Danny Bryer is Area Director, Sales, Revenue and Marketing Management, Protea Hotels by Marriott.
Destinations often focus on where travellers are choosing to go, since places can become trendy – one year it may be Bali, the next, Dubai. These kinds of consumer trends have featured heavily on lists for many years. Increasingly, however, it’s not where travellers are going, but how they’re being reached by marketers, how they’re researching and how they book. It’s also about how they experience their holidays, and all of these elements are indicative of the lengths to which technology has infiltrated the tourism experience.
Take a look at the past 25 years. Within that relatively short period, mobile devices have, overwhelmingly, been placed in the hands of consumers that empower them. They choose to research and plan their holidays online, pay for them the same way, and curate them via social media platforms. It’s almost unthinkable that we used to store up our memories on 24-unit film rolls, hoping that they wouldn’t get accidentally exposed, and then we’d have to get them developed before placing them in an album that we’d have to physically show to friends and family. Now, you can say, “hey, mom, look where I am today”, from the other side of the globe.
That’s a simple illustration of consumer adoption of technology, but it mirrors the parallel adoption of tech within the hospitality sector.
From facilitating guest experiences with feedback apps on property, to rolling out marketing campaigns based on data-driven insights about guests and then also providing slick payment options, it’s all changed.
Customer experience management
Customer, or in our case, visitor experience management has taken over from customer service as a focus. Businesses recognise the need to personalise what they have on offer, since this is what the market expects. However, despite this knowledge of the need that exists, companies are lagging behind when it comes to strategic implementation of initiatives that work towards enhanced visitor experiences.
In 2018 we expect to see CEM roles created within hospitality groups with this goal in mind. An entirely new career option that’s been created upon demand. The Customer Experience Manager will be tasked with tracking the visitor’s experience at all touch points and, where necessary, streamlining processes to improve on this. It’s not just a customer-facing role (or for hotel professionals who do that), it’s a behind-the-scenes examination of everything that goes into a hotel stay.
Smart keys, connectivity, chatbots and apps
Connectivity allows for many enhancements to the visitor experience, from smart keys that allow access to rooms from mobile devices to Instant Messaging apps that allow the visitor to communicate with hotel staff. Chatbots can reduce the time human agents have to spend dealing with inquiries by providing basic information via websites, or, if the bots are Artificial Intelligence-driven, perform more complex tasks.
AI is key to data-driven business, since it can assist with workflow optimisation, route queries according the best agents to resolve them and refine processes, making it easier for hotels and customers to conduct business.
Another application for a chatbot is in training – in a large, perhaps multi-national company where consistency is high on demand, it may not be possible to train thousands of people all at once on a new product, but a chatbot allows teams to receive training right where they are by asking it questions.
Security and data protection
While on the subject of data, it’s clear that hospitality businesses need to seal the places where personal data could leak. There have need numerous stories of data breaches in the news recently – it’s no longer an option to secure your business and customer data – it’s a must.
Let’s say your guest’s personal information gets leaked. An unscrupulous hacker could call up a contact centre and use that information to answer security questions for the purpose of identity verification. A couple of minutes, and they could access online profiles, change details and passwords, effectively becoming that person.
Hospitality companies can look towards more watertight forms of identity verification such as biometric identification. Voice authentication is one such solution that closes many of the security question loopholes, for example. It’s fast, simple and secure, making the experience a far smoother, safer one for guests.
Will we see Bitcoin and the wider Blockchain trust economy taking a stronger foothold in hospitality? It’s highly likely, although, this is largely at the experimental or explorative phase, so we won’t see Blockchain-based solutions being rolled out on a grand scale in the near future – but watch this space.
It still comes down to trends – what visitors want and how to deliver that – but the options are so much more sophisticated now; we can reach our market in their own homes, on their devices, and speak to them in a language that appeals to them.
By Danny Bryer is Area Director, Sales, Revenue and Marketing Management, Protea Hotels by Marriott.
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