By Maria Franco, Communications Manager, SiteMinder
Technology is a disruptive force in every industry, and hospitality is no different.
Organisations that aren’t actively making use of technology trends will find themselves increasingly struggling to compete as their competitors capitalise on the advantages that technology offer, and new, more innovative players enter the space making technology core to the experience.
For hoteliers with limited technology budgets, this can be an intimidating thought, as technology projects have the perception of being expensive and requiring an IT team, but this doesn’t need to be the case at all.
Some smart, effective investments in mobile technologies will substantially boost the customer experience, while providing your hotel with the competitive advantage that it needs to stay ahead of the curve.
It’s all about mobile
A study from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 75% of mobile users come from the smartphones category, with both Apple’s iPhone, and phones running Google’s Android operating system from vendors including Samsung, Sony, HTC, Huawei, and others, being the primary types of phones in people’s hands. These devices are everywhere and for that reason users expect that they will be able to use their phones for a wide range of functions.
For hotels we have already seen the ability to make room reservations from mobile devices become commonplace, but by 2017 PwC predicts that at least two thirds of hotels will allow mobile check in. And from there, the sky’s the limit.
One example of this in action is the Hilton Hotels chain, where a guest can check-in on their phone, and walk straight to their room without having to pick up a key, as the phone unlocks the door.
Other hotels might start offering ordering services for food, drink, and entertainment directly from the phone, and with real-time location tracking, they would be able to deliver whatever was ordered, regardless of whether the person is in their room or relaxing by the pool side.
But most importantly, when the user is making use of their mobile to interact with a hotel, they are providing that hotel with data on their preferences, for example, how they use the hotel’s facilities. This information can then be used to personalise the experience – perhaps by offering discounts to favourite services or hotel restaurants, or providing the customer with a favourite drink ready-chilled in the bar fridge on their return visit. This personalised level of service is shown to resonate with customers and improve their experiences.
Listening in on social media
Beyond the mobile, many hotels are recognising the value of listening in closely to what customers, and potential customers, are thinking and doing.
Travellers take to Twitter and Facebook to ask for travel advice, share photos while on holiday, and, should their experience not be up to what they were expecting, they will complain there too. Check-in websites such as Foursquare, meanwhile, turn the experience of travel into a game, and savvy hotels are on board with that by providing customers rewards for visiting often.
The hospitality industry is investing a great deal of time and energy in learning how to track, monitor, and interact with customers on social media. As with the mobile phone, too, having a robust social media strategy will also provide a wealth of information and feedback from customers that can help to shape their experience, and those of similar tastes as them.
Concerns over privacy
For all the talk over privacy concerns with technology that we’re connected to 24/7, the reality is customers are happy to share their data when there is a benefit brought back to them.
The PwC research found that 75% of customers are willing to share basic personal information if it means they get something in return, such as personalised service, and location-specific information on restaurants, theatres, shops and cultural events.
However, it’s important to be open and transparent about how the data will be used, only collect it with the permission of the customer, and ensure that it is stored in a safe environment that won’t be unduly at risk of hacks, leaks, or other malicious behaviour.
It is important that hotel managers earn the guests’ trust by showing they can use the data to the benefit of the guests. Equally, it’s important that the management team is open and available to discuss any concerns with collecting data that the customer might have.
These technology innovations will require some investment, but it’s often not as much as you might expect.
For larger organisations that might want to handle the technology internally, the ability for technology investment to strengthen guest loyalty, incentivise return customers, increase average daily rate (ADR), and improve the revenue from hotel services is a proven return on investment that can’t be ignored.