2 ways to embrace the ‘nextperiential’ guest
 
2 ways to embrace the ‘nextperiential’ guest
29 JUNE 2015 6:35 AM
The guest of the future wants a stay that centers on experiences and is complemented by mobile technology. The retail space provides an excellent model. 
Hotel owners and operators frequently talk about the importance of creating a positive guest experience. But aside from covering the service delivery basics, are hoteliers specifically adapting to the needs and wants of the digitally savvy traveler? 
 
Changing this dynamic and elevating the guest experience requires additional industry focus on two specific strategies.
 
1. Embrace the experiential traveler
The first is to appreciate and embrace the wants and needs of the experiential traveler—a lesson learned from the popularity of Airbnb. 
 
Hoteliers need to recognize the value they deliver to their guests is directly connected to the unique experiences they help facilitate. Experiential appeal is not an added bonus or a fringe benefit today; it is (or at least should be) the centerpiece of your service and delivery approach. 
 
The experiential nature of leisure travel is precisely why it is so highly prized. Experiences are irreplaceable, living on forever in memories and forging powerful emotional connections to a time and a place.
 
2. Leverage the mobile platform
The second step is to understand how to connect that experiential mandate to a rapidly growing market of increasingly mobile-reliant consumers—and then leverage that connection in ways that reinforce your service, delivery and financial objectives. 
 
The well-documented importance of the influential and tech-savvy millennial demographic only heightens the need to weave tech and mobile integration into a hotel’s experiential offerings. 
 
Still a long way to go
Our industry is still in its infancy when it comes to using technology to drive messaging and enhance the experience. 
 
Data gathering on guest preferences is important, and some properties are deploying strategies that include advanced lookalike marketing and retargeting, ad placements based on IP searches and group travel based on IP searches of meeting planners. 
 
The next touch point is to begin to connect these guest databases to use travel habits and other information to better serve preferred guests. Technically speaking, it is a relatively small step to connect with calendar applications in a way that automatically sends a targeted ad or timely email to guests planning a trip to your city. The possibilities are limitless. 
 
The retail sector as an example
To get a sense of what is possible, you need look only as far as the retail sector. 
 
Nordstrom has built its success on providing excellent customer service, and empowering employees to deliver that service. The company’s technology investment involved creating a solid foundation to support and enhance that promise, including a new point-of-sale system and personal book software that enables sales people to track customer needs and requests online. 
 
The company has used the Nordstrom app and popular social apps (e.g. Pinterest) effectively, introduced mobile check-out, and used texting and cloud-based personalized clothing services, all to enhance customer experience and make service delivery easier. 
 
These investments—in back-of-the-house systems, social, mobile and cloud-based technology—all work together for one purpose: providing a personalized experience.  
 
For example, a customer who has downloaded Nordstrom’s latest app can opt in their personal preferences (sizes, styles and purchase history) that are immediately pushed to the store sales people upon entering the store, ultimately leading to a more personal and better shopping experience for the customer. 
 
The company also has invested heavily in collecting data in order to decipher what products to promote to customers at what time and through what channel—again with the goal of providing a customized, personal experience. 
 
The result is a tightly integrated, functional digital package that is unique to Nordstrom and that benefits the customer.
 
Eager to emulate
This is a model the hotel industry needs to emulate. Mobile technologies and proximity marketing have a bright future, with feature-laden apps and ads that pop up at strategic times and places. Hotels might have alerts that trigger when a guest with a smartphone walks through the door and provide compelling video content that highlights the restaurant, spa services and other hotel features. Other examples include personalized video ads to front desk notifications that inform employees when repeat guests walk through the door. 
 
That information can help hoteliers tailor experiences to an individual guest’s preferences regarding food service, check-in times and other variables. The rise of keyless check-in and increasing amounts of data stored on phones and other mobile devices makes these strategies both a logical and a technical fit.
 
A necessary step in the ‘nextperiential’ future
A necessary step in the “nextperiential” future is for owners and operators to build an independent website. 
 
A well-designed independent website fuels the dream state as a precursor to booking. The right content allows guests to envision themselves at your hotel and begin, in a way, to already experience their stays. 
 
The images, video and media content should establish and reinforce the narrative you are presenting. Don’t just include a picture of a bed, but show the surroundings, the neighborhood and present the experiences at the hotel—from the bar and grill, to the business center, to the fitness facilities and pool. 
 
Your website should tell your story, and, in the process, enable guests to begin to write their own—even before they have booked their room for a stay.
 
One final reminder
Finally, we need to remind ourselves the guest experience is not something that is limited to events that take place inside the confines of the hotel itself. 
 
The experience begins with browsing the website, continues with booking and persists throughout the entire hospitality process. That includes what happens after the stay, when guests who are moved by a memorable visit will be more likely to leave positive reviews on TripAdvisor and share their experiences with friends through social media platforms.
 
The power of experience and the importance of technology not only apply to what’s now, but also what’s next
 
Going forward, we as an industry will need to continue to connect these ideas with the objective of creating seamless and effective applications. This is not just a philosophical exercise; hese principles need to be implemented on a strategic level to be effective. 
 
Verizon recently acquired AOL, but why? The answer is to get access to AOL’s content. We as hoteliers have to think like that. We have to foster an entrepreneurial mindset and a commitment to find and deliver compelling content like mobile and HD video and tie it into our marketing platform. 
 
We also have to be purposeful and strategic in our efforts. To be successful with your digital/social media, create a purpose that leverages your hotel’s unique capabilities and provides the flexibility to adjust to market opportunities. A clearly defined purpose will yield a more coherent and more efficient digital program.
 
The question we will all need to ask ourselves is whether our industry and our properties meet the needs—and, more importantly, the wants—of the connected traveler. Delivering content and messaging is important, but the connection has to be a two-way street: We need to leverage digital media to find a way to engage in a dialogue with guests—a conversation that will allow us to anticipate needs. 
 
In a competitive marketplace where consumers have more choices than ever, the ability to reach consumers on this level and use technology to help elevate their experience to something extraordinary will be the difference maker leading to bottom line success. 
 
W. Chris Green adds more than 23 years of successful operations experience to Chesapeake's corporate team, including nearly a decade in the field at various Chesapeake-managed properties. In 2008, he led the team at the Crowne Plaza Houston Downtown to the Quality Excellence Award for outstanding performance from Intercontinental Hotels Group. Prior to joining the company, Green held a variety of key operational positions with three national hospitality chains. He also has a strong F&B background, including supervision of more than 40 restaurants with RMS Restaurants, S&A Restaurant Corporation and Brinker International. Green attended Florida State College at Jacksonville with a concentration in management. He holds the Certified Hotel Administrator designation, and has served as president and board member for various CVB, Tourism development, and Hotel & Motel associations in the markets he has worked.
 
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.
 

2 Comments

  • robertkcole June 29, 2015 8:02 AM

    I completely agree with the need to focus on the travel experience as opposed to simply renting a guest room. However, there are a couple nuances that are important to consider: First, mobile is important, as is tying into guest preferences (for example, those of frequent guests.) However, when developing an independent website, hoteliers can run into challenges due to the fragmentation of the data. Depending on the desired functionality, it may be difficult (if not impossible) to tap into brand (or rep firm/soft brand) frequent guest profiles or integrate the user experience with the brand mobile app. Guests want a seamless experience, and that requires a seamless design. Second, travelers have multiple personas that are dependent on the purpose of the trip. Guest priorities can change significantly based on their itinerary. What a frequent business traveler likes when attending a conference (with the company paying the tab) may be dramatically different when staying at the same property on a family vacation. It gets much more complex when multiple properties come into the mix. Hotel frequent guest program are fairly good at assigning guests a tracking number, but are woefully lacking when capturing behaviors and preferences based on different personas. Finally, developing solutions is not a simple task based on the varied needs of brand, management and ownership. Providing a consistent user experience across a brand can lead to only supporting the lowest common denominator - not a good outcome for the guest. Building the ultimate platform (especially one that is comparatively future-proofed) takes time and resources, resulting in the inevitable "who pays v. who benefits" debates. Giving owners the ultimate leeway and freedom to customize experiences for their guests - or the flexibility to change affiliations runs counter to the brand objectives of continuity and locking properties into the brand for the long term (for example, to capture the ROI from the development expense.) You are right - this needs to happen. The hotel industry will need to figure out how. Whoever does it first will create a virtuous cycle of happy guests and great data, that in turn, will help improve guest satisfaction further. A couple groups are working on this, but are still in the early stages and the business models/funding mechanisms are by no means finalized. It will be interesting to see who moves the farthest, fastest.

  • Conor Atkin July 17, 2015 5:40 AM

    Couldn't agree more Chris, the hotel industry really does need to start offering the personalized service their guests desire or risk being left trailing in companies such as Airbnb's wake. A mobile hotel concierge app, as you mentioned, is a fantastic way of doing this. Such an app allows hoteliers to easily collect data on their guests and therefore provides the base from which a personalized service can be offered. Then features such as push notifications and messages (readily available in applications such as LoungeUp) can target guests with specific info and offers which is sure to interest them. The benefits of this are twofold; for the guest they get the impression they are a valued individual and access to info they care about, and for the hotel they have a chance to promote and up sell their services and boost revenue. The creation of a mutually beneficial direct relationship between hotelier and guest can form the basis for a long lasting and fruitful association for both parties. Finally, a quick note about us here at LoungeUp : We were one of the first players in the market and we are now leading the way in Europe with more than 500 independent hotels using the application as well as major hotel chains such as Lucien Barrière, Choice hotels Europe or Best Western on all of their 300 properties in France for instance.

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