Why 2016 needs to be the year of the digital guest standard
With guests' increasing independence on digital service, hotels should cooperate with tech companies to build digital standard, rather than simply providing hotel apps, to establish digital connections with guests, offering digital services to them.
The hotel market is renowned for its inertia and late adoption to technological innovations.
Yet, it was one of the first industries to move online around 1995/1996 (when Travelocity and Expedia first appeared).
Hospitality relies heavily on the digital world and the standards which go along with it, but it increasingly fails to meet these standards inside its properties. Hotels invest a lot of time, effort, and money into establishing a connection with guests pre-stay, but there is a noticeable break in this communication once a guest enters the hotel.
At this stage one must question why no digital connection to the guests exists – the hotels’ most important relation.
In a time where guests are used to the ease of digital services, they don’t want to give up this comfort during hotel stays. This has led to a competitive market situation where large hotel chains and newcomers, most notably Airbnb, are improving the guest experience at a rapid clip.
Guests are getting used to these enhanced standards and are willing to give up some of their personal information in exchange for digital services – 75% are willing to share personal information if they get something in return.
One could argue that various individual hotel apps have already established a guest connection. However, these apps have brought very little, if any, value to the respective guests. Firstly, because there is too much effort in the use of these applications for both the guests and the hotels, and, secondly, the functionalities are very questionable.
When taking a closer look at many of these hotel apps, it’s evident why user figures are so low and churn rates so high – opening times or hotel pictures can also be viewed on the respective hotel website so why download a dedicated app?
For apps to be useful, they need to be context-aware and provide the user with what they require at any given moment, e.g. ordering room service or special pillows for their beds.
But even enhancing the functionalities of an app doesn’t solve the long-term problem: the effort on both the guest’s and the hotel’s side is too high on all levels. For hotels, it’s very costly to build and maintain these apps. For guests, the effort of downloading and registering personal details – in order to integrate useful functionalities which are personalized – is enormous.
Hotels are not software companies, and neither should they aim to be. It’s evident that there must be a universal digital connection to the guest instead, in order to meet the requirements of the digital traveller. Using this connection to boost the experience will ultimately generate greater returns for both guests and hotels.
This digital standard is a necessity for the hospitality industry to survive in the digital age, in which hotels will have to increasingly connect and integrate with new digital services centered around the traveller.
Large chains in particular are seeing the signs: Starwood is implementing Whatsapp, – the de facto messaging standard – even without the availability of an API, to be able to meet guests’ demand to exchange text messages with their hotel.
But workarounds like this are quite inefficient and, again, create effort. A technical standard must be established instead, allowing for efficient communication and connectivity from both sides. A standard which can easily grow with the requirements of the rapidly shifting digital world. A platform on top of which partners in the travel chain build their services in order to enhance the guest journey while increasing the efficiency of in-house processes.
If this standard is created, the possibilities are endless. For example, if transport providers are connected to this standard, they could push delays to hotels, automatically requesting late-check-out for respective guests. Hotels could use this standard platform to enable corporates to directly link to them, reducing travel cost management efforts while making the accounting easier for both parties.
There are many more ways a platform can act as a universal interface to make hotels and the guest journey a lot smoother. That is, of course, if guests are willing to opt in because the benefits of sharing information are compelling.
A technology standard made widely available at low cost can create a level playing field for smaller hotels to compete with chains, because the additional effort is low and the guests’ stay is vastly improved.
Hotels have the advantage of a unified interface from which they can overview and manage their entire guest connection, controlling which services their property should offer. Only a standard will allow all parties to benefit from digitization.
For this, tech companies and hotels have to work together in overcoming market fragmentation and creating a truly unified standard to make the hotel stay as easy and smart as possible.
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