By Fran Worrall
Hotels that achieve the right mix can improve operations, guest loyalty and profitability
One of the key challenges facing today’s hoteliers is that of high tech vs high touch. Does technology conflict with personalized service? Is it possible to offer both during the same visit? And can hotels that utilize technology in favor of human interaction achieve guest loyalty?
According to Chekitan Dev, PhD, a distinguished professor at Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration, technology and humanity not only can co-exist but also can work together to create an exciting and engaging guest experience. “Our industry is racing toward a new paradigm where high tech and high touch intersect,” he said. “The pandemic pushed us to create an innovative landscape filled with possibilities, and properties that achieve the right mix between high tech and high touch will hit the sweet spot for improving operations, loyalty and profitability.”
The key is adopting a flexible mindset. “It’s a mistake to think of high tech and high touch as being diametrically opposed. It’s not an either-or proposition.”
In fact, today’s hoteliers can use technology to create a more highly personalized guest journey than ever, keeping services frictionless and augmenting staff rather than replacing them.
It starts with booking
It all begins with the booking process. Savvy hoteliers are creating highly tailored messages that engage consumers based on past experiences at the property or on links they have opened or liked. Increasingly, hotels also are pushing direct booking, which is taking business away from online travel agencies and enabling properties to build stronger relationships with guests.
Moreover, augmented reality and other technologies are being employed to convert lookers into bookers. “Guests can get a taste of what the property is like and imagine themselves immersed in activities there.”
Mobile apps, which are playing a larger role in the booking process, also are being used to deliver more customized content. “Rather than trying to get guests to sign up for the hotel’s loyalty program upon check-in, front desk staff are encouraging guests to download the hotel’s app,” he said. Using machine learning—a type of artificial intelligence that enables computer systems to learn from data without being explicitly programmed—the app delivers personalized content based on repeated use.
According to Dev, machine learning is being used more frequently throughout the guest journey, from booking through follow-up. “It’s a powerful tool that not only helps properties better understand their guests but also helps them stay competitive,” he said. Machine learning algorithms employ a variety of techniques to find patterns in data—what guests like, what they purchase and what they share. Based on that information, hotels can generate offers and marketing campaigns that are highly targeted and guest specific.
Personalizing the guest stay
Once guests are on property, technology can personalize the entire stay. “Hotels in every category, including five-star resorts, can use technology to deliver a more intuitive guest experience, from self-service check-in and wayfinding systems to in-room chat bots and online ordering,” he said.
For example, geolocation technology creates opportunities for hotels to surprise guests with value-added amenities that enhance special occasions, such as anniversaries and birthdays. Real-time 24/7 guest feedback systems allow two-way communication that enables properties to speed service requests and quickly respond to problems.
Yet, Dev is quick to point out that while technology can help properties navigate the worker shortage, it doesn’t replace employees. Instead, it augments staff so that they can provide higher-level service. “A kiosk in the lobby can free staff to assist guests who need extra help,” he explained. “And in-room virtual assistants can answer repetitive questions, so that employees can focus on other tasks.”
The key is to use technology as a collaborative tool. “Staff should understand that technology allows them to reduce their workload and provide next-level service,” he said. “Hotel employees are valuable assets. And with powerful tools at their disposal, their talents can be utilized more effectively.”
Extending service post-departure
Finally, technology can be used to build guest relationships long after the check-out date. “Smart hoteliers solicit post-departure feedback and apply what they learn to enhance service,” he said. Digital survey tools make it easier than ever to gather data. In fact, collecting survey responses is as simple as sending out an email to guests. “The quantitative and qualitative results you obtain not only can help improve operations but also can boost revenue.”
Additionally, properties can send post-departure messages that include images or videos of the guest’s most recent stay. “Remind your customers of the memories they made and encourage them to come back.”
Likewise, hotels should offer their guests incentives for referrals to family and friends. These incentives, generated with the help of artificial intelligence systems, allow guests to easily upload offers to their social media accounts. “The offers can be easily claimed, with no fine print,” he said. Guests who have enjoyed a stay at the property are likely to recommend it to others, particularly if they are given an inducement to do so.
Despite the widespread use of automation throughout the industry, Dev reminds hoteliers that hospitality is—and always will be—a people-oriented business. “Hotels of the future will be warm and welcoming,” he concluded. “But they also will be smarter and more efficient, thanks to technology and the many ways in which it improves overall operations.”