The Future of Hospitality: Leverage Technology in the Guest Journey
19 October 2023
In an era where technology seamlessly integrates into every facet of our daily lives, the hospitality industry stands at a juncture. Guests today anticipate more than just a comfortable bed and commendable service. They seek immersive experiences, personalized touches, and the convenience that technology can provide. But how can hoteliers strike the perfect balance between the warmth of traditional hospitality and the innovations of the digital age? This comprehensive guide digs deep into a seven-step guest journey, exploring how current and emerging technologies can redefine each phase. Whether you're a seasoned hotelier or just venturing into the realm of hospitality, this article will offer insights into harnessing technology to elevate the guest experience, fostering loyalty and driving return visits.
The 7-step guest journey, developed by LoungeUp, provides a framework for understanding the entire lifecycle of a guest's experience, from initial inspiration to returning for another stay. Let's categorize existing and new technologies under these steps.
At this stage, potential guests are gathering inspiration for their travels. Technologies that create a memorable first impression or provide immersive experiences fit here.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
VR and AR technologies accurately represent hotel rooms and amenities, giving potential guests a comprehensive 360-degree view and effectively visualizing their stay. These immersive experiences can evoke powerful emotional reactions, creating memorable impressions of the hotel. However, there's a caveat: these technologies might inadvertently set expectations very high, and any disparity between the virtual representation and the experience can lead to disappointment. On the brighter side, VR/AR offers a unique competitive edge, allowing hotels to stand out. There's potential for expansion, too, with the possibility of offering virtual events or experiences, such as cooking classes or spa treatments. To maintain their effectiveness, it's vital to periodically update these virtual representations to ensure alignment with the hotel's current state. The technology is available today and will develop and be used more in the future.
A vast number of travelers turn to social media for travel inspiration. Hotels can reach a broad audience with consistent, high-quality content, especially if it gains viral traction. The visual appeal of content, especially videos and stories, can stir feelings of longing and desire, enticing potential guests to experience the destination or hotel. However, the platform's double-edged sword means negative comments or reviews can spread quickly, potentially harming the hotel's reputation. Despite these challenges, an effective social media strategy can boost visibility and bookings significantly. Collaborative efforts with influencers or content creators can infuse fresh content perspectives, enhancing the hotel's overall image. A dedicated strategy, content calendar, and regular engagement with followers are essential to maximize its effectiveness. All hotels use social media to promote their facilities and experiences.
Functioning around the clock, chatbots offer the convenience of providing instant responses to potential guest queries, streamlining the communication process. They can instill a sense of value and attention in users when well implemented. However, pitfalls await poorly designed chatbots, which can lead to misinformation or unaddressed queries, resulting in guest dissatisfaction. Despite these challenges, when optimized, chatbots can significantly increase bookings by offering immediate answers and simplifying the reservation process. Advanced integration with AI can further enhance chatbots, enabling them to deliver personalized recommendations based on user behavior. To ensure they remain at the pinnacle of efficiency, it's crucial to continually refine and update chatbots based on user interactions. The technology is available today and has recently improved by using AI.
In this critical phase, potential guests are investigating potential destinations and accommodations, sifting through options, prices, and experiences to find a perfect match for their travel aspirations.
Chatbots serve as invaluable allies as potential guests scour the internet for information, providing immediate responses to queries. Their 24/7 availability ensures no question goes unanswered, regardless of time zones or peak hours. However, the effectiveness of a chatbot hinges on its design and programming. A poorly designed chatbot can mislead or frustrate users, detracting from the research experience. Conversely, a well-implemented chatbot can significantly enrich the research phase, guiding users with accurate information and personalized recommendations. The future might see chatbots integrated with advanced AI algorithms, offering predictions or suggestions based on broader travel trends. Continuous refinement, based on user interactions, will be crucial to ensure chatbots remain relevant and helpful. The technology is available today and has recently been improved by letting AI customize itineraries.
Feedback Platforms and Comparison Sites
Platforms like TripAdvisor, comparison sites like Kayak, and booking sites like Booking.com play pivotal roles in the research phase. They aggregate vast amounts of data, reviews, and feedback, providing travelers with comprehensive insights into potential destinations or accommodations. While these platforms offer a wealth of information, they also pose challenges. Negative feedback, whether justified or not, can significantly sway potential guests. On the positive side, these platforms offer an unparalleled opportunity for hotels to showcase their strengths, highlight positive reviews, and engage with positive and negative feedback. As these platforms evolve, there's potential for even deeper integrations, offering real-time guest feedback or virtual tours directly within the platform. For hotels, active engagement and regular monitoring of these platforms are crucial, ensuring they present the best possible image to potential guests. This technology is available and has recently been improved by sentiment analysis of guest reviews.
By understanding and optimizing the tools and technologies in the "Research" phase, hotels can significantly influence potential guests' perceptions and decisions, paving the way for successful bookings and memorable stays.
In this decisive phase, guests have moved from mere interest to concrete action, ready to secure their bookings. The technologies and services provided during this phase can significantly influence the final decision, ensuring a smooth transition from contemplation to confirmation.
This innovative approach empowers guests to tailor their stay to specific preferences: room amenities, views, or other unique features. Such customization can be both a boon and a challenge. On one hand, it gives guests a sense of control and personalization, enhancing their anticipation of the stay. On the other hand, it demands the hotel's infrastructure and management to accurately represent and fulfill these customized preferences. The upside is undeniable: hotels that can effectively cater to such tailored requests stand to gain a competitive edge, offering a truly personalized experience. As the concept evolves, there's potential for even deeper customization, integrating with IoT for real-time room customization or AI-driven suggestions based on past stays. To maintain its effectiveness, real-time inventory management and regular updates are essential. This technology is early and will develop further in the next years.
The ability to pre-order items or services adds another layer of personalization to the guest experience. Whether it's a bottle of champagne, spa services, or a curated city tour, advance ordering can significantly elevate the guest's anticipation and satisfaction. However, this service's success hinges on flawless execution. Any missteps or failures to deliver as promised can lead to disappointment, undermining the very purpose of the offering. On the brighter side, when executed well, advance ordering can increase revenue and guest loyalty, as guests appreciate the added convenience and personal touch. The future might see the integration of AI-driven recommendations, offering guests suggestions based on their profile or past preferences. Efficient logistics, clear communication channels, and meticulous attention to detail will be crucial to this service's success. The technology is available but not implemented fully in many hotels. Here is an opportunity to increase revenue.
Single Guest Itinerary
Streamlining the booking process with a consolidated view of all services and amenities offers guests clarity and convenience. Instead of juggling multiple bookings or confirmations, guests have a single, comprehensive overview, simplifying their planning and enhancing their peace of mind. While the concept is undoubtedly beneficial, it demands a seamless integration of various hotel services and offerings, posing potential technical challenges. The benefits, however, are manifold: a simplified booking process, increased guest satisfaction, and potentially higher uptake of ancillary services. As technology advances, this consolidated view might integrate real-time updates, feedback mechanisms, or even virtual tours, providing guests with a dynamic and interactive booking experience. The technology is available but far from implemented in hotels.
In the "Shop" phase, the seamless integration of technology and service is paramount. By understanding and optimizing these offerings, hotels can ensure a frictionless booking experience, laying the foundation for a memorable stay.
As the travel date approaches, anticipation builds. Guests are finalizing their plans, packing, and looking forward to their stay. The technology and services offered during this phase can greatly enhance guests' peace of mind, ensuring they are well-equipped and informed for their upcoming journey.
The adoption of mobile technology has revolutionized the travel industry. Offering digital key services, for instance, eliminates the need for physical check-ins, providing guests with a seamless entry experience. Moreover, storing room keys in digital wallets ensures guests have one less item to worry about, enhancing their convenience. While the benefits are manifold, there are potential concerns. Security is paramount: breaches or glitches can inconvenience guests and jeopardize their safety. The silver lining is the enhanced guest experience: swift check-ins, easy room access, and the potential for further integrations, such as room customization or service requests via mobile. Integrating biometrics or AI-driven personalization as technology evolves could enhance the guest experience. The technology is available, but hotels are reluctant to implement it.
Facial recognition takes contactless services to the next level. By leveraging this technology, hotels can offer swift and secure check-ins, minimizing wait times and enhancing the guest experience. While the technology's promise is undeniable, it raises concerns about privacy and data security. Proper storage, handling, and disposal of facial data are crucial to maintaining guest trust. On the positive side, facial recognition can significantly streamline hotel operations and elevate the guest experience when implemented with due care. The future might see more integrations, perhaps using facial recognition for personalized service recommendations or security enhancements within the hotel premises. This technology is not available in hospitality and will probably not become widespread. China has just implemented new laws that prohibit the use of facial recognition in hotels.
Traveler's and Hotel's Tools
Communication is key during the preparation phase. Various communication channels allow guests to clarify doubts, make special requests, or even book additional services. The hotel's role is to facilitate this communication, ensuring guests have all the necessary information. Guest portals and apps play a pivotal role here, offering a consolidated platform for all guest interactions. On the other hand, upsell tools can enhance the hotel's revenue by offering guests additional services or experiences tailored to their preferences. The challenges lie in ensuring seamless communication and accurate information delivery. The rewards, however, are significant: well-informed guests are more likely to have a satisfactory stay and might even avail more of the hotel's offerings, enhancing revenue. The technology is available, but hotels are late in making use of this.
In the "Prepare" phase, the emphasis is on clear communication, convenience, and personalization. By leveraging technology effectively, hotels can ensure guests are well-prepared and eager for their upcoming stay.
5 In-house Experience
The stay itself is the crux of the guest journey. Every touchpoint during this phase directly influences the guest's overall impression. With the right mix of technology and human touch, hotels can ensure an unforgettable experience.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI's ability to automate tasks and optimize operations can significantly enhance the guest experience. From intelligent room customization based on guest preferences to predictive service offerings, AI ensures guests have everything they need, often before they even realize they need it. However, AI's implementation must remain subtle, enhancing rather than overshadowing the human touch that defines hospitality. The potential benefits are vast: more efficient operations, tailored guest experiences, and enhanced revenue through predictive upselling. Technology is early and will be developed in the next few years.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT technology can transform a guestroom into a smart room. From automated lighting and temperature controls to intelligent minibars that restock themselves, IoT ensures guests have a seamless and modern experience. Energy efficiency is another advantage, with smart systems ensuring resources are only used when needed. While the promise is significant, potential technical glitches or system failures could disrupt the guest experience. However, when implemented correctly, IoT promises an unparalleled blend of luxury and sustainability. The technology is available but requires investments, so it will take time for hotels to implement.
These devices offer guests an intuitive way to control their environment and access hotel services. Whether adjusting room settings, requesting information, or booking services, voice-activated assistants can make guests feel at home. The challenges lie in ensuring accurate voice recognition and maintaining guest privacy. The upside is a hands-free, modern experience that many guests now come to expect from top-tier accommodations. There was hype around having voice-activated hotel rooms, but it seems the hype is already dead.
In-room tablets offer guests a digital hub for their stay. From ordering room service and housekeeping to exploring local attractions, these devices consolidate various services into one intuitive interface. While they offer convenience, there's also a need for regular updates and maintenance to ensure accuracy and responsiveness. When optimized, these tablets can significantly elevate the in-room experience, offering guests a world of services at their fingertips. A few hotels implemented guest room tablets but did not become an industry standard.
For guests who value flexibility and autonomy, self-service F&B options are a boon. From grab-and-go breakfasts to self-serve bars, these services ensure guests can dine on their own terms. The challenge lies in maintaining quality and variety. However, the benefits, both in terms of guest satisfaction and operational efficiency, are undeniable. The technology is available in TV sets, tablets, and smartphones.
By leveraging guests' locations, hotels can offer hyper-personalized services, from tailored room settings upon arrival to location-based offers and recommendations. While the potential to enhance the guest experience is significant, balancing personalization with privacy is crucial, ensuring guests don't feel intruded upon. The technology is available.
From delivering room service to guiding guests around the property, robots can play various roles in enhancing the guest experience. Their efficiency and novelty can impress guests, but it is essential to ensure they complement rather than replace the human touch. Robots can add a modern flair to the guest experience when used judiciously, ensuring services are delivered swiftly and efficiently. Robot technology will be developed over time and provide hotels with cheap labor when finding people for all vacant positions is impossible.
In the "In-house Experience" phase, the emphasis is on creating a seamless blend of technology and tradition. By leveraging the latest innovations while maintaining the warmth and human touch that define hospitality, hotels can ensure guests have a stay to remember.
6 Share & Review
Once the stay concludes, guests often take to various platforms to share their experiences and reviews. This phase is critical as it not only influences future potential guests but also provides valuable feedback for hotels to refine their services.
Feedback Platforms and Social Media
In today's digital age, sharing experiences on platforms like TripAdvisor or social media sites can significantly influence other travelers' decisions. A positive review can boost bookings, while a negative one can deter potential guests. For hotels, actively engaging with these reviews, acknowledging positive feedback, and addressing concerns is crucial. It shows potential guests that the hotel values feedback and is committed to continuous improvement. The technology is available.
Satisfaction Questionnaires and Reputation Managers
Proactively seeking feedback through satisfaction questionnaires allows hotels to gauge the guest experience directly. Tools like reputation managers further assist hotels in keeping a pulse on their online reputation, ensuring they can address any negative feedback promptly. The challenge lies in ensuring feedback is acted upon and not just collected. The potential benefits, however, are manifold: direct insights into areas of improvement, enhanced guest satisfaction, and a positive online reputation. The technology is available.
Employee Engagement and Gamification
The front-line staff plays a pivotal role in shaping the guest experience. By engaging employees through gamification, hotels can boost morale, enhance service quality, and lead to more positive guest reviews. While the concept is innovative, ensuring it aligns with the hotel's broader culture and values is essential. When implemented effectively, gamification can lead to a motivated workforce, directly translating to an enhanced guest experience. The technology is partly available, but hoteliers are conservative and will be hard to convince that this is the way forward.
Post-stay, chatbots can be invaluable in engaging guests for feedback. By providing an easy and intuitive platform, chatbots can encourage more guests to share their experiences, be it positive feedback or areas of improvement. While the technology offers convenience, ensuring it feels personal and not robotic is essential. The upside is a streamlined feedback collection process, ensuring hotels have a steady stream of insights to refine their services. The technology is available and will improve with the help of AI.
In the "Share & Review" phase, the emphasis is on active engagement with guests and internally within the hotel team. Hotels can ensure a positive online reputation and foster lasting relationships with their guests by valuing feedback, acting upon it, and continuously striving for excellence.
7 Remember & Return
This phase is about fostering loyalty and ensuring guests think of the hotel when planning their next trip. The right mix of personalized engagement and technology can turn a one-time guest into a lifetime patron.
Social Media and Personalized Hotel Websites
Engaging with guests post-stay through social media can keep the hotel fresh in their minds. By sharing updates, events, or special offers, hotels can entice guests to return. Personalized hotel websites that remember guest preferences or offer special deals for returning guests can further solidify this bond. While the benefits of ongoing engagement are clear, it's essential to strike the right balance, ensuring communications are not perceived as intrusive or spammy. The technology is available.
CRM and Marketing Email Tools
A robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system allows hotels to store detailed guest profiles, ensuring they can offer tailored experiences on return visits. By segmenting guests based on their preferences, behaviors, or past stays, hotels can send targeted marketing emails, offering deals or packages that are most relevant. The challenge lies in ensuring data privacy and security. However, the potential benefits regarding repeat business and enhanced guest loyalty are significant. The technology is available
Hotels can ensure a seamless experience across multiple stays or hotel chain properties by storing guest preferences in the cloud. From room preferences to dietary requirements, having this data at their fingertips allows hotels to offer a truly personalized experience. While the convenience is undeniable, it's crucial to ensure data security, especially given the sensitive nature of some of the stored information. Hotels are finally starting to move their systems to the cloud, but it will take another ten years before all the proprietary hotel PMS solutions are dead.
Ensuring various hotel systems can communicate and integrate seamlessly is pivotal for repeat guests. From the booking system to in-room amenities, open integrations ensure that guests have a consistent experience, regardless of how or when they booked. The technical challenges can be significant, but operational efficiency and guest satisfaction benefits make it a worthy investment. All new systems have open APIs for easier integrations. The transition will take ten years or longer.
Instant Data Access
Being able to instantly retrieve guest preferences or past stay details ensures hotels can offer a tailored experience when returning guests book their stay. Whether greeting them with their favorite drink or ensuring their room is set to their preferred temperature, these small touches can make a big difference. The challenge lies in ensuring real-time access without compromising data integrity or security. However, the upside, in terms of guest satisfaction and loyalty, is vast. The technology is available and will help hoteliers drive profitability.
In the "Remember & Return" phase, the emphasis is on personalized engagement and seamless experiences. By leveraging technology to remember guest preferences and acting upon this knowledge, hotels can ensure guests return and become advocates, recommending the property to friends and family.
Invest now or in the future?
Let's summarize and review the technologies mentioned in the guest journey and categorize them based on their availability and potential future developments.
Currently Available Technologies:
- Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR): Currently used for virtual tours of hotels or destinations to enhance guest booking experiences.
- Social Media: Hotels actively post on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook to inspire potential guests.
- Chatbots: AI-driven chatbots are already integrated into many hotel websites and mobile apps to provide instant assistance.
- Attribute-Based Shopping: Allows guests to customize their stay by selecting specific amenities or room features.
- Advance Ordering: Guests can pre-order items to enhance their stay.
- Single Guest Itinerary: Many sophisticated PMSs currently offer this feature.
- Mobile Technology: Digital key services and other mobile integrations are increasingly common in modern hotels.
- Facial Recognition: Some high-end hotels and chains are beginning to implement facial recognition for streamlined check-ins. Please note that using facial recognition in hotels will be forbidden by law in China.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI tools are being implemented in various forms, from chatbots to revenue management.
- Internet of Things (IoT): Smart room features driven by IoT are becoming more commonplace, especially in luxury or newly renovated properties.
- Voice-Activated Assistants: Devices like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home are being integrated into rooms in some hotels.
- Guestroom Tablets: Many hotels offer tablets for in-room controls, service requests, and information browsing.
- Self-Service F&B: Kiosks and other self-service options are available in many hotels, especially in business or airport locales.
- Location-Based Services: Some hotels use this for personalized offers or services, especially in resorts.
- Robots: In select hotels, especially in tech-forward regions like parts of Asia, robots are used for tasks ranging from delivery to information desks.
- Cloud Services: Widely adopted in the industry for various operations.
- Open Integrations: Many PMSs and other hotel tech platforms emphasize open API structures for seamless integrations.
- Instant Data Access: Centralized guest preferences and history data systems are prevalent in chain hotels.
- Employee Engagement and Gamification: Some platforms and tools focus on enhancing employee engagement through gamification.
Emerging & Future Technologies:
- More Advanced AI: While AI is currently in use, its future applications, especially in predictive analytics for guest preferences, are vast and still unfolding.
- Advanced IoT Integrations: As the IoT ecosystem grows, we can expect even more integrated room and hotel experiences, such as predictive room conditions based on guest preferences learned over time.
- More Ubiquitous Use of Robots: As the technology becomes more affordable and sophisticated, more hotels might adopt robots for a wider range of tasks.
- More Seamless Biometric Systems: Beyond facial recognition, other biometric systems like fingerprint or even heartbeat recognition might become part of the guest experience.
It's worth noting that the line between current and future technologies can be somewhat blurry, as the adoption rate can vary widely based on the hotel's location, target audience, budget, and brand positioning. However, this categorization provides a general idea of where the industry stands.
Which investment has the highest return on investment
As a hotel CEO, the goal is to invest in technologies that enhance the guest experience and lead to increased revenue, reduced costs, and improved operational efficiency. Given the information from the entire guest journey, here's a strategic guide on where to invest:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Chatbots
- ROI Potential: Automating repetitive tasks can lead to significant cost savings in the long run. You can drive additional revenue through upsells by offering personalized recommendations and instant assistance.
- Strategic Move: Invest in AI-driven CRM systems and chatbots for your website and mobile app. This can enhance guest experiences, drive direct bookings, and reduce the dependency on OTAs, which take a commission.
Internet of Things (IoT) & Smart Room Features
- ROI Potential: Smart energy management can lead to substantial savings. Personalized room experiences can increase guest satisfaction, leading to positive reviews and repeat bookings.
- Strategic Move: Gradually upgrade rooms with smart features. Start with high-demand amenities like smart thermostats and expand based on guest feedback.
- ROI Potential: Streamlining the check-in process can reduce front desk staff workload, allowing them to focus on enhancing guest experiences in other ways.
- Strategic Move: Implement these technologies in high-traffic properties first to test and refine them before a broader rollout.
Cloud Services & Open Integrations
- ROI Potential: Centralizing data ensures consistent guest experiences across properties. It can also lead to operational efficiencies and cost savings.
- Strategic Move: Prioritize a robust cloud infrastructure and ensure your technology stack is integrated. This is foundational and will support other tech investments.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
- ROI Potential: While the direct ROI might not be immediately evident, offering virtual tours can drive bookings, especially for luxury suites or unique properties.
- Strategic Move: Consider this for properties with unique amenities or in high-demand tourist destinations.
Reputation Management & Feedback Systems
- ROI Potential: Addressing negative feedback promptly can save potential lost bookings. Encouraging positive reviews can significantly boost online bookings.
- Strategic Move: Implement a proactive reputation management system. The cost is often minimal compared to the potential revenue from increased positive online visibility.
Employee Engagement & Gamification
- ROI Potential: Motivated employees offer better guest experiences, leading to positive reviews and repeat bookings.
- Strategic Move: This is a longer-term play. Invest in training and employee engagement platforms. Happy employees lead to happy guests.
Location-Based Services & Personalization
- ROI Potential: Offering personalized deals or services based on a guest's location can drive additional revenue.
- Strategic Move: Integrate this with your mobile app or loyalty program. Offer exclusive deals to guests when they're nearby.
- ROI Potential: Robots can improve operational efficiencies in certain repetitive tasks or high-traffic areas.
- Strategic Move: This can be a significant investment, so pilot one property before a broader rollout.
It's essential to remember that technology should enhance the human touch, not replace it. The hospitality industry thrives on personal connections. Use technology to eliminate pain points and automate repetitive tasks, but always prioritize genuine guest interactions.
Lastly, measure everything. Regularly evaluate the ROI of your tech investments to refine your strategy and ensure you're getting the best return. Consider monetary returns and improvements in guest satisfaction, operational efficiencies, and brand reputation.