From robot concierges to mobile check-in tools, there's no shortage of hyped technologies filtering their way onto hotel properties. But are they actually adding value to the guest experience?
Over the past five years, the hospitality industry has introduced a variety of high-tech innovations designed to revolutionize the guest experience. Everything from robot concierges, to smartphone room keys, to mobile check-in tools, are changing the way hotel customers interact with properties. The problem with this sudden rush to implement hotel technology is that it often happens without considering the business goals of the hotel and, more importantly, the needs of guests.
The risk, as many hotel’s C-level executives are discovering, is that installing hotel technology simply for innovation’s sake can often be counterproductive. “I always call it ‘chasing the shiny new,’” said Greg Adams, chief digital officer for Best Western. “When you chase the ‘shiny new,’ you can quickly run through your available resources and run into challenges that have an impact on your long-term ROI.” In fact, in many cases guests say they don’t even want, or need, the innovations. As a 2016 hotel guest satisfaction survey from J.D. Power uncovered, only 3% of guests said they were using hotel technology tools like mobile check-in. How then can hotel executives strike the right balance between their core competency, hospitality, and utilizing technology to help support guest satisfaction? Here are some potential solutions:
- Think about how technology can make your hotel “more human.”
Danny Meyer, founder of New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group, is a legend among hoteliers and restaurateurs for his forward-thing approach to the guest experience. “Technology should be used to amplify your ability to use your heart,” explained Meyer in a November 2016 interview about hospitality and technology at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.
Meyer put this philosophy to work by providing all of his restaurant’s front-line managers and sommeliers with Apple Watches synced to the company’s digital reservation system, Resy. Keeping in mind Meyer’s stated goal of using technology as a means of building ongoing relationships with customers, employees will use the watches to receive dynamic, real-time information about guest details like dining preferences, spending history and food allergies.
- Use technology to facilitate more customized, personalized experiences.
Understanding guests’ needs and seamlessly delivering on those needs has always been at the center of the hospitality experience. The challenge for huge hotel brands like Hilton has been how to keep that experience front and center when staff are dealing with thousands of guests every day. “What we want to do is take the elements [of technology] that are simpler and more efficient, and make those easy, comfortable and fun for [guests],” said Christopher Nassetta, chief executive officer of Hilton, in a 2015 interview with PwC.
The latest iteration of this philosophy is the rollout of Hilton’s latest HHonors program mobile app. The app uses a mix of location data from Wi-Fi, beacons and smartphone GPS to provide users with hotel-specific maps, hotel features and services based on their historic preferences. “The whole idea was to build a personalized experience for the guest that was based on three different key elements — guest preference, place of the guest, and time,” said Rich DiStefano, senior director of mobile products for Hilton Worldwide. “We can make the experience different for you based on where you are and the time of day; it’s about giving guests the right information at the right time.”
- Test hotel “innovation labs” that gather early guest feedback.
One of the trickiest challenges for hotel executives considering new technology is figuring out if guests will find it useful. But when it comes to newer types of hotel technology, there’s often minimal real-world precedent to assist with decision making. That’s why more hotels are investing in technology-driven innovation labs that allow them to experiment with new high-tech services and get early feedback from guests.
Hong Kong’s Hotel ICON, one of the territory’s top-rated business hotels on TripAdvisor, is attached to a hospitality school run by Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The relationship allows the property to quickly test new technology service concepts and get rapid feedback from guests. Meanwhile, Marriott has launched a new hotel concept lab, called M Beta, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The hotel is notable for its use of physical “like” buttons that allow hotel executives to gather real-time feedback from guests about what features they do or don’t like at the hotel property.
What these three approaches demonstrate, whether they are using technology in a more human way, creating greater levels of personalization, or testing new hotel services, is that hotel technology can indeed lead to an improved hospitality experience. But it’s important to remember that technology must be deployed based on a rigorous evaluation of a hotel’s business goals and guest requests. Otherwise these very same “innovations” simply be technology for technology’s sake, and can end up having the opposite of their intended effect.
This content was created collaboratively between Adobe, Epsilon, and Skift’s SkiftX content studio. For more digital insights, download the 2017 Digital Transformation Report for free here.
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