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Hotel Guest Experience

Is There Such Thing as a Data-Delighted Hotel Guest? Depends on Who You Ask

For many years, leveraging guest data to enhance the overall hotel stay experience has been a popular topic in both the mainstream media and hotel trades.

Though one aspect of topic has been received as much attention, which is that there are two sides of the story when it comes to guests embracing the use of their data.

On one hand, data-drive hotels have the actionable knowledge they need to provide customized guest experiences. The ideal behind this is that everyone wins. The guest is delighted with their stay, and the hotel gets a boost in loyalty and online reviews. 

On the other hand … is there really such a thing as a data-delighted guest? We live in a world where data is reaching near ubiquity where one random Google search for new shoes results in a myriad of targeted shoe ads on social media and on other websites.  Is this a good thing? Or is this a bad thing?

For example, Best Western Hotels & Resorts recently tested the use of Amazon Alexa in their guest rooms. The idea being that guests can order up new towels, food for delivery, or room service through the device.

Guess what happened. The vast majority of guests completely unplugged the Alexa devices. Best Western leadership correctly assumed that guests did not want the device listening in on them. People may be fine using Alexa like this in their homes, but clearly they are not comfortable with it in a hotel environment.

But with the new Equinox Hotels chain, which is creating a data-driven experience for their fitness-focused guests, it’s a different story. With the brand also including the popular Equinox Fitness Clubs and Spas, they are targeting this guest niche by leveraging guests’ wants, needs, preferences and behaviors as they relate to exercise and fitness and much more, on a granular level.

By targeting guests that view fitness as a lifestyle, Equinox Hotels may not have any data-concern issues, and have the ability to please a growing niche of consumers with health-related offers and programs.

There are many contrasting themes when it comes to hotels and guest data. While we are slowly getting accustomed to being targeted with customized, data-drive ads and offers, clearly there are still some hurdles in the hospitality space.

Big Hotel Brands Taking Guest Loyalty to the Next Level

With an expanded focus on the guest experience, Marriott International recently announced that it is offering one set of unified benefits across Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).

According to Marriott’s press release, members will now have access to book stays and earn or redeem points among 29 participating global brands comprising 6,500 hotels in 127 countries and territories.

However, the big part of this news is the expansion of the Moments experiential platform, which offers more than 110,000 experiences in 1,000 destinations. As highlighted in this recent SKift article, this move will allow Marriott to grow from a hotel brand to a lifestyle brand — something that Airbnb has already done with its own Experiences platform.

The guest experience moments will include such activities as classes with master chefs, backstage tours at concerts, or even — potentially — the chance to throw out the first pitch at a World Series game, according to this recent Business Insider article.

By taking this approach, Marriott is effectively aiming to provide a level of loyalty and guest experiences that are unparalleled. The goal is to provide guests with the right experience to the right guest at the right time. The challenge will be effectively using the guests’ personalized data to achieve this – and avoid sending very bespoke offerings to Courtyard by Marriott travelers.

As the Skift article points out, this new offering can re-define the role of the concierge. While many believe that it will be “the end of the concierge,” Marriott believes that Moments will augment these services by giving concierges “immense and extraordinary local knowledge”.

The goal of this shift at Marriott is to redefine the relationship with the traveler. With the unified loyalty offering, combined with rich guest experiences, it seems that the global travel brand is shaking up the industry – and the guest will ultimately benefit in the end.

 

Where is Experience Going in Hospitality?

If you do a simple Google News search about the hotel guest experience, you will come across a wide-range of articles about how this is the new frontier in hospitality. From new innovations to catering to the more affluent traveler, the concept of making a hotel stay a unique experience has fully taken hold.

Of course, offering a “truly unique guest experience,” is much easier to read about than to actually create for travelers. But in due time, we may see that providing these experiences will become a commodity – with many hotel brands providing similar offerings, which will in turn, make them not unique.

However, independent hotels seem to be on the forefront of this trend, and for now, this is translating into business growth. According to new research, performance of independent hotels in the United States has been on a steady growth trajectory over the past year. In addition, demand also outpaces supply, creating a favorable operating environment.

Independent hotels cater to the more forward-thinking traveler, who want to make new personal connections in the lobbies, leverage mobile innovations, and have experiences that will reinforce and shape their individual identities.

This is one arena where Airbnb cannot compete. While many travelers are embracing the idea of staying in another person’s apartment or home – and “live like a local” – one cannot truly have a unique guest experience in an Airbnb. There is no hotel staff to provide insights into local attractions, and there are no built-in guest innovations to help serve as digital concierges, or opportunities for personal networking in lobbies.

As with any industry, there are trends that take hold with many jumping on board as the train takes off. The idea of providing a unique guest experience is upon us and worth considering. Although we’ll keep an eye on how long it will last, and which hotel brands emerge as the winners in this frontier.

 

Pulling Back the Curtain on the “Unique” Hotel Experience

Delivering a “unique and personalized guest experience” has become a ubiquitous public relations message for virtually every hotel brand. However, the big question is: can hoteliers actually deliver on this promise?

The Managing Editor of HotelNewsNow.com put the concept to the test by engaging with a hotel brand with a special request via Twitter for her upcoming stay there. In addition, she also asked a different hotel to “treat her husband well” during his upcoming stay prior to their wedding.

What were the outcomes of both of these efforts? Unfortunately, neither of her requests were fulfilled. Why? The tools and innovations for delivering a unique guest experience are simply not yet in place.

For example, today’s cloud-based property management systems (PMS) would have to somehow deliver a guest request from a remote call-center directly to the front desk in time to meet the request. While this is certainly possible, technologically speaking, it often does not happen this way.

Hoteliers also face a work culture challenge. For example, many front-line employees are not incentivized to go the extra mile to please guests. Much of this comes from hotel brands considering themselves to be “concrete boxes in the sky,” as opposed to providers of specialized travel experiences.

Much like the Managing Editor of HotelNewsNow.com, other travelers will eventually figure out that hotels cannot deliver on this brand promise. When this happens, the best approach is admit to the inability to execute, and even poke fun of yourself and the industry at large – much like Southwest Airlines is known for doing.

Of course, the best solution would be to implement a cultural and technological transformation that will allow hoteliers to provide a truly personalized and unique experience. This can include developing comprehensive guest profiles, directly engaging with them at the start of their day, surprising them with unsolicited offers, and following up with them post-stay.

When this happens, hotel brands will win the hearts and minds, and long-term loyalty, from a very wide variety of guests.