By Pierre Boettner, CEO, hospitalityPulse

Enhancing the guest experience seems to be on every hotel executive’s mind these days. There isn’t a conference where speakers from the industry aren’t professing the improved guest experience to be the single most important point of their attention – and I am confident, HITEC this year will see a slew of companies, speakers, and visitors speaking of and about how to enhance their guest experience. By now, those who know me, know here’s my big ‘but…’ to come – and it will. However, first, let me take you on a brief trip down memory lane.

Remember when hotel guests had the habit of showing up at the front desk the evening prior to their departure? Getting the bill ready, and possibly settled ahead of physically leaving, ensured a smooth check-out the next morning. Until the late 1990’s, improving the guest experience was a relatively simple endeavor: Have the bill ready when the guest wants to check out, i.e., create more real-time integrations with all your posting systems. The final hurdle was the minibar, where automation competed with complimentary offerings and even the complete removal of that traditional loss center.

Into the early 2000’s, it was all about making bookings easier, more transparent, and creating pricing consistency throughout multiple channels. While the implementation’s effects positive and negative for the industry reverberate to this day, one can arguably say that what we set out to do, was successfully achieved.

Since then, we’ve been looking mostly at failed initiatives, whether kiosk check-ins, or later mobile, guest service apps and even wearable initiatives, keyless entry and ‘pick your room’ projects, or even Roxxio or Alexa devices in the room. Still, what I am missing most, is an objective reflection on why these initiatives, to this day, didn’t produce the results we were hoping for. Don’t get me wrong here, I wholeheartedly agree there is a problem with the check-in process, but I am missing the lessons learned from these failures.

In software development, we talk about ‘failing and learning fast’ – I would argue that the culture of slow death initiatives in hospitality is precisely what prevents us from gaining invaluable insights. Failing fast is a development principle by which you focus on just one or two key assumptions you want to validate. You create your software to do only that and define or even build in feedback that allows you to gain the required insights. Yes, the initiative will fail, we know and expect that, and even want it to happen. Provided the limited functionality we built performed as expected and validated our initial assumption, the detailed observation and measurement allows us to make decisions on what the next most important assumption to test should be. A few rapid cycles like that, and you end up with slick, minimalistic software that does exactly what the vast majority of guests expect.

Instead, we tend to want to design a comprehensive, robust product based on our own convictions and biases – and in the process tend to forget that even the most experienced among us have formed their assumptions on an inherently limited experience.

So yes, I would agree that the check-in process is somewhat broken. However, instead of focusing on the means of performing the process, the delivery mechanism if you will (remember the ‘mobile first’ adage?) – I am arguing that we really need to learn to listen to the data we have, scrutinize it, question existing assumptions, and slowly work our way to truly understanding what a guest experience actually looks like and how to avoid launching another ‘shot in the dark’ initiative. Instead, we should tackle the improvement of the guest experience with focus and determination, one problem at a time.

For this, we need access to the data that forms the guest experience. That is where you, as the executive, need to rid yourself of your own biases, focus on top-line revenue, paired with an asset-light strategy.

I get it – from a shareholder value point of view it makes sense, and I won’t argue against it. However, that doesn’t mean you should take your eyes off the operation. After all, that is where the guest experience is produced. Industry standard KPI, the myriad of reporting and BI tools allowing you to measure these in real-time just won’t cut it. What you need is the hotelier’s ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground – or rather the digital equivalent of it. And once you truly understand what is wrong with the guest experience, then you can begin enhancing it.

If you happen to be at HITEC in Houston, come see us at booth #418, and see ‘insights,’ our operations BI at work. Insights includes a free tier because we don’t want you to spend money for software you’re not entirely sure you’ll need.