A frequent traveler books a hotel room at the last minute. A few clicks on a smart device, an option is found, bonus points are applied, and the reservation confirmed. Upon arrival, the guest checks in via a mobile app, bypassing the long line at the registration desk; the same app unlocks the door. Inside the room, a beverage of choice is chilling, the heat is set to just the right temperature and the television is tuned to a preferred station.
While the hospitality industry aspires to deliver this level of seamless, convenient and personalized service, most players have a long way to go. That said, the stakes surrounding service quality couldn’t be higher. In a brutally competitive environment, one bad experience can translate into a lost customer. A website or online booking platform that’s slow, confusing, or that steers a visitor in circles can easily be abandoned for an alternative. And if that alternative is faster, easier to navigate and more engaging, the invidious comparison will make a lasting impression.
Most hospitality enterprises today are in a “walk before you run” mode; specifically, before thinking about platinum-level, individualized service across the hotel value chain, they need to focus on the operational basics of reliability, consistency and integration. These foundational elements are essential to maintaining service quality levels needed to compete today, as well as enabling the innovative features that will increasingly characterize the hotel experience of the future.
At a minimum, a guest exploring hotel options online demands (and should expect) the following:
Today, most hospitality enterprises struggle to meet even these basic standards. Too often, the guest experience is compromised by disconnected systems and platforms and discrete and isolated technology towers. As a result, accounts and loyalty points are often difficult to access when needed by the customer. In other instances, application changes, upgrades and modifications can cause unanticipated downstream service issues such as account lock-outs. Hotel websites can be unresponsive and confusing to navigate, or fail to access available offers or rates.
To a considerable extent, these problems reflect inefficient infrastructure and application practices that drive high volumes of incidents, forcing management to engage in firefighting and precluding a focus on strategic enablement. In addition, the yoke of legacy systems prevents visibility across the enterprise and contributes to the proliferation of isolated islands of operations. And, slow adoption of cloud and other digital technologies yields limited benefits in terms of flexibility and agility.
To address these issues and deliver a competitive guest experience, hospitality organizations must drive centralization and consolidation of myriad data sources around the Property Management Office (PMO). Back office systems, third-party loyalty programs and user-facing applications must be connected, and data shared between the front desk and hotel operations in real time. Enabling these capabilities, meanwhile, requires a stable and optimized operational environment that provides a foundation of service quality, transparency and data integration. Characteristics include:
The management of guest reservation data illustrates the importance of data integration and connectivity to a hospitality organization’s ability to compete in today’s market.
For hospitality organizations, Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) represent a significant threat – they typically offer a smoother experience, lower prices and easier access to loyalty points. Moreover, by taking ownership of the booking process, OTAs intrude on an important guest interaction, thereby costing hotels an opportunity to reinforce a brand connection. Growing OTA commissions also erode hotel profit margins, and on average represent a hotel’s second-largest rooms expense behind labor costs.
The hospitality industry has responded to the OTA challenge by investing in their direct booking systems and applications to enable a more seamless customer experience and greater responsiveness to customer feedback. In addition, improved data integration has narrowed the rate discrepancy gap with OTAs and has helped to support multi-channel marketing campaigns that leverage social media and search engine optimization to boost visibility.
However, while hotel chains have achieved technological parity with OTAs, they now confront the obstacle of changing the entrenched behavior of guests who’ve grown accustomed to using OTAs. Winning these customers back will require offering a truly personalized experience based on granular insight into an individual’s preferences, loyalty accounts, profile and history.
If a smooth and consistent reservation transaction is the table stakes of hospitality operations, a truly connected and tailored experience is the aspirational goal. Achieving that goal requires taking operational, data integration, analytical and intelligent automation capabilities to the next level.
These capabilities are essential, for example, to enable Internet of Things (IoT) and smart device initiatives that leverage detailed data on facility operations, energy consumption and guest activity to improve hotel security and safety. More specifically, connectivity and interoperability are imperative to building the networks of intelligent assets needed to fulfill the IoT’s potential.
Delivering a uniquely tailored guest experience, meanwhile, requires the ability to glean nuggets of insight from analyses of data on loyalty program points, account history and activity from previous stays. Organizations that get it right can, for example, deliver perfectly timed offers to visit favorite cities, packages for spouses and kids and promotions aimed at birthdays and anniversaries.
Hospitality organizations committed to enhancing the guest experience are stepping up their investments in tools and platforms to collect and analyze guest data. While collecting data is relatively easy, the hard part is capturing the right data (or knowing what data to look for) and then acting on that data in a way that delivers a difference-making experience to the guest. The fallback strategy is to collect as much data as possible to avoid missing a potentially critical insight; this, however, creates a risk of becoming overwhelmed by volumes of seemingly random data points.
Addressing the immediate and long-term imperatives of hospitality operations requires a combination of stability and security on the one hand, along with innovation and flexibility to drive change. Elements of a strategy include: