The last few years have seen a radical change in how Americans consume hospitality services, especially among Millennials, who make up the largest (growing) group of travelers. Hyper-personalized services, always-on connectivity, and multi-channel brand engagement are the new normal. And the future may look quite different indeed.
Technology has been one of the biggest change agents in people’s travel experiences. Across generations, most people reported that technology has made it easier to book tickets and make reservations, find the best deals and gather information about new and interesting places to visit (2018 Travel Trends, Attitudes and Usage, research sponsored by Wex and Mastercard). Technology also makes it easier to do those things quickly and impulsively: A recent Google study suggests that more than 60% of U.S. travelers would consider an impulse trip based on a good hotel or flight deal. Perhaps that is why travel-related searches for “today” and “tonight” on mobile have increased by 150% over the past two years.
Hotel operators need to take a critical look at how their technology infrastructure will make or break their ability to compete by continually enhancing the guest experience. A robust network is crucial for providing the guest-facing services today’s travelers demand and for running the back-of-house operations that enable those services to be delivered more efficiently.
A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer adequate when designing guest services and amenities to create exceptional experiences. From pillow menus, customized mini bar selections and parental controls on in-room entertainment, to individually-targeted promotions based on a guest’s previous stays, savvy hotel operators are creating customized environments in which guests can get exactly what they want, when and where they want it.
Travelers support this type of customization. In the Google study cited above, 57% of U.S. travelers indicated that brands should tailor their information based on personal preferences or past behaviors. When that is done, 36% would be likely to pay more for their services.
For the metrics and insights needed to build the personalized services, amenities and communications that will garner engagement, multiple data sources are crucial, according to travel industry intelligence firm Skift, which surveyed travel marketers to identify the most valuable sources of first-party data when building a strong personalization strategy:
Hotels need a robust and reliable network infrastructure to power the artificial intelligence and machine learning required for sophisticated data analytics that drive development and management of guest experience strategies.
Fast Access to Information and Tools
The guest experience starts early. Hotel guests start interacting with a property long before they walk through the front door to check in. They start with the discovery process, which today is done largely online. A property’s website and mobile app are the first experiences guests will have with a hotel brand, so they should be engaging, interactive and always functional. Property photos; videos; loyalty program details; traveler reviews; easily-searchable room rates and availability; and fast, secure online booking are just a few of the elements that add value to those initial guest experiences.
Hotels’ social media channels are another entry point to guest engagement, especially among Millennials. An estimated 87% of Millennial travelers look at Facebook for travel inspiration, while 20% use Twitter and Pinterest. According to Internet Marketing Inc., Millennials are particularly looking for travel brands that speak their language (weather passively or actively). User-generated content is key with this demographic, which prefers when a brand appears to speak to them rather than at them.
A hotel’s next opportunity to shape the guest experience is the arrival and check-in process, where technology can help speed the process and reduce wait times. Mobile check-in from a hotel tablet or guest phone allows guests to bypass long lines at the front desk. Some hotels are using mobile keys to give guests access to their rooms right from their phones.
Increased network traffic can quickly overwhelm hotels’ legacy networks, leading to guest frustration, complaints and bad reviews – the type of guest experience every hotel wants to avoid. A high-bandwidth network with the capacity to identify different types of traffic and prioritize them allows large amounts of data to be sent and received with low latency, meeting the needs of demanding guests.
Guests (especially Millennials) want to stay connected to their digital worlds when they travel. For some, the need for connectivity is work-related: According to a report by AARP, 47% of Millennials feel it is extremely or very important for them to stay engaged with work while on vacation.
Connectivity while staying in a hotel also has a social aspect, much of which varies by generation. According to the AARP report, 87% of Millennials use social media on a regular basis and 84% post while on vacation, while only 58% of Baby Boomers use social media on a regular basis (57% post while on vacation.) GenX is in the middle, with 75% using social media on a regular basis and 67% posting while on vacation.
Guests of all ages and demographics expect easy access to free WiFi so they can connect to work and social networks as well as stream entertainment content, play games and surf the web. “With the rise of bring-your-own-device and streaming, connectivity has rapidly shifted from a distinguishing feature to a basic utility, as essential as HVAC, water and electricity,” commented Hospitality Technology Contributing Editor Lisa Terry, in the magazine’s June 2018 issue.
Hotels also need reliable connectivity to link on-site systems and guest amenities through the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT). Voice-activated in-room entertainment, mobile apps that control room temperature and lighting, and “smart” minibars that tell room service when to replace the ginger ale are all examples of new ways that technology is changing the in-room guest experience. Chatbots also shape the guest experience, letting guests use their mobile device from anywhere to ask directions, get information about property amenities, book a spa appointment or dinner reservation, determine their loyalty program status or request an airport shuttle – virtually anything a human concierge can do.
Hotel operators need to balance younger generations’ needs to share their locations, experiences and opinions with older generations’ desire for privacy and a degree of anonymity when traveling. Hotels must support this growing trend to create a new level of trust while also ensuring that privacy issues are addressed through stringent security efforts to keep guest and business data confidential.
The ability to straddle the line between guest intimacy and guest privacy, and give guests control over what information they choose to share within and beyond the hotel, is critical to ensuring that new guest experience technologies lead to deeper guest engagement and convenience and do not offend guests or make them uncomfortable. A hotel’s network must therefore be capable of handling the myriad devices and systems needed to collect, analyze and disseminate valuable information in a secure manner.
To help deliver new guest experiences, today’s hotels must be equipped with the right technology and infrastructure, including wired and wireless high-speed network connections, software-defined networking, flexible and scalable voice and unified communications services, and direct connection to the cloud.
Hotels cannot deliver tomorrow’s guest experiences with yesterday’s antiquated network technologies. When scalable bandwidth from a reliable service provider is built into a hotel’s infrastructure, the sky is the limit for hotel operators looking to create the next generation of guest experiences for the next generation of hotel guests.