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The Digital Transformation of the Hotel Stay: An Urgent Wake-Up Call

02 July 2024
The summer travel season is in full swing, and travelers are embracing technology like never before. A recent survey by Mews and OnePoll reveals a fascinating trend: travelers increasingly opt for self-service and digitally-focused hotel experiences. A staggering 80% of those surveyed expressed a willingness to stay in a hotel with a completely automated front desk or self-service kiosk.
The digital shift for hotels is not without its challenges. Many hoteliers have a strong aversion to technology, considering it an unnecessary expense or a threat to the traditional hospitality experience. Hotel real estate owners, who often prioritize short-term profits and tangible assets, may not fully understand the long-term benefits of investing in technology. This gap between guest expectations and industry resistance could seriously affect hotels that do not adapt.
While the allure of immediate returns may tempt some to stick with the status quo, guest preferences are evolving rapidly. As tech-savvy travelers increasingly choose hotels that cater to their digital needs, the writing is on the wall: those who resist change risk losing market share and revenue to more forward-thinking competitors.
This blog post will delve into the key findings of the Mews/OnePoll survey, exploring the specific tech features guests desire, the rise of the "bleisure" traveler, and how hotels can leverage technology to create truly personalized guest experiences. But it will also address the elephant in the room: the industry's resistance to change and the urgent need for hoteliers and owners to embrace the digital future or risk being left behind.

Key Findings:
The Digital Traveler's Wish List

The Mews/OnePoll survey reveals what tech-savvy travelers look for in their hotel stays. In-room smart home devices, like voice-activated assistants and automated lighting and temperature controls, topped the list for 43% of respondents. Keyless room entry and mobile check-in, offering convenience and security, were also highly sought after by 34% and 27% of travelers, respectively.
Interestingly, the survey also highlighted the growing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in travel planning. A third of respondents (36%) admitted to AI for recommendations when booking their trips. Guests' openness to AI presents a unique opportunity for hotels to incorporate AI-powered chatbots or recommendation engines on their websites or apps, helping guests discover personalized experiences and local attractions.
Another surprising finding was the prevalence of remote work during vacations. Nearly a third (29%) of employed Americans confessed to working remotely while on vacation without informing their bosses, and a staggering 52% expressed a willingness to do so. Changing working habits indicates a growing segment of "bleisure" travelers who blend work and leisure, creating a unique challenge and opportunity for hotels to cater to their specific needs.

The "Bleisure" Traveler:
A Growing Trend with a 15-Year History

Blending business and leisure travel, known as "bleisure," may seem like a recent trend, but it's steadily gained momentum for over 15 years. Coined in 2009, bleisure initially referred to business travelers extending their trips for sightseeing and personal activities. Now, it encompasses a broader spectrum, including remote workers incorporating work tasks into vacations and employees extending work trips to enjoy leisure time.
The Mews/OnePoll survey confirms that this trend is far from niche. The significant shift from the traditional separation of work and leisure is not just limited to the U.S. Studies have shown a steady increase in bleisure travel globally since 2011, accounting for 7% of all business trips.
Bleisure travelers come from diverse backgrounds, with demographics spanning age, gender, and industry. Research indicates that younger travelers, particularly millennials, are more likely to embrace bleisure, often seamlessly integrating work and play into their travel experiences.
This shift towards bleisure presents both challenges and opportunities for the hotel industry.

Implications for Hotels and Catering to Bleisure Travelers

Hotels must adapt to the bleisure traveler's unique needs to remain competitive. Bleisure travelers need reliable high-speed Wi-Fi, dedicated workspaces, and flexible amenities catering to work and relaxation.
Beyond the basics, hotels can actively cater to bleisure travelers by:
  • Creating "Bleisure" Packages: These packages bundle work-friendly amenities with leisure activities or discounts, offering a seamless experience for those who want to blend work and play.
  • Promoting Work-Life Balance: Highlighting the hotel's features that promote relaxation and well-being, such as spas, fitness centers, or outdoor spaces, can attract bleisure travelers seeking to unwind after work.
  • Partnering with Local Businesses: Collaborating with local co-working spaces, coffee shops, or attractions can offer bleisure travelers additional value and enhance their overall experience.
  • Marketing to Remote Workers: This growing market can be tapped by targeting remote workers through social media and other channels, emphasizing the hotel's suitability for work and leisure.
By understanding and catering to the bleisure traveler, hotels can attract a new generation of guests and enhance the overall guest experience for everyone. The future of travel is increasingly blended, and the hospitality industry must evolve to meet the demands of this dynamic new landscape.

Technology's Role in Delivering Personalized Experiences – A Call to Action for Hoteliers

Integrating technology in the hospitality industry is not just about convenience or efficiency; it's about creating personalized experiences that resonate with guests on a deeper level. Like airlines have witnessed a significant shift towards mobile check-in, hotels also embrace technology to enhance the guest experience.
However, this transformation requires a shift in mindset within the industry. The historical hostility towards technology among hoteliers, who may view it as an unnecessary expense or a threat to traditional hospitality, must be replaced with a proactive embrace of innovation. Hoteliers must become champions of technology, advocating for its implementation to hotel owners and demonstrating its potential to improve guest satisfaction, streamline operations, and drive revenue.
Just as mobile check-in has streamlined the airport experience, allowing travelers to bypass long lines and easily access their boarding passes, hotel self-service technology empowers guests to manage their stay on their terms. Richard Valtr, founder of Mews, emphasizes this shift, stating, "The most forward-thinking hotels are tapping into this trend by embracing personalized guest experiences and offering a variety of amenities that appeal to differing guest needs."
Technology plays a pivotal role in this personalization. By collecting guest data before arrival, hotels can anticipate individual preferences and tailor their services accordingly, like airlines use passenger data to personalize recommendations and offers. Ryan Krukar, VP of Sales and Marketing at Gravity Haus, explains, "Technology enables our teams to gather robust guest information before they arrive at one of our locations, which empowers our customer service teams to create unique 'excite and delight' opportunities for guests, resulting in powerful moments and lifelong memories."
This pre-arrival data can include everything from room preferences (e.g., pillow type, preferred floor) to dietary restrictions and special requests. With this information, hotels can ensure that guests' experience is tailored to their needs and desires, leading to higher satisfaction and loyalty.
Andrew Gauthier, GM at The Incline Lodge, highlights the importance of using technology to streamline check-in, freeing staff to focus on personalized guest interactions. He notes, "Technology also enables us to provide an easy and efficient contactless and self-check-in process, so our staff can spend more time interacting with guests."

Examples of Tech-Enabled Personalization

Several hotels are already leveraging technology to create personalized guest experiences, drawing inspiration from the airline industry's successful adoption of mobile technology. One of the best examples is CitizenM. This innovative hotel chain utilizes a mobile app that allows guests to control their entire room experience, including check-in, room access, lighting, temperature, and TV channels, mirroring airline apps' convenience and control.
CitizenM is a role model that can guide hoteliers to embrace tech-enabled personalization and advocate for its adoption within their organizations. Hoteliers can not only meet but exceed the expectations of modern travelers, creating lasting memories and fostering loyalty.

Practical Steps: Implementing Tech for a Seamless Guest Journey

Embracing technology doesn't have to be an overwhelming process for hotels. Here are some actionable steps to integrate self-service options and enhance the guest journey:
  1. Mobile Check-In and Digital Keys: Implementing mobile check-in allows guests to bypass the front desk, saving time and offering convenience. Digital keys, accessible through smartphones, eliminate the need for physical key cards and provide a seamless experience.
  2. In-Room Automation: Consider incorporating smart devices in guest rooms, such as voice-activated assistants, automated lighting and temperature controls, and smart TVs. These features enhance the guest experience and can also improve energy efficiency.
  3. User-Friendly App and Website: Invest in a well-designed, intuitive hotel app and website. Ensure that booking, check-in, and room service processes are streamlined and easy to navigate. Consider incorporating features like local recommendations, chatbots for guest support, and personalized offers.
  4. Self-Service Kiosks: If a fully automated front desk isn't feasible, self-service kiosks can provide an alternative for guests who prefer a self-guided check-in experience.
  5. Data Collection and Analysis: Collect guest data through various touchpoints, such as booking forms, surveys, and social media interactions. Analyze this data to identify trends and preferences, allowing you to tailor your services and marketing efforts.
  6. Staff Training: Ensure your staff is trained on using and troubleshooting new technology. They should be comfortable assisting guests with questions or need help with self-service options.
  7. Feedback Loop: Regularly seek feedback from guests about their technology experience. Guest feedback will help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that your tech investments genuinely enhance the guest journey.
By following these steps, hotels can seamlessly integrate technology into their operations, creating a more efficient, personalized, and satisfying experience for their guests.

Benefits of Self-Service Technology

The benefits of embracing self-service technology in the hospitality industry are numerous:
  • Enhanced Guest Experience: Self-service options provide convenience, speed, and control, allowing guests to manage their stay on their terms.
  • Increased Efficiency: Automation streamlines processes, reducing wait times and allowing staff to focus on personalized interactions and other tasks.
  • Cost Savings: Self-service technology can help hotels reduce labor costs and improve operational efficiency.
  • Competitive Advantage: Hotels that offer modern, tech-savvy experiences are more likely to attract and retain guests in today's digital age.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Collecting and analyzing guest data through self-service channels provides valuable insights into guest preferences and behaviors, allowing for better decision-making.
By investing in self-service technology, hotels can meet modern travelers' demands and position themselves for continued success in the ever-evolving hospitality landscape.

The Future of Hotel Tech: What's on the Horizon?

The evolution of technology in the hospitality industry shows no signs of slowing down. As we look towards the future, several emerging trends promise to reshape the guest experience further:
  1. AI Concierges: Artificial intelligence is poised to revolutionize guest services. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide 24/7 support, answer questions, offer recommendations, and even handle bookings and requests, all without human intervention.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) Experiences: VR technology offers new possibilities for hotels to provide immersive experiences. Guests could take virtual tours of the hotel or local attractions before booking, preview their room in 3D, or even experience activities like hiking or sightseeing through VR simulations.
  3. Biometric Authentication: Fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, and other biometric technologies are becoming increasingly common in the travel industry. Hotels can leverage these technologies to streamline check-in processes, enhance security, and personalize guest experiences.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT): The IoT connects everyday objects to the internet, creating a network of smart devices that can communicate with each other. In hotels, this could mean interconnected rooms that adjust lighting, temperature, and entertainment based on guest preferences or even smart mirrors that display personalized information and recommendations.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

The key to staying competitive in the ever-evolving hospitality landscape is to embrace innovation and constantly adapt to new technologies. Hotels that proactively invest in emerging trends and prioritize the guest experience will be well-positioned for success in the future.
By staying ahead of the curve, hotels can not only meet the expectations of tech-savvy travelers but also differentiate themselves from the competition and create memorable experiences that foster loyalty and drive revenue. The future of hotel tech is bright, and those who embrace it will reap the rewards.

Conclusion: Embracing the Digital Future of Hospitality - A Matter of Survival

The Mews/OnePoll survey presents a clear picture: modern travelers desire digital experiences, personalized services, and the freedom to mix work and leisure. Hotels that adjust to these changing expectations will flourish and may surpass their competitors. On the other hand, those who stick to old-fashioned methods and resist technological advancements risk becoming obsolete in an ever more digital world.

Key Takeaways for Hoteliers

  • Become Champions of Change: Hoteliers must overcome their historical hostility towards technology and become advocates for its adoption. The time for resistance is over; the future of hospitality is digital.
  • Convince Owners of the Value Proposition: Hoteliers must educate hotel owners on the long-term benefits of technology investments. Demonstrate how these investments can improve guest satisfaction, streamline operations, reduce costs, and ultimately increase revenue.
  • Prioritize Self-Service: Embrace mobile check-in, digital keys, and self-service kiosks to streamline processes, empower guests, and reduce reliance on manual labor.
  • Invest in In-Room Automation: Smart devices and automated controls can elevate the guest experience and improve energy efficiency. These upgrades can differentiate your hotel and attract tech-savvy travelers.
  • Create a Seamless Digital Journey: Develop a user-friendly app and website that simplifies booking, check-in, and room service while offering personalized recommendations and support. Think of it as your 24/7 digital concierge.
  • Cater to Bleisure Travelers: Recognize the growing segment of travelers who blend work and leisure and provide the amenities and services they need, such as reliable Wi-Fi, dedicated workspaces, and flexible packages. This lucrative market segment is often overlooked.
  • Harness the Power of Data: Collect and analyze guest data to gain valuable insights into preferences and behaviors. This will enable you to personalize experiences and tailor your marketing efforts. Data is the new currency in the hospitality industry.
  • Stay ahead of the Curve: Monitor emerging technologies like AI concierges, virtual reality experiences, and biometric authentication. Explore how these innovations can enhance your hotel's offerings and differentiate you. Don't just follow trends; set them.
The hospitality industry is at a pivotal juncture. The choice is clear: adapt or become irrelevant. By embracing technology, overcoming internal resistance, and educating stakeholders on innovation's value, hotels can survive and thrive in the digital age. The question is, are you ready to lead the charge or be left behind? The future of your hotel may depend on it.