrusive ways

An emerging trend isn’t adding more technology, it’s using tech in new and nontraditional ways. People crave relief from their devices and non-stop screen time (after all 95% of consumers agree that patience is something of value, they simply don’t know how to practice it). Hotel designers of the future are contemplating hotel rooms without televisions, with grounding, holistic self-care services, and analogue experiences. For hotels this means adopting discreet technology solutions that free up guests and staff from mundane tasks, to create moments of empathy and genuine human connection.

Less patient consumers in the age of instant gratification

What Hotel Guests Want

Digitalisation, smartphones and everything on-demand; can hotels keep up?
Easily frustrated customers… And rising expectations

16 seconds

With slow-loading web pages

13 minutes

To pick up luggage after a flight

22 seconds

If their TV or computer doesn’t load a movie

14 minutes

Ordered food to arrive (7 minutes for a drink)

25 seconds

Waiting for a traffic light to change

2.3 hours

For customer complaints to be answered

25 seconds

Waiting for a traffic light to change

2.3 hours

For customer complaints to be answered

There’s hope though…

Trends

95% still believe patience is a virtue

IoT, Chatbots, predictive analysis, unobtrusive technology, genuine connection, zero noise, digital well being

2. More consistent: A superior experience, every single time, for every single guest (and tech + people is how we’re going to get there)

A couple of years ago at a luxury hotel in Taipei, I was impressed to see a welcome on the hotel room TV — personalised with my name only minutes after check-in. This wasn’t so common back then, and the attention to detail seemed like a great touch. Many travellers are impressed when hotel staff greet them by name, this can be a moment of delight in itself. Of course there are personal differences, some guests prefer anonymity (and a good hotel system would remember this too).

Unfortunately for the hotel, the rest of the stay simply failed to match up. Not long after, when I stepped down for a coffee, the staff didn’t seem to recognise or acknowledge my presence (not disastrous in itself). I was then asked the same question by three different members of staff in the span of ten minutes. Everything the hotel had spent on until that moment fell flat in minutes because of the dissonance in the level of service. It’s great to have moments of delight, but none of this works if the experience is operationally inconsistent.

The best hotels are capable of delivering the same great service over and over again, in every single interaction. Guests today don’t want to have to communicate the same request multiple times, they probably don’t want to be asked for their room number every morning at breakfast, they appreciate when there’s extra bottles of water, or a special pillow they’d needed on an earlier visit. These are the details that make them feel valued, these are the details that build brand loyalty. The technology we have today should make consistency effortless to deliver. (Hotels are gathering massive volumes of guest information anyway, if you’re wondering how to optimise it, check out my previous article on data optimisation and the magic of hospitality).

Consistency key to improving guest interactions


89%

Guests value consistency in their hotel stays

< 50%

Guests see consistency between hotels of the same brand

Hurdles

Non standardised operations, information silos, lack of familiarity with tech

3. More personal — lead with an outside-in perspective

The best hotels, airlines and brands have mastered their personalisation philosophy. They begin on the outside — with their target customer, and work their way in. What does a day in the life of their guest look like? What are their current and future needs? What are their pain points, and how can hotels help make their lives easier or better?

The best ones go a step further to unify their information silos, to understand the gaps in their service, to figure out what is lacking, and where things can be improved. Now they’re in a position to predict what their customers might want in the future.

Most importantly they’re able to put these insights in the hands of staff preemptively. They’re able to call this information up ahead of time and all along the duration of the stay. The goal is more heads-up time (interacting with customers) than heads down (focused on admin). A well integrated tech solution liberates hotel employees from data entry so they can spend more time with their guests.

Guest satisfaction is the strongest driver for hotel success. Customers who had the best past experiences spend 140% more compared to those who had poor experiences. Happy guests are more likely to stick with a brand, they’re the ones who advocate and want to come back.

Technology to watch: Predictive analytics and machine learning, intelligent computing to proactively give travellers what they want through recommendations, predictive customer service, assistance in avoiding travel disruptions, and more.

The future of personalisation: From reactive to proactive to predictive

Average IT Spend as a percentage of revenue

Tech is transforming behaviour, and hotels must leverage tech to create solutions

The rapid transformation of guest expectations is closely aligned with the rise of social media, new devices, and powerful internet services. In a few years (it’s happening already), people will take for granted that hotels will offer them products to reflect their personal preferences, they might not understand why service levels are so different from one member of staff to another, or one property to another. Google termed the trend “Curated for Me” a mindset in which customised experiences and acceptance of AI recommendations are the norm rather than the exception. Guests will want speed, consistency and personalisation, because technology has made it possible in every other sector.

Rather than resist the differences in how digital natives work, there’s learning and inspiration to be found. It’s the only way we can ensure that hotels remain competitive. Airbnb disrupted the hospitality sector in a few short years. We have new entrants — Sonder for instance, has maintained a cross-market occupancy rate of 75% through COVID, while most hotels are struggling.

The exciting part of personalisation is that guests are genuinely seeking guidance from hotels on their product and service choices, and service will become more seamless as AI tools become more effective. It’s up to us to design a meaningful and scalable hospitality ecosystem, with tech that appreciates how behaviour and expectations are evolving. We’re facing a new generation of employees, and a new generation of customers. Change is here already. Are we prepared for it?

Hoteliers, how has predictive AI transformed your guest journeys? Guests, has personalisation worked for you? Share your experiences!

Curated for Me: When AI-customised experiences are the norm, not the exception



References:

Image Credit: Image credit: Think With Google
https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/hospitality-trends-2020
https://barrachd.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Hotel-2020-The-personalization-paradox.pdf
Link to Data Activation article
http://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/consumer-trends-shaping-future-today.pdf; Data for Chart: https://www.protel.net/hoteltechnology/ 3-ways-how-artificial-intelligence-is-improving-hotel-customer-experience/; https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/ 2020/02/18/50-stats-showing-the-power-of-personalization/#2aae81ea2a94 uploads/2015/05/Hotel-2020-The-personalization-paradox.pdf
https://skift.com/2020/06/24/sonder-to-raise-200-million-in-funding-for-its-hotel-and-short-term-rental-model/

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