In a survey conducted as part of the Amadeus study by Rohit Talwar, “Hotels 2020 – Responding to Tomorrow’s Customer and the Evolution of Technology,” 83% of respondents agreed that “People will view travel as a right rather than a luxury and consider it an increasingly important part of their lives”. If hotel management would like to predict how their businesses will evolve in the future, this one survey response is critical to understand.
What this says is that travel is not a novel experience for most people. It is a regular and expected part of their lives. So most of your guests will have preconceived expectations about the hotel stay they are about to have. And because hotel travel is a regular part of their lives, those expectations are most likely to mirror their lives away from the hotel. “From connectivity to the design of hotels, guests are looking for an experience that mirrors their home life,” said Bill Duncan, global head of Homewood Suites by Hilton.
So while hotels are expected to provide unique and exhilarating experiences, guests nevertheless expect the control over and certain daily conveniences of their home life. How does this manifest itself? An easy one that most hotels have finally understood: Wi-Fi. Guests are bringing more devices with them than ever before, and they expect hotels to enable that behavior. “Technology has changed, so the needs from a Wi-Fi standpoint, given customers traveling with multiple devices have increased,” said Aly El-Bassuni, VP of operations for Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham.
But Wi-Fi is not going to give you the edge these days – that’s yesterday’s news. The core finding of the Amadeus study was that customers are getting used to increasing choice and personalization. In the study’s survey, 92% supported the idea that “Hotel guests will expect their stay to be personalized around a set of choices they make at the time of booking or prior to arrival.”
Innovative hoteliers are, therefore, using technology to provide choices in how the guest experiences their stay. Pre-stay, these hoteliers are giving guests the choices of whether to check in prior to arrival, of upgrades, of optional amenities and of early check-in. Upon arrival, guests are given the choice to speak to a front desk clerk or go to a self service check in kiosk to pick up keys (Given the convenience of kiosks in airline travel it is no wonder that guests are flocking to lobby kiosks for check-in). During the stay, guests are given the choice to order amenities from their phone and at the stay’s end; guests can choose a late-check out from their phones as well.
So guests want choice and control before and during their stay. Savvy will hoteliers employ new technology to deliver it. But let’s not forget how consumer post-stay behavior is changing the hospitality industry. “The biggest difference is how transparent the customer experience is,” El-Bassuni said. “If somebody’s had a negative experience at your hotel, they now have a megaphone where they can go out and tell millions of people.” Reviews alone have demanded hoteliers’ constant attention, but the threat of bad reviews has especially driven the search for innovations that support changing guest expectations.
Mr. Talwar suggests that to succeed, “…hotel groups may increasingly view themselves as being in a constant state of experimentation with the individual properties as living laboratories for the development and testing of new ideas.” It is (finally) a time of great change in the hotel industry and it will be both exciting and dangerous for hoteliers. Travel has evolved. Guest expectations have evolved. And hoteliers must evolve as well. My prediction? Technologies that provide guest choice will soon be as ubiquitous as hotel Wi-Fi.