Michael McCartan, MD EMEA of Duetto, looks at key topics from London Revenue Strategy Forum
‘There’s no excuse for not going digital’, hoteliers were told at this year’s Revenue Strategy Forum (RSF), hosted by Duetto.
While the virtues of the digital age were laid out – digital makes no mistakes, it learns fast, it collects data, it doesn’t make assumptions – it was stressed digital cannot replace humans.
The hoteliers and revenue consultants who attended this year’s RSF London event heard from industry leaders on how to use technology to enhance the guest experience, how technology can streamline operations to free up staff to interact better with the guest, and how technology can help hotels get to know the guest better.
Hospitality innovators and brand executives came together to learn about new developments in artificial intelligence, cognitive learning, big data, and the connected world.
The changing customer
Rik Vera, co-founder of Nexxworks, delivered a keynote presentation on Extreme Customer Centricity in a Networked World in which he outlined the rapid pace of technological change that the past two decades have witnessed.
He talked about how digitisation has changed the hotel industry, but that most importantly it has changed the guest.
While many of us have seen the online travel agents (OTAs) and sharing economy (Airbnb) as the disruptors, according to Vera, the biggest disruptor is the guest.
This is because the guest’s behaviour is constantly changing in line with new technology adoption.
Social media and the connected world in which we now live means that guests have a short attention span, and they also expect to the centre of your universe. Grabbing their attention and then meeting their needs is a constant challenge.
Vera told the audience that they need a customer centric strategy and that the way to do that is to use data to build a picture of the guest so that you can recognise their wants and needs, and then deploy solutions that deliver a frictionless experience.
Using cognitive and predictive intelligence
Bret Greenstein, vice president of consumer business, IBM Watson Internet of Things, gave a complementary presentation to that of Vera’s as he walked hoteliers through cognitive and predictive intelligence, and explained how innovations in these fields can help the hotel better know the guest.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is providing hotels with a wealth of data on guest habits, requests and touch points.
Greenstein walked the audience through some of the latest hospitality industry innovations to come through IBM Watson.
These include digital mirrors that offer a personal assistant; intelligent speakers that can respond to voice commands to control in-room functions such as lighting, temperature and entertainment; and robotic lobby concierges that can provide a constant stream of relevant and factual information to the guest on the local area, things to see and do, where to eat and what to experience.
And many of these devices are inexpensive and can be retrofitted to the hotel’s existing infrastructure, meaning hotels can test them without huge capital investment.
Guests that use this technology provide the hotel with a valuable pool of data that can be mapped across to provide an improved guest experience the next time that person stays either with an individual property or within a group or brand.
Remaining human and hospitable
From robotic concierges to disruptor guests, the overriding message to come from RSF London was that technology can and should be used to get to know the guest better, so that we can improve the human-to-human interaction.
Technological innovations can help smooth the journey, providing a more comfortable hotel experience – from knowing what temperature your guest wants the room at to having their favourite music playing on Spotify.
This technology can also streamline operations, enabling staff to spend even more time on providing excellent guest relations, local recommendations, and a warm welcome the next time that guest checks in. Nothing beats a genuine human smile to create empathy.
Post-stay, those hotels that have embraced digitisation and wowed the guest with improve service will reap the rewards of a new marketing channel.
The most successful hotels will make their guests an extension of their marketing team through positive reviews and social media shares and endorsements.
And that will translate into bookings and revenue. You may not achieve a repeat guest, but you may get to welcome the friends and family from your original customer.
Direct bookings from customer endorsements could prove the most cost effective marketing channel of all.
The underlying message from the day was that hotels that fail to adapt to the ‘disruptor consumer’ will feel the impact.
The customer is changing, and those that don’t recognise this will pay the cost.