Hotel chains are always in search of the next big thing in innovation or loyalty that will give them an edge over the competition. But in discussions with industry professionals at the NYU Hospitality Conference this week, it seems most would be willing to settle for reliable Wi-Fi and USB ports in rooms. Maybe simple is better?
Despite the promises of what artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and even blockchain can soon offer the hotel industry, executives argue guests are looking for simplicity and immediacy in the new technologies and services that brands offer.
In line with those expectations, luxury hospitality brand Loews Hotels disbanded its loyalty program in the summer of 2018, believing the chain of 29 North American hotels could not compete on distribution, according to chief information officer Dan Kornick. Loews also does not have a consumer facing mobile app.
Instead, the New York-based firm recently opted to install a new customer relationship management system and guest engagement platforms, such as its Chat Your Service text messaging capability.
“I can have texting, and I don’t need an app,” said Kornick during a panel discussion at the NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference on Tuesday. “Want more towels? Concert tickets? Contact us by the pool, in your room, or at a park in Boston.”
About 33 percent of Loews guests engage with the brand through text, he added. As a smaller company, the hotel group can also better mine data to produce a more personalized experience for guests. Larger competitors have more data, but can’t act as quickly on it due to sheer volume.
The ‘Here and Now’ Era
Accor Chief Digital Officer Maud Bailly said hotel guests today also want the instant gratification of belonging to something. Gone are the days of guests waiting two years for a gluten-free cookie.
“It’s a paradox. The Internet is an anonymous net, but being known and recognized according to your preferences has never been so big,” she said, adding that any piece of technology implemented by Accor also tries to reduce the number of clicks for customers to get what they want.
While GDPR compliance in Europe, IT security, and API connectivity are always relevant to bolstering applications, so too is instilling the right work culture and securing franchisee buy-in, Bailly noted.
“We have two clients. Both guests and owners have to be convinced to choose us,” she said. “If my people, the staff in the hotel, don’t understand the usage of the usage I am designing for them, I’m lost.”
Getting franchisees to buy in to new technologies without a guaranteed return on investment, however, is one obstacle hotel chains face regularly, according to Scott Strickland, chief information officer at Wyndham Hotels. Brands have to prove that proposed changes will improve RevPAR and the guest experience.
“We are using technology to provide new experiences and improve somebody’s job,” Strickland said, while touting mobile check-in as an example of how technology has improved Wyndham’s business, particularly when it comes to large groups of people.
Some brands have also become risk averse, for fear of hurting the reputation they have earned over the decades in search of innovation.
Tony Zolla, recently named the SVP of digital product and technology at Hyatt, says an easy way around this would be for companies to create innovation guidelines — a list of rules each team throughout a company must follow when introducing new services, such as transparency to the customer.
“Technology and digital are used interchangeably,” he said. “But tech has been used to extend human capabilities for decades. What’s different now is the pace of change.”
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Photo credit: LG OELD television in the presidential suite at the Marriott Marquis on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in Chicago. John Konstantaras / AP for LG