In the increasing competition among hotels to make downloading loyalty program mobile apps more worthwhile for travelers and more concierge-like, Hilton has teamed up with location technology company Foursquare to introduce a brand-new feature called Explore.
The new Explore feature is somewhat similar to the Guidebooks feature that Airbnb launched in 2016, only with Hilton Explore, the recommendations aren’t coming from Airbnb community members, but from actual Hilton employees, whose suggestions are being powered by Foursquare.
While a number of hotel loyalty apps have often included supplementary information or guidebook-like content, this marks the first time any of the major hotel brands has worked with a technology partner like Foursquare to offer localized recommendations and curated lists created primarily by hotel staff within Hilton’s own mobile app.
“We’ve heard our guests’ feedback and desire for localized recommendations about the best things to do and best places to eat when planning for their stay — guests want to ‘know before they go,'” said Joshua Sloser, senior vice president of digital for Hilton. “Over the past few years, we’ve been providing local recommendations to our guests through several digital forums such as Local Scene in the Hilton Honors app and Hilton Suggest via social platforms. … Hilton Explore is an evolution of Local Scene, leveraging learnings and recommendations from the Hilton Suggest program.”
Initially, the Explore feature will be available for nearly 1,000 hotels in 28 major markets that include New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, Washington, D.C., Seattle, London, Amsterdam, Dubai, Istanbul, Berlin, Munich, Barcelona, and Rome.
Hilton works with Foursquare to ensure that each recommendation from a Hilton team member is vetted based on Foursquare ratings and business information, and those team member recommendations are prioritized in results over non-team member recommendations, which are also provided in Hilton Explore.
“Rather than our guests having to use multiple apps to gain an insider’s perspective, our partnership with Foursquare allows us to broaden the reach of our team members’ voices and further build our ongoing relationship with guests, all within the Hilton Honors app,” said Sloser. ”
Helping travelers figure out what they want to do when they travel, both before and during an actual trip, is an area of focus for a number of travel brands, and not just hotels.
“‘Experiencing’ is a core step along the traveler’s journey that everyone in travel is trying to impact, including OTAs, and airlines,” said Peter Krasniqi, vice president of global enterprise and business development at Foursquare. “The question we often hear is ‘How can we remain an important part of their trip after they’ve booked?’ It’s no surprise that this has become a key focus for additional partners we’re collaborating with, and an area in which we shine. We’ll be announcing additional partnerships in travel soon.”
And Foursquare isn’t alone in pursuing developments in location technology, either. Most recently, Google also debuted new features for Google Maps that make it easier for people to find restaurants and get information on events.
Those features, said Krasniqi, “just go to show the continued, high level of consumer — and developer — interest in creating contextual location tools.”
However, there are a few missed opportunities, or potential gaps to be filled with Hilton and Foursquare’s new collaboration.
Whereas Google syncs its Google Maps to a user’s Google account, keeping all data, location history, etc. all in one place and giving Google more insight and availability to personalize recommendations, Hilton’s new Explore feature with Foursquare, unfortunately, isn’t quite able to do the same.
If a Hilton Honors member, for example, is also a Foursquare member, his/her account on Foursquare doesn’t automatically sync with the Hilton Honors app to make suggestions more personalized.
Hilton Explore can remember favorited restaurants and activities and re-suggest them to you when you return to a particular destination. But it can’t yet necessarily look at what you’ve favorited before — either on Hilton Explore or on Foursquare — to give you more personalized, tailored recommendations or suggestions from Hilton team members.
The Hilton Explore feature is also not connected to the numerous Hilton Honors experiences, or special experiences, for which loyalty members can redeem their points.
Sloser, however, said, “Some travel recommendation programs seek to sell experiences to travelers. Hilton Explore is different in that it enhances existing travel plans by providing guests with local recommendations to their phones via the Hilton Honors app in advance of arriving to their destination.”
It remains to be seen if Hilton and Foursquare will work together to sync accounts or make the recommendations more personalized going forward, but Sloser added, “Right now, we’re focused on leveraging Foursquare’s API and data quality to give travelers an easy and reliable way to plan their trip with one, easy-to-use app. In the future, as we do with all of our digital offerings, we’ll continue to explore how to enhance Hilton Explore to further personalize the stay of our guests.”
Foursquare’s Krasniqi said, “As we look ahead, we’ll be working in close collaboration with Hilton’s talented team to bring continued value to the Hilton Honors app experience. This will include leveraging Foursquare’s suite of Enterprise offerings along with Hilton’s deep understanding of its guests, bringing meaningful and personalized moments to each user.”
It appears that, for now, the primary benefit to using the Hilton Honors Explore app feature over using Foursquare on its own, is the fact that you can have access to what Sloser described as “hyper-localized” suggestions and recommendations from local residents — in this case, hotel staff.
If Hilton and Foursquare can evolve their collaboration with one another, and make the recommendations more attuned and in sync with an individual user’s preferences, that could, potentially, be an impactful — and worthwhile — hotel mobile app feature. The idea’s there, but the execution is a bit lacking, for now.