Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt laid out the three “I’s” guiding hotel technology at the recent HTNG North American Conference.
FERNANDINA BEACH, Florida—Guests’ technology-related wants and expectations are largely driven by what they see outside the hotel industry, but hoteliers need to learn the lessons driven by retail and other sectors to better connect with guests and improve their overall business, according to a top industry analyst.
Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, outlined how consumers’ wants are driving technology in hotels during the “Three I’s impacting hospitality technology” presentation at the recent 2016 HTNG North American Conference. He said guests want immediacy, individualism and inspiration, and advised hoteliers to focus their technology-related efforts around these concepts.
The nearly instant gratification of smartphone and tablet technology has reached a point of near saturation for travelers, Harteveldt said.
“This is a function of our increasingly mobile-based, always-connected society,” he said. “It’s a permanent change, and it will only become more intensive.”
People living in a constantly mobile environment create instantaneous expectations from virtually all guests.
“We need to stop the expectation that we have offline customers and online customers,” he said. “Essentially, everyone is online.”
Harteveldt said guests also want instant gratification in their relationships with hoteliers.
“Guests are viewing mobile as a catalyst for closer relationships with you,” he said, addressing the hoteliers in the crowd. “If you’re not looking at mobile as this glue-catalyst for what brings your guests together … you’re going to miss huge opportunities.”
He said hotel companies need to react to this trend sooner rather than later since “there is no down time in the era of immediacy.” That means more hotel technology experts need to make the argument to those in the C-suite that resources should be allocated for mobile.
Guests want unique experiences. That means hotels should make it a priority to show what they can do for guests, or what guests can do on property, that is unique.
“We have all these services and do a terrible job promoting them,” Harteveldt said.
He said other industries are leaps and bounds beyond hotels in terms of individualization for consumers. Even a company like Coca-Cola, which has a business model built around mass production, allows people to get cans with their names on them or their friends’ names on them.
Harteveldt said hoteliers need to think more like movie producers and start envisioning their guests’ experiences, even at the very beginning of the booking process, as a story arc.
He said guests expect hyper-personalized experiences and interactions to create their own stories.
“And the reason (they expect that) is they’re getting it elsewhere,” he said.
In the end, giving guests more opportunities to craft their own unique experiences the way they want can help drive a hotel’s bottom line, as Harteveldt noted 58% of consumers view travel as “an opportunity for indulgence.”
To inspire travelers, hoteliers need to start trying to engage consumers in much the same way retailers do, Harteveldt said.
“They want to be inspired when they shop and when they book,” he said. “They don’t want to feel like they’re slogging through some death march.”
And that is currently too apt a description of the online booking process for many, he said, as travelers now comb through several websites, including online travel agencies, to set up their accommodations. He said 57% of consumers say they use too many websites currently to book trips, while a third believe the planning process has become more complex in just the last year. A little less than half of consumers wish online shopping for travel was more similar to shopping for clothes online.
“We’re failing our customers,” he said. “If we’re going to inspire them, we have to do better. Now guests are hopscotching across channels.”
Harteveldt said hoteliers need to make online interaction a bigger priority than it is now in the industry, and that’s imperative because several other industries like retail, banks and entertainment, have conditioned consumers to expect a better experience than hotels currently deliver online.
So, hotels should put more useful, engaging content online, Harteveldt said, particularly visual content.
“Selling is increasingly visual,” he said. “Eighty-six percent of guests find visual content useful, but we don’t provide floor maps (on hotel websites).”
Harteveldt said virtual reality provides an opportunity for growth in this regard, and it’s already something companies like Marriott International have already put resources behind. He said hoteliers can’t afford to lag behind on this like so many other things.
He said companies should also focus on “conversational commerce” and include chat-based communications on their websites.