Technology in the Hospitality Industry - Have We Gone Too Far?

By Court Williams Chief Executive Officer, HVS Executive Research | January 06, 2019

Since the early days of hospitality, the industry has operated on the principle of customer service before everything else. The warm welcome afforded by the Maitre 'D on arrival at a restaurant, the personal service provided by a friendly concierge, and a rapid check-in from the Reservation Desk have all helped make guests' experiences unique and fulfilling.

With the advent of technology, however, many activities previously performed by live humans have been replaced by automated methods, mainly in the attempt to streamline functionality and improve service. But is it really an improvement, or has the industry gone too far? Do these changes enhance the guest's experience, or have we forfeited the true meaning of the word "hospitality" in the process?

How Times They Have a-Changed 

The changes wrought by technology are far-reaching, and affect every aspect of our 21st century lifestyles. Hospitality is one industry where this is dramatically true, in so many more ways that the man in the street realizes. From start to finish, the experience is now facilitated by technological factors, many of which go relatively unnoticed. Here are some of the ways times have changed through the incursion of technology.

With the rising popularity of online reviews, hospitality guests now have the ability to research any venue to see what others have posted. Both review websites and social media platforms have become active gateways to global opinion, and travelers use these extensively to help them decide where to book. Research from Search Engine Land shows the reviews for companies in the hospitality industry are considered 48% more important and valuable than in other industries, which indicates the target audience takes online reviews exceptionally seriously.

Once a traveler has made their choice of destination, they can now search for the best hotel deals at the click of the mouse. Technology is shaping how lodgings and restaurants are found and booked, and aggregator sites such as Hotwire, Expedia, Bookings.com and Reservations.com are just a few of the digital platforms available for making online reservations. These have taken off extensively, with research showing one half of millennials, 26% of Gen Xers and 12% of Baby Boomers consider themselves "travel hackers," which means they believe they know all the best ways to use technology for good deals. Chatbots on booking websites enable the user to ask questions without even getting up from the sofa.

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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.