By Aaron Shepherd

If you take a trip to your local bakery and – after a moment in line spent surveying the mouth-watering array of carefully curated treats – ask for one of the tarts at the front of the display, the cashier will most likely reply with, “Which one?”. Suppose you are a remote worker who occasionally frequents your company’s nearby office by booking a desk using a tool like SpaceIQ. In that case, you are prompted to choose your desired section and the specific desk you want. When purchasing tickets for a new, highly-anticipated release at most movie theaters, you are presented with a theater seating chart that allows you to reserve your designated seat for the duration of the movie. And finally, if you are booking a flight for an upcoming vacation before check-out, you will be given the opportunity to pick your seats – not just economy, premium economy, or business class, but the precise seat you wish to occupy. While these are four very different scenarios, they each revolve around a similar theme: the power of choice.

In today’s world, personalization and customization are an increasingly meaningful currency, and many of the touch-points that define our daily experience allow us to be hyper-specific about our choices and preferences. From our preferred desk at the office to our favorite dessert from the bakery, the best viewing spot at the movie theater, and our seat on an upcoming flight, we are often empowered by choice. Isn’t it strange, then, that travelers have rarely been presented with the ability to book specific rooms in a hotel?

Have Hotels Been Behind the Times?

In a Skift article, Deanna Ting posed the question so many of us had been wondering – “In an age where almost anything can be on-demand and every hotel company says it wants to personalize and customize hotel guest experience, why is it still so hard for us to get the exact room we want to stay in?”. Sure, guests have always been able to choose the type of room they wanted – garden view, ocean view, standard or executive suite, and so on –. Still, the option to be truly detail-oriented about room preferences has often remained out of reach. Is it so hard to believe some – or many – guests might demonstrate an appetite for a more detail-oriented booking experience? After all, not all hotel rooms are created equal, and sometimes the little nuances (such as a particular view, the proximity to the elevator, the floor the suite is on, or the ability to book adjoining rooms) make a world of a difference to particular guests.

This could be one of the missing pieces that pointed some guests in the direction of Airbnb. Airbnb properties (or any other short-term rental alternative to hotels) offer a more boutique, one-on-one experience; guests are invited into hosts’ homes or unique properties that are clearly detailed and represented across the property listing. There is no ‘garden view’ suite; as travelers peruse the platform, they can usually see (or read about) every detail of the room or the house they will be renting. Unless the host has radically altered the appearance of the property since taking the listing photos, it’s reasonable to assume that what you see is what you’ll get, and the specificity of the booking experience is undeniably appealing to many travelers.

Again, this begs the question – why are so many hotels still assigning rooms to guests rather than letting them choose the room they want? Booking your hotel room shouldn’t feel like a gamble, or a shot in the dark, especially when we now have the technology needed to unlock a more seamless and personalized experience for every guest.

Give Guests the Whole Package

While we are on the topic of turning a more detail-oriented lens toward the booking experience, let’s consider another area of hospitality that hotels sometimes mistakenly neglect: packaging. The concept is simple – rather than simply offering guests the ability to book their stay (and nothing else), hotels can package other products or services together with room nights. Packages might include food and beverage options or on-property experiences such as entertainment or wellness services. In some cases, hotels might create packages that include external partnerships; for example, a destination hotel might bundle the honeymoon suite with a couple’s spa day on-property, a romantic culinary experience in town, and a sunset photoshoot with a local photographer. The components included in each bundle might incentivize guests with a slight discount or, in some cases, may drive revenue by showcasing the many experiences available to guests during their trip.

After all, aren’t hotels offering their guests so much more than a room away from home and a place to lay their head? Aren’t hospitality brands in the business of curating genuinely exceptional and memorable experiences that can’t easily be found elsewhere? If so, why not use tools like packaging to create a high-value experience for guests that feels personalized and thoughtful and simultaneously differentiates one property from another in an otherwise hyper-competitive market?

Of course, you can’t build out relevant packages without first understanding your target guest segments and their respective needs, preferences/travel habits, and budgets. But is this not something all hotels should already be doing? If a hotel doesn’t have tools and processes in place to establish – and continuously fortify – its relationship with (and understanding of) guests, is that hotel really holding up its end of the bargain? Hospitality, at the end of the day, is about servicing guests’ needs, which cannot be accomplished without first knowing the guest and then learning their needs.

Fortunately, in today’s hospitality landscape, knowing, understanding, connecting with, and catering to guests is not only possible, it’s increasingly scalable and profitable. 

Making Guests the Architect of their Experience

There was a time when the concept of personalization was a largely unscalable and costly pipedream. Hotels were far too busy and burdened with manual tasks and a consistently strained labor force to add truly personalized service to their Rolodex of operational and guest-facing duties. Today, however, the market has been – and continues to be – disrupted by a wave of tech-driven innovation that presents hoteliers with the tools they’ve long needed to make their offerings better and far more feasible and automated.

Years ago, the idea of guests picking their room or hotels offering creative packaging seemed like a logistical headache, if not an operational nightmare – because, at the time, it was. To unlock this level of personalization and profitability, hotels need the right architecture and technology. More specifically, hotels need a fully integrated, seamless, and centralized platform that doubles as a PMS, booking engine, CRS, and more and is specifically built to facilitate this kind of integrated flexibility. The best part? Everyone wins. Hotels that bake this kind of functionality into their offering will not only delight guests and stand out from competitor properties – they will also maximize profitability and, over time, earn the loyalty of their satisfied guests.