Personalization and the Guest Experience

By Michael Schubach Strategic Deployments / Program Management Director, Infor Hospitality | November 12, 2017

When one thinks about the word “personalization,” many images can be conjured. Perhaps it’s a monogram or engraving to signify ownership of an object. Or maybe it’s home decor: the artwork and memorabilia that make the space your own. Some people might be reminded of their desk at work, loaded with little time-killer toys to amuse oneself during those occasional hiatuses of inactivity. What may not have made your list of highly personalized experiences is a hotel room – or even a hotel stay. Odd, isn’t it? Especially now that the hospitality industry’s newest, most popular mission is to provide not just the bed and the bath but the “beyond” – the unique guest experience.

From a historical perspective, hotels have a checkered past as far as “unique” goes. A number of hotel chains and many individual properties grew famous and wealthy based on their reputation as premier providers of deluxe accommodations and exceptional service. During one bygone example of gracious travel, the European Grand Tour, which began in the seventeenth century and grew popular in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, visiting hospitality showplaces was considered a rite of passage. The Grand Tour essentially gave rise to the concept of a collegiate “gap year” – young men, most typically, from wealthy families traveled Western Europe as a hiatus between school and their working careers. It was an opportunity to see the centers of culture and civilization, and acquire a patina of sophistication while killing time. Hotel accommodations for the wealthy were typically grand, and were made unique by their exotic locations, ornate furnishings and willingness to accommodate a traveler’s dreams and desires – for a price.

However, “unique” was not always as kind to middle class or budget travelers. Leisure travel in the US grew as middle class families gained access to affordable reliable automobiles, but roadside hotel and motel accommodations remained something of a crapshoot. The hospitality industry changed dramatically in 1952 after one Tennessee businessman booked vacation accommodations for his family in some less-than-stellar properties. After that experience, Kemmons Wilson dedicated himself and his livelihood to the concept of family friendly, affordably fair guest experiences that were made unique by predictably standard accommodations and features. Holiday Inns, his brainchild and better mousetrap, went international within the first eight years, and had over one thousand locations within sixteen years.

The pre-Kemmons-Wilson traveling world was very familiar with hotel brands, but Holiday Inns propelled the concept of brand standards to the forefront, a very specific set of specifications for every aspect of accommodation. Most chains followed suit, each writing a unique Bible of Expectations for their guest deliverables. Predictability still enjoys a tremendous following, and patrons who choose any well-known international hotel chain can travel the world and stay in remarkably similar rooms time after time.

However, such standardized expectations don’t particularly appeal to younger post-millennial travelers. They look for more experiential travel, at times for business but particularly for leisure travel. The rise of private providers, such as Airbnb, speaks to the demand for out-of-the-ordinary travel experiences. The irony of that type of competition is that provides in spades the unpredictability that Wilson fought to so hard to overcome. Nonetheless, the world keeps spinning, and what was old is new again.

Notably and thankfully, there is a very significant difference in the twenty-first century version of non-standardized accommodation: the game changer is the technology of sharing. In Wilson’s day, it generally wasn’t practical to get insights, references and reviews before you committed to your stay. Today, it’s hard to imagine that you could find fifty square feet of accommodation that haven’t been photographed, shared, blogged, rated and reviewed in a myriad of online outlets. It’s the age of social media, so there is no excuse for the traveler not to be forewarned and forearmed.

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.