Skift Take

Using geolocation to push offers to guests is a good idea, in theory, but hotels need to be very mindful they don't overload or annoy their guests in the process. And given all the data breaches we've seen over the past few months alone, they need to be a lot more careful about how they're using that information, or any information for that matter, collected from their customers.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of all hotels and resorts in a recent survey said they plan to implement location-based technologies within the next year, similar to how Hilton and Marriott have done so previously.

The survey of nearly 1,200 hotels, most of which would be considered full-service, was conducted by Zebra Technologies, a global technology solutions provider, as part of its 2016 Hospitality Vision Study. That same study also surveyed more than 1,680 hotel guests from around the world, 73 percent of which were aged 18 to 49.

Hoteliers’ interest in geolocation-based technologies tells us that they’re taking personalization and guest recognition seriously, especially since it can have a direct impact on their bottom lines.

“When you’re doing geolocation offers, you’re orchestrating the guest stay in terms of promoting on-property amenities, whether it be food, beverage, or even retail shops,” said Tom Moore, Zebra Technologies’ retail and hospitality industry lead for North America. “That is much more valuable for the hotelier than just data, and the fact that someone is at the hotel. They want you to stay there, and sell you more, and leverage more location-based services to do that and, if it’s relevant to guests, they will value that.”

That’s the key: relevancy. And another one: privacy.

Most of the hoteliers surveyed by Zebra said they plan to use geolocation to help guest check in via smartphone (74 percent); push coupons or discounts (72 percent); track guests’ location, facilities used, and preferences (69 percent); know when a guest enters/leaves a location (69 percent); use mobile wallets for payment (68 percent); and enable electronic baggage tracking (62 percent).

Guests, however, have some concerns — and rightfully so. While 74 percent of those surveyed said they appreciate hotels and resorts that customize messaging and offers, 60 percent are concerned about having their location/movement tracked and concerned with sharing their social media profiles. Eighty percent also want to control how personal information is being used by hotels to tailor the guest experience. Overall, though, about 75 percent of guests surveyed are willing to share personal information with hotels in exchange for tailored promotions.

“There are different appetites for different age groups of people who are willing to provide the hotel access to your location,” Moore noted, however.

Among Millennials (those born between 1980 to 2000) surveyed, 44 percent were comfortable sharing their social media profiles with hotels and 34 percent were comfortable allowing their current location to be tracked. Guests aged 50 to 64, however, were less comfortable with sharing their social media profiles (only 15 percent) and allowing their location to be tracked (13 percent).

Another hotel company outside of Hilton and Marriott that is using geolocation services, Moore noted, is Caesars Entertainment. “Not only have they provided Wi-Fi throughout the property and not just in the guest room, but they are able to leverage location-based services on a large scale,” he said. Moore said that when guests leave a show or performance, for instance, Caesars has guided those guests to restaurants, bars, and cafes within the hotels. “They are probably most far along in terms of learning in that area.”

Using Data to Personalize the Guest Experience, Build Loyalty

Compiling guest data and using it in the right way to enhance the guest experience has been a major hospitality theme for quite some time. It’s one of the primary reasons why so many major hotel companies are investing so heavily in updating their tech infrastructures, and looking so deeply not just into how to mine data via loyalty programs or apps, but to know just what to do with that information.

At the Skift Global Forum in September, former Starwood CEO Frits van Paaschen stressed the importance of knowing what do with Big Data for the travel industry overall, especially hotels:

“Travel, even in the 21st century is still inconvenient, anonymous, and uncertain. There are pain points all along the process,” he said. “There’s an extraordinary amount of information available, but a real dearth of information that’s potentially relevant to any one individual. A lot can still happen in the hospitality business. It’s a breeding ground for ever more innovation.”

Big data, he said, is the “interaction of people and technology” and the key is “how do you get that data into people’s hands who deliver service at the moment they do that?”

“Personalization is the next manifestation in the evolution of brands,” van Paaschen added. “If you have this emergence of brands being reliable, then having a personality through media, and now you have personal access with mobile. Brands really can deliver personalization now. The expectation of people of brands is you should know me and know what I want.”

The Zebra 2016 Hospitality Vision Study echoes that expectation, both from the hoteliers’ and customers’ viewpoints.

Seventy-four percent of guests surveyed said they appreciate hotels and resorts that customize messaging and offers and 66 percent of guests have a better overall experience when hotel associates use the latest technology. They don’t, however, want technology to necessarily replace actual humans when it comes to customer service.

And when it comes to loyalty programs, hotels and customers seem to have slightly differing objectives. While hotels want to use loyalty programs to conduct online customer satisfaction surveys, deliver personalized messages using stored preferences, and awards points or rewards for social media likes, guests would prefer the following from loyalty programs: coupons, discounts, specials (85 percent); online customer satisfaction surveys (72 percent); online local event calendars near the property (70 percent); personalized messages based on preferences (67 percent); and points/rewards for social media likes (58 percent).

Using Technology to Run the Back of House

Another major finding from the surveys, Moore said, was that hotels are also investing heavily in technologies that make their staff’s jobs that much easier, too.

Moore noted that Zebra received “strong feedback from hoteliers in deploying communication solutions in property, like voice over Wi-Fi.” He said that many hotel staffs are considering switching from radios or cell phones to use voice over wireless technology to better communicate with each other, as well as have more access to information that helps them do their jobs better.

Enhancing the overall Wi-Fi infrastructure at hotels isn’t just good for guests, but good for the staff, too, Moore noted. “This gives them [hotels] the ability to enable mobility within their own staff, which was many times once tethered to a desktop. And when they add communication to this infrastructure, it’s really a win-win-win for them, and for their guests.”

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Tags: mobile technology, technology

Photo credit: Hotel staff at the W Paris communicate with guests via messaging services like WhatsApp. More and more hotels are finding different ways to engage with guests via messaging as a part of their customer service and loyalty strategies. Marriott International

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