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.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.