By Alan E. Young

Within the hospitality industry, we are frequently introduced to new, wide-spread economic trends. First, it was the “Mobile Era,” then we got to know the “Age of the Consumer” and the “Experience Economy,” and now, the term on everyone’s mind? The “Expectation Economy.” As we open our doors and usher in the savvy and informed travelers of today, we are met with a long list of heightened expectations that apply to each and every guest touchpoint. Within this modern economy, expectations are high, and so are the stakes for hoteliers. Guests are more informed, demanding, and less patient than ever before.

So, what does the expectation economy mean for hoteliers? How will it impact the market in 2020? Moreover, how can hoteliers remain ahead of ever-accelerating demands of guests? Read on to find out.

The Catalyst to Evolving Expectations

The world is continuously innovating, and the hospitality industry is no exception. Around the globe, hotels are strategically partnering with technology vendors to streamline operations and enhance the guest experience, while travelers are growing increasingly accustomed to the conveniences provided by modern technology. Social media, especially, has evolved in its influence over the entirety of the guest journey, fundamentally changing how prospective travelers find inspiration for upcoming trips, engage with travel brands, and share their experience with their network. Almost everywhere you go, you’re likely to witness someone capturing a moment or experience with the intention of sharing it almost immediately (to their Instagram story, directly to their feed, or perhaps in a tweet). Word of mouth now travels the world in a flash; everything has the potential to ‘go viral,’ and exceptional experiences can be rewarded immediately with public feedback broadcast from guests.

In an article titled “What We Expect in the Expectation Economy,” author Laura Shear explained, “Remember when a cup of coffee was just…a cup of coffee? When getting our morning caffeine buzz wasn’t an elaborate exercise in personal expression? Back before Starbucks turned us into a nation of extra-hot-no-foam-skinny-vanilla-latte drinkers? Today, coffee arrives with our name on it, flatteringly crafted to our exact specifications. Regular coffee now seems as quaint as answering machines.” And perhaps, there is no better illustration of this expectation economy at work. When we experience exemplary customer service from one brand or see someone else receive that service via an online medium, we come to expect it from all brands. Suddenly, the bar has been raised, as has the barrier for entry for new brands hoping to gain consumer loyalty.

Think about the last time you ordered an Uber, and had to wait over 5 minutes for your car to arrive. Did you feel aggravated? Disappointed? What about the last time you checked in a hotel, and they didn’t address you by name or, perhaps, didn’t have all of your reservation details correct? Our response to service that is perceivably antiquated or sub-par is a direct reflection of the expectation economy; connectivity and experience are paramount to inspiring our satisfaction and loyalty. We simply expect more from brands, regardless of how many data sets and service overhauls that may require.

Give Guests What They Want

What does this mean for your hotel brand, you might wonder? Well, a few things.

Guests expect the highest tier of quality from hotels, and while each individual guest may define ‘quality’ differently, this will ultimately always tie back to the provision of exceptional service across the board. Do you take the time to get to know your guests on a personal level, and do you have the tools in place to support your staff in that process? What does personalization mean to your hotel brand? Is it merely knowing a guests’ name, or do you take it a step further? Are your promotions and upgrade opportunities informed by data? Is your staff able to move around the property freely, empowered by mobile operational platforms, while seamlessly communicating across departments and interacting with guests? Are you ready to address guest requests, and resolve complaints, quickly? Do you engage with guests, both current and prospective, both online and offline, throughout their entire journey? Do you closely monitor and pro-actively manage the conversations surrounding your property online? These are the questions that should be guiding your service approach to ensure you are operating efficiently and offering guests the experience they expect.

It’s also important to recognize that your hotel brand will receive more attention than it ever has before via social mediums. While this is (potentially) great from a marketing perspective, it can also be detrimental if that exposure is mishandled. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. In this respect, I encourage hoteliers to recognize that consumers, regardless of industry, look to align with brands with whose story they can relate. They are embracing brands that solve problems for everyone and those which take a stand on social issues. Perhaps more than anything, they want to feel connected to those brands they advocate for and align with, and hotels are no exception. So, ask yourself, what differentiates your hotel from others in the area? What is your brand story? Do you offer sustainable practices? Do you provide access to local experiences? Not only should guests feel compelled to experience your property on an emotional level, but that experience should be meaningful, relevant, and extremely memorable.

Ultimately, information and social feedback are more accessible than ever before. Guests today have unparalleled access, often via virtual forums, to the hotels they frequent. They expect innovative ideas, unique experiences, and personalized interactions across every aspect of their journey. They see and experience your hotel through the lens of their own ecosystem (online and offline) that is substantiated by their lives, their unique needs and preferences, and their social network. It is the responsibility of hoteliers to leverage technology and data in a way that allows them to pull back the curtain on those ecosystems, and meet guest expectations head-on.