By Anton Schubert, head of design at Futurice
One of the most talked about announcements in the British Chancellor’s Budget last month was the news that from April 2017, property and trading income will be included in the tax-free allowance for individuals.
It means that those with a property or trading income will not need to declare tax on the first £1,000 they earn per source each year. This is great news for the growing number of people in the UK using sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb and eBay to boost their income.
Airbnb has become increasingly popular across the globe as millions of people look for a vacation in a home-away-from-home. But how has a service that doesn’t actually own any property become a more valuable business ($24bn) than the likes of Marriot ($21bn) and Starwood ($14bn)? Personalisation has played a major role in building this value.
From browsing properties on the visually appealing app or website, to arriving at your accommodation to a personalised experience, Airbnb provides customers with personal touches from décor and interiors to gifts and advice from the hosts.
Superior customer experiences, paired with financial rewards for Airbnb hosts (in the UK at least) means that travelling sharing-economy style holds benefit to the host and guest alike.
Where does this leave the traditional hospitality industry?
Of course, when you have millions of customers across the world staying in your hotels each year, it is impossible to recreate the same kind of personalised service for every guest. However, hotels shouldn’t just accept second best to their competitors.
Technology can help established hotel chains fight back, using some of the mountains of data they have access to, to improve experiences for guests. Businesses like Airbnb, may have lower overhead costs and an agile business model, but digital and mobile technology can just as easily enhance the experiences of a hotel guest before their visit, while they’re staying in a hotel and long after they’ve checked out, to entice them back.
When we talk about fighting back with technology, we’re not talking about gimmicks. Mobile apps to open your curtains or room-cleaning robots might attract some fleeting attention, but just aren’t meaningful enough to build a bond with a guest. A digital strategy will improve loyalty programs, recognise guests and their preferences and help create guest-facing mobile services.
Data opens up possibilities for any hotel to build loyalty with a traveller. PwC found that 65% of guests are likely to re-book hotels when they have had a great experience. With customer expectations fundamentally changing, it’s necessary that hotels utilise cloud services, mobile and social media.
Other industries (e.g. retail) have used these mediums to deliver instant results and services to their guests based on predictive analytics provided.
Just how do we get these analytics?
For guests to have truly the best experience, data needs to be gathered from multiple channels, such as social media and purchases in the hotel, in order to really ‘understand’ the individual.
By integrating public data and the private data held by the hotel, patterns can be identified and the hotel can move beyond relying on reactive services because they now have an unparalleled insight to a guest’s preferences.
Data can play both ways, allowing guests to access a real-time room bill or pre-order breakfast from their phone. In other words, follow a guest’s ‘digital footprint’ throughout their stay and you can give back to them in a personal, meaningful way.
Colombia Business School found in an October 2015 study that 53% of consumers are willing to share personal data in return for tools that help make decisions. Who wouldn’t want to be rewarded for their repeated custom by having a bottle of their favourite wine waiting for them in their room?
Christian Lunden, head of future business at Nordic Choice Hotels (owners of over 185 properties in Scandinavia), is a firm believer in using technology and data to give guests a personalised experience. “If we don’t know our guest, we cannot give them the unique service they deserve,” he said.
One of the ways he plans to do this is by engaging early on with guests on social media. Nordic Choice Hotels has already begun to recognise and engage with guests on social media before, during and after their stay.
Because of the increased sense of loyalty these digital conversations bring, Christian believes that “social media will likely play an increasingly central role in the customer service efforts of hospitality brands”.
One of the next plans Nordic Choice has to increase personalisation is a new type of Wi-Fi login; a system where a guest can connect through their social networks.
This way, the hotel gains visibility to a guest’s online activities, helping to understand them better and deliver a personal greeting when they visit the hotel’s website. This kind of recognition, according to technology provider Voyat, can have a 7x ROI in monthly direct bookings.
Another small initiative that would make a difference is an automated dialogue message, direct to a guest’s mobile phone when they enter the lobby of the hotel. When the simple welcome message is sent out it could indicate that this is now the time to start following a guest’s digital footprint.
By bringing in technology as a monitoring tool and using the resulting data to understand context and act accordingly, a hotel has a fantastic opportunity to improve its ROI and achieve higher re-booking rates. By using elements of social media it gives the potential to extend conversations with guests long after they’ve checked out.
When applied correctly, digital tools can transform the hospitality sector, helping traditional players to raise their game, give guests unforgettable experiences and keep them coming back for more.