The hospitality industry should put relationships, not properties, first, and shift from ‘transactions’ to ‘interactions’ to build lasting relationships, says a report.
The study from InterContinental Hotels Group, conducted among business and leisure travellers, explores how hotel brands are balancing the three trends of globalisation, localisation and personalisation.
Securing the future in an uncertain world
Consumers are changing, they are also becoming more informed, skeptical, connected, demanding and fiscally cautious.
Growing access to the internet is opening new global audiences and increasing the sharing of culture across geographical boundaries - the famous Gangnam style video that is clocking about 1.8 billion views on YouTube is a testament to this.
In this digitally-connected world, building trust at all levels - globally, locally and personally - is the way forward for hotel brands to be globally coherent, locally relevant and personally differentiating all at the same time.
The desire for personalisation is changing the expectations of consumers. Last year, British Airways launched a customer service programme called Know Me where it gave cabin crew access to passenger data. The airline said that it is trying to recreate the feeling of recognition a customer gets in a favourite restaurant.
Benefits of being global
Travellers perceive a global hotel brand to be a quality brand because it delivers a coherent experience across geography.
Travellers also rate global brands as more consistent than local hotel brands, and expect global brands to offer the most innovative features and services.
This is especially true for the younger generation of business travellers where 75% of the Millennial ‘Laptop and Latte’ business travellers think that global hotel brands do a better job at being innovative, compared to 66% of all travellers.
Benefits of being local
Travellers expect the benefits of a global hotel brand and the benefits of local relevance.
In order to deliver the promise of local relevance, global brands will be more effective if they encourage greater creative freedom within the global brand framework. This means that it is the responsibility of regional and local teams to ensure that global brand stays consistent to its core while recognising and respecting relevant local customization.
An example of this in the food and beverage industry is Starbucks offering black sesame green tea Frappuccino to its customers in China.
Benefits of being personal
The rise of personalisation over the last few years across all industries has been one of the biggest developments in the marketplace.
For example, 62% of Chinese travellers agree that personalisation makes them feel respected, compared to 39% of travellers from all countries surveyed.
Below are the types of personalisation which motivate travellers around the world, the first number indicates the local market, and the number in brackets indicates a global average.
Actions for building trust among guests
- US: Choose your exact check in & check out time - 60%, (70%)
- UK: Surprises you with a little, personal touch in your room - 68%, (62%)
- Germany: Helps you to discover places in the local area that interest you - 77%, (67%)
- Russia: Has local travel guides in your language ready to go if and when you need them - 76%, (59%)
- Brazil: Enjoy your personal content (e.g. movies, music) using the hotel technology in you room - 57%, (55%)
- UAE: Gives you special personalised attention on arrival - 63%, (53%)
- China: Offers an interactive app for your mobile device that helps find special things just for you in your local area during your stay - 58%, (41%)
The study has identified the following trust-building actions for global hospitality brands.
1. Deliver authentic local customisation:
Global hotel brands build trust by customising global offerings to reflect local variations to give guests reassurance they are experiencing something truly authentic to the locale.
Here, there is an opportunity for hotels of the future to help guests establish authentic connections with online communities.
Indigo family of boutique hotels recently piloted an Interactive Media Display in its lobbies that let guests explore each property’s unique Neighbourhood Story around the world, access local recommendations and offers, and share pictures and comments with other guests, friends and family on Facebook via the integrated photo-booth.
2. Create tailored consumption:
When at home, people have complete control over what they eat, what products they use in the shower, how they exercise, the movies they watch etc. But, when the same person is staying in a hotel, some of that control is lost.
However, personal technologies such as mobile phones, iPods, e-book readers and tablets mean it is now possible for guests to bring more of home with them when they travel.
This is creating a new need among travellers: the desire to enjoy the things they love best during their hotel stay. For Millennials, this means being able to enjoy their personal content when they are in the hotel.
62% of Millennials said that being able to access personal content – such as movies or music – would motivate them to return to a hotel, compared to 55% of travellers of all ages.
3. Support technology enhanced service:
Travellers want the reassurance of help if something goes wrong in their trip, the study finds that business travellers are more likely to say they are motivated by being able to book hotel services from a mobile device, in their quest to bypass the front desk and get to work.
The hospitality industry needs to enable travellers to be self-reliant and enable guests to stay connected to access services whenever they need.
Web, kiosk and mobile check-in have been playing a huge role in accelerating the usage of self-service in hospitality.
Millennials are embracing self-service in hotels more than any other generation: 46% of Millennials agree that being able to check in/out using a mobile device would motivate them to return to the hotel, compared to 38% of travellers of all ages.
The study also highlights a new segment of guests - invisible travellers - the ones who want to seamlessly pass through hotels with minimal interaction with staff. For these travellers, good service is often invisible service.
4. Personal relevance:
In this age where online review sites like TripAdvisor, DaoDao (TripAdvisor in China) and Qype are replacing traditional travel guides, deciding what to do, see or eat requires a lot of time and effort.
Hotel brands need to be better at remembering guest preferences, and share this information across other brand hotels. Adequate technical infrastructure is required to make this happen so that hotel staff can access the information about guests’ personal preferences.
However, personalisation based on stored guest data risks ‘closing down’ the discovery of new things, because it recommends to people things it already knows they like. This is often referred to as the personalisation ‘filter bubble’.
Therefore, hotel brands will need to not only personalise the services, but also pleasantly surprise guests that enable new discoveries.
Millennial travellers want to be given the tools to discover local areas for themselves. They want more than recommendations, as they are already armed with information from review sites and social networks before they even check in.
59% of Millennials say this would motivate them to return to a hotel, compared to 70% of mid-lifers aged 49 to 65.
5. Use service to surprise and delight:
In recent years, some hotels have started mining guests’ personal data on social networking sites to pleasantly surprise guests. These are new sources of personal data available to hotels, and it is unsurprising that hotels are experimenting with how to use this data in their service delivery.
While doing this, it is absolutely critical that hotels never overstep the line of becoming too personal and invading privacy.
However, relying on data mined from social channels might lead to the wrong inference and hence fail in the attempt to surprise guests.
The study says that the best way to create a wow-guest-experience is to learn what guests like during their stay.
Guests say they find it more motivating if a hotel collects information about their preferences (during stay) than when a hotel tries to personalise the experience by looking at their social profiles.
Interestingly, only 23% of Millennials are in favor of the latter process and they say it would motivate them to return to a hotel. Also, this number declines as guests get older – dropping to 11% among the generation of ‘mid-lifers’ aged 49 to 65.
The study was conducted amongst 7,000 business and leisure travellers from across the globe.
NB: Family in hotel image via Shutterstock.
NB2: Full report can be accessed here.