Why Rich Guest Data will Improve Hospitality

By Michelle Wohl VP of Marketing & Client Services, Revinate | October 12, 2014

A few weeks ago I checked into a hotel that I have stayed at twice before. The woman checking me in was very pleasant and warmly welcomed me to the front desk. After taking my credit card and confirming the details of my reservation she asked, "Have you stayed with us before?" I immediately bristled. Not only have I stayed at the hotel before but I wrote a review of the property on TripAdvisor, which was responded to by the General Manager. And, I tweeted a day before my arrival that I was looking forward to another visit to the city and included the hotel's name. When I replied to the front-desk manager that I had stayed there a couple of times, she welcomed me back and thanked me for my loyalty.

While I appreciated the welcome it surprised me that she didn't apologize for not having my guest history on hand. Perhaps it's because I'm a marketer and I know how sophisticated database software has become, but as a hotel guest, I expect hotels to be capturing my information from the moment I click to make a reservation, through my time on-property and even when I return home. I see from personal experiences in other industries, such as retail, how powerful it can be when my data (whether it be traffic, spend or social) is used to anticipate my needs, send me relevant offers and personalize the shopping experience.

But having worked in the hospitality industry for many years now, I understand the complexity of capturing and using guest data for more relevant engagement. Given all the disparate platforms being used at hotels, (Booking, POS, PMS, Loyalty, Ticketing) even capturing the critical data is extremely difficult. For example, if I book my room through an OTA, the hotel doesn't get access to my email, unless I provide it in person at check-in. And if I book with the hotel but provide my work address instead of my home address, I might look like a new guest and a new profile might be started.

And, even if the guest data is collected, making it available to all staff members for effective guest engagement is a complicated feat that, until recently, has largely been a pipe dream because guest data has largely lived in silos at hotels. For example, a hotel general manager recently told me that information from his loyalty system can't be accessed by the quality team. Requests made of the concierge are often never captured in digital form. Hotel feedback on TripAdvisor has never been tied back to a guest when he returns to the property for his next stay. While it's one of a hotel's greatest assets, guest data is often treated like an after thought.

I have stayed in many hotels where my only interaction with staff was at check-in and the rest of the time I traveled like a ghost through the lobby and up to my room, where I spent the night before leaving in the morning, indifferent about coming back. On the other hand, I have stayed at some high-touch hotels and left feeling like I had a dozen new friends and couldn't wait to rebook. At the latter hotels, I received service that seemed custom-designed for my stay. My favorite newspaper was left outside my door. I was addressed my name. I received a call when I arrived in my room asking if I would like to make a spa reservation. Knowing what I know about hotel operations, providing this level of customized service is a conscious choice that can only be made with the right technology systems and staff members in place.

I don't think I am alone in expecting and appreciating personalized service from the hotels where I choose to stay. What is a treat to one person might be an inconvenience to another. An email alerting me to an open 3pm slot at the spa when I am in a conference on-site might be an inconvenience, but if I was traveling with a friend for leisure, I would love the interruption and the opportunity to get a sought-after reservation. An invitation to a happy hour might be laugh-worthy to a mom traveling with her young son but a young business traveler with no plans for the evening might relish the opportunity to network with other hotel guests at a happy hour. Hoteliers need to think about the relevance of their communications and service in order to satisfy their guests.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.