Luxury hospitality is at a crossroads: new technologies like AI and social media are changing the way we travel, but can the industry respond to the new generation of switched on traveller?
The past decade has seen a remarkable change in the hospitality industry. The near ubiquitous use of smartphones, the shift to all things digital, the growth of the sharing economy, have all had a profound impact on day-to-day hotel operations. It’s not the first time the industry has faced dramatic change – see the introduction of package holidays in the ‘70s – but never before have hotels faced so many new challenges, and opportunities, at once.
These new challenges have affected every level of the industry, but what about those at the top end of hospitality? Even just two decades ago, high-end hotels tended to adhere to a ‘traditional’ concept of luxury. Today, that concept has undergone a seismic shift. Gilded finishings, gaudy opulence and servile waiting staff are being replaced with sleek minimalism and carefully curated guest experiences.
Premium tech is essential
A recent report by Oracle Hospitality, which polled more than 2,700 U.S. and European travellers, found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. guests said it was “very or extremely important” for hotels to continue investing in technology to enhance the guest experience.
Whereas the luxury hotelier of the past placed a strong emphasis on face-to-face interactions, today’s hotels have a myriad of channels to communicate with guests through. This means utilising technology to provide a tailored experience and being fluent in (and connected to) whatever channel the guests most prefer to communicate through.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has also proven a hugely valuable development for the sector. With IoT integrations, guests have the power to alter the heating in their room, run a bath and even open the curtains from a single device.
Of course, there are technologies today that would be described as a ‘luxury’ feature ten years ago but now feature as standard. Keyless entry, online room selection and one-click dinner reservations have all become common features. To stay ahead of the curve, hotels not only need to keep an eye out for the latest technologies but also understand which are right for their particular brand image.
Consolidate your data
Gone are the days when gathering guest preferences involved an end-of-stay questionnaire. Today, hotels have a range of technologies at their disposal to understand guest requirements and, just as importantly, streamline this information into a single source.
Cloud-based CRM’s can provide a centralised platform to turn guest data into valuable insights on their unique preferences. Hotel staff can receive real-time information on anything from room service orders to a guest’s preferred dinner time. By identifying their key demographics through analytics, hotels can develop a sustainable, long-term growth plan and shape in-hotel services around guest preferences.
Genie devices gather valuable metrics on guest interactions both inside and out of the hotel, allowing hoteliers to paint a detailed picture of their guest and cater to their needs accordingly. Guest satisfaction is paramount, so those hotels that can most effectively tap into exactly what their patrons want during their stay will go on to define the new gold standard in hospitality.
Some things never change in the industry. Guest satisfaction remains at the forefront of every hotel process, but the means to achieve that satisfaction have evolved. One thing that stands out above all else is the need to give guests autonomy over as much of their stay as possible. Providing guests with the freedom to choose a specific room, or how to engage with staff, will increase the likelihood of a return visit and simultaneously free up hotel staff for other tasks.
While the luxury experience of yesteryear centred around supplying guests with luxury items, the trend today is to provide valuable experiences that guests can choose to consume in a number of ways. In the age of ‘individual experiences’, guests want to follow their own path. Any assistance that does come should be minimal and, if possible, provided through the platform guests feel most comfortable using.
Optimise promotion opportunities
With the growth of the Instagram tourist, luxury hoteliers want to integrate ever-more visually memorable experiences into their service. The power of social promotion has prompted hoteliers to seek ‘Instagrammable moments’ in every aspect of service, from distinctive dishes in the hotel restaurant to grandiose, eye-catching displays in the hotel lobby. A single photo by an influential Instagram figure could reach hundreds of thousands of followers; that’s the kind of coverage money can’t buy.
Similarly, with the growth of online booking and review sites, anyone can share their opinion of a hotel with thousands of potential guests at the click of a button. These reviews can make or break a hotel, so it’s vital every possible measure is taken to cater to their needs during their stay. This also requires staying on top of new technologies. Even one additional feature point on a review site could be enough to sway a potential guest trying to decide between two luxury hotels.
Personalise the experience
Guests want an experience tailored to their specific needs and, with the proliferation of data, hotels can now provide exactly that. By studying guest interactions with services, hoteliers can build up a detailed understanding of what particular guests want, and when.
Thanks to data, guests can now expect to wake up to an alarm automated to their day, dine on a breakfast specifically selected from data gathered on their previous meals and jump in a taxi waiting outside, called specifically for their day.
Guests (particularly those travelling from overseas) crave information but are more likely to seek it through an internet connection than the concierge. The Oracle Hospitality survey found that 62% of guests used non-hotel sources outside the hotel’s remit for dinner reservations and activity recommendations. The luxury hospitality brands that can harness this technology and provide a personalised, curated experience to their guests will be the obvious choice for future visits. As Jay Upchurch, Vice President of Oracle Hospitality says, “Technology can address the industry’s dual challenge of operating efficiently at scale and simultaneously providing individualized service.”
Develop your USP
The growth of Airbnb has pushed hotels, particularly those in the high-end sector, to focus their design and services on providing a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. With travellers now able to choose from thousands of different locations, and a variety of different styles of accommodation, it’s vital hotels develop their unique brand value and express it coherently through a strong online presence.
These ‘niche-appeal’ features can cover anything, from eco-friendly design to locally-sourced food in the hotel restaurant. Although brand loyalty has been diluted by the host of online booking sites, where price and ‘bullet point features’ are often deciding factors, studies have found that customers who feel engaged by a brand are less price-sensitive. Gallup’s 2014 Hospitality Industry study has consistently revealed customers of higher-priced hotel chains tend to be more engaged than those of lower-priced brands. In fact, luxury hotel customers are twice as likely to strongly agree that the hotel they visit most frequently cares for their well-being than economy hotel customers.
While the industry has adapted to significant change in the past twenty years, luxury hospitality still faces an uphill battle in keeping on top of the evolving needs of guests. The advantages provided by technologies like online booking, automated in-room amenities and guest data also come with challenges and increased competition. Only by staying receptive to customer interests and being willing to adapt rapidly to new innovations can hotels hope to maintain an edge in this most competitive of industries.