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These days, there’s a hotel for every kind of niche lifestyle, and those who want to live like a local can book an Airbnb within minutes.
It’s no wonder, then, that expectations and standards for customer experience are higher than ever — even leading the “Phocuswright Travel Innovation and Technology Trends 2017” report to declare that customer experience is the new competitive battlefield.
“In a world where there is little variation in price and scant differences between channels, companies must differentiate themselves by delivering a great experience that customers remember,” the report reads.
Fortunately, hotels — not to mention travel advisors — are up to the challenge. Following are a few ways that those in the lodging industry are trying to exceed client expectations.
Tech to MeAccording to Phocuswright’s report, suppliers are making big gains in customer experience by focusing on digital engagement.
“We love watching how technology has come to help customize travel,” said Jackie Galea, director of sales and marketing at Archer Hotel New York. “Guests are now choosing to communicate requests through social media — both directly through a hotel’s social media channels and through soliciting feedback from other travelers via review sites.”
Technological networks are also starting to creep into the guestroom in a big way. The “smart room” concept — where room features such as televisions and lighting can be controlled by an app — isn’t a brand-new idea, but we’re getting closer to seeing a more widespread adoption of connected rooms.
Christopher J. Nassetta, CEO and president of Hilton Worldwide, recently announced the company’s plans to launch smart rooms next year. And, last year, Wynn Las Vegas resort ordered an Amazon Echo for each of its 4,748 rooms. Echo, which can link and control a network of devices and is voice-activated, is being touted by Wynn as a sort of butler — and could eventually evolve to offer personal-assistant-like capabilities.
Power to the PeopleWhile some hotels — especially larger ones — may lean on tech, others are leveraging the human element.
“For us at Las Alcobas, technology is just a behind-the-scenes tool to manage a top-notch experience,” said Samuel Leizorek, CEO, owner and founder of Las Alcobas Hotel Group. “Technology needs to be very carefully administered with guests, as it cannot replace the human delivery or personal service that makes a hotel a magnificent home away from home.”
Leizorek and Jason Kycek, vice president of sales and marketing at Casa de Campo Resort & Villas, agree that staff training is more advanced and important than ever.
“It used to be that the concierge was sufficient enough to handle guest requirements, but today, hotels are finding that they have to institute training programs throughout all departments to identify, follow through and address guest preferences and needs,” Kycek said.
Retreating“Wellness” is not an industry buzzword — it’s a travel preference based on a lifestyle that’s here to stay. As such, it’s no surprise that hotel wellness continues to improve as guest expectations for wellness evolve.
For example, the juice menu at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills’ Culina restaurant was a big deal when it launched five years ago, but the property’s newly launched Wellness Rooms (which could roll out to more Four Seasons hotels in the future) take the wellness experience to a fully immersive level. Rooms include circadian mood lighting, meditation videos by Deepak Chopra, a showerhead system that filters out chlorine, a Cleveland Clinic-approved dining menu and more.
As these rooms show, wellness is a lifestyle — not a one-off spa treatment.
“Wellness influences all points of contact,” Leizorek of Las Alcobas said. “And guests are more and more specific on how they want to enjoy with balanced indulgence.”
The Evolving ExperienceWith Airbnb getting into the tour business via its Experiences offerings, you can bet that hotels are pulling out all the stops to create special destination-immersion opportunities for guests.
Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, says that the home-sharing industry is “forcing hotels to rethink their dining, concierge role and on-property service options to ensure they are well-positioned in their local market and can deliver an authentic, one-of-a-kind experience for their guests.”
Fortunately, all that extra effort is not going unnoticed.
“At Weekapaug Inn, our on-staff naturalist continues to be a top highlight for guests,” said Daniel Hostettler, president and group managing director of Rhode Island’s Ocean House Management Collection.
And this past summer, Ocean House resort saw the payoff for putting on a special experience — an outdoor champagne bar serving Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktails and light bites — through “Instagram envy that spiraled across social media,” Hostettler said.
Be Your Own OTAWhile the use of travel agents is hotter than ever, the reality is that consumers have learned how to book hotels directly via the internet and mobile apps. The move by travel agent groups seems to be along the lines of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
This February, Virtuoso launched its own consumer-facing hotel booking tool on Virtuoso.com. Signature Travel Network plans to launch a similar tool by December.
“Clearly, consumer confidence and behaviors around booking hotels online are very strong and continue to rise, and we felt that it was an appropriate time to offer a simple tool that would allow clients to query availability and pricing,” said Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature.
The tools hit at the heart of three major booking trends, as detailed in Phocuswright’s “U.S. Consumer Travel Report Ninth Edition”: ease of use, the potential to receive value-added perks and the security of collaborating with an expert on-demand.
“As the hotel landscape becomes more complex and there are more options than ever, it has never been more important for savvy travelers to use the services of a travel professional to ensure their stay is personalized and that the consumer receives the value, advice and attention that every hotel guest deserves,” Signature’s Maza said.