Authentic Personalized Guest Engagement in an Automated World

By Shayne Paddock Chief Innovation Officer / Guest Management Solutions, TravelClick | April 16, 2017

In the past year I’ve traveled to New York City on several business trips usually staying at the same hotel every time. I did that in part to learn how the hotel would interact with me on each repeat stay. Would they treat me differently? Would they recognize me on my fourth stay? Would they remember my name? Each time the reservation staff warmly greeted me but always asked “Have you stayed with us before”. Upon arriving in my room there would always be a hand written letter from the GM welcoming me to the hotel. That seems like a nice touch, but the gesture was quickly lost when the letter opened with “Whether this is your first stay or you’re a returning guest…”. Did I mention that I’m also a loyalty member of this hotel? It is difficult to offer a guest personalized service if you don’t even know their name! If the future of hotel staff is robotic I hope we are not all greeted upon arrival with “Welcome Valued Guest”

So how does a hotel arm themselves with as much information about their arriving guests? Often times the answer is to simply just ask them. A guest wants to engage with a hotel before, during, and after their stay. They have many micro transactions with the property but are they being captured in a meaningful way?

Loyalty programs don’t have to be big monolithic points based programs. Today’s traveler wants and expects to be rewarded right away. Create simple signups where the guest enters their name and address, mobile number, email address, birthday, or anniversary. In exchange offer them a welcome drink upon arrival, free or faster WIFI, or early check-in. Now you know quite a bit about that guest before they even step foot on your property. Use that information in creative ways.

During the booking process your guests actually give you more information than you might think. Information such as, which pages of the website did they view, which rooms did they explore in the booking engine, what profile information did they provide when finalizing the reservation. All of that information can be used later on in the guest journey to customize their stay. If a guest has spent a lot of time browsing the golf section of your website why not offer them a golf package when they make it to your booking engine. If you can identify one of your best guests coming back for the 8th time this year why not the offer them the same Junior Suite they’ve booked every other time instead of the Standard Room being their first option. Instead of just offering the next level up for an upgrade offer why not offer them the Superior Suite with a breakfast package that they showed interest in and is available. A week before their beach vacation send them a pre-arrival survey asking if they can make their getaway even more special. It’s at that time you can find out birthdays, anniversaries, upsell that romantic package, or book that couples’ massage.

Hotels that really impressed me in the last year were those that proactively reached out to me before my arrival. I was impressed by those that sent a text message the day of my arrival asking me when I planned on arriving and if I had any special requests before I got there. They enabled me to have a back and forth dialog with somebody on property without having to pick-up the phone. In the future I’ll be able to use the mobile messaging channel of my choice. While texting is convenient when traveling domestically, roaming charges can really add up when traveling abroad. In Asia it’s often cheaper to subscribe to a small data plan or jump on the hotel WIFI to chat with friends and family back home with channels like Facebook Messenger or Skype. Being able to do the same to communicate with the hotel will become commonplace. This type of guest engagement made it easy to ask the hotel simple questions pre-stay and while on property. While packing I could quickly ask the hotel how late the gym or pool was open to see if I would be able to squeeze a workout in after work.

When traveling with a family of four a quick message to ask for extra towels saved me the effort of having to call down to the front desk when I got there. I requested that my room be cleaned while I was at breakfast so I could go back to the room and work afterwards. In a world where video conferencing is getting better and better and airport lines are getting longer and longer it is perks like this that will make business travel easier and differentiate you from your competitors. Often I would use this service to request a late checkout so I could change out of my suit before traveling to the airport or requesting an early check-in after a long overnight flight so I could catch a few hours of sleep before my big meeting.

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Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.