Hospitality, as the word suggests, is the art of making others feel comfortable and welcome.
It is the foundation on which the hotel industry is built on – an industry that uniquely prides itself on quality of service and a personalized human touch. Hotels understand the value of employing a considered guest engagement strategy. It raises the hotel above being just a commodity, a place to spend the night. It is a competitive differentiator, one that can help boost revenue, loyalty and the lifetime value of each guest.
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But, in the face of a global health crisis, the traditional human service interaction between hotel and guest have become challenging. Service staff forced to minimize their interactions for the safety of guests and employees. Plus, hotels are struggling with a labor shortage. Faced with operating with a skeleton staff as well as dealing with rapidly changing restrictions, hotels are struggling to provide the service levels (i.e., traditional guest engagement) that guests have come to expect.
However, with today’s technology advancements, guest engagement can be delivered via digital touchpoints from pre-arrival all the way through to post check-out. New solutions provide innovative ways to interact with the guest while still providing labor relief for the hotel.
In our latest ROOMDEX Webinar Series, we brought together four leading hotel software vendors to discuss why employing digital guest engagement strategies can benefit both guests and hoteliers in today’s unusual market.
Digital guest engagement: “Not a passing trend, but a reality”
In any business, customer engagement is always tied to a commercial goal – whether its immediate sales or long-term reputational development. In the past, brands were limited to when an interaction took place. But that’s no longer the case. In today’s digitally connected world businesses have the ability to reach out to customers right from the time they became aware of the brand to after they’ve purchased the product/service and more. By utilizing digital guest engagement solutions, not only can a brand provide a better customer experience, but provide a boost to the bottom line.
The hotel industry has a longstanding reputation for slow technological adoption. This trait can be seen in the adoption of digital guest engagement solutions, sometime be viewed as something that went against the core principles of high-touch hospitality on which the industry prides itself. Robert Stevenson, CEO at INTELITY, notes “Hotels have been known as late adopters to technology – and in some ways reluctant to mess with the guest experience if they have got it down to a science and they have the flow that they want and they believe that’s the right approach.”
However, over the last two decades, digital technology increasingly played an integral part in consumers’ lives, who have continued to push for more convenience and customization. Now we see hotel guests seeking properties that can provide them with more connected interactions, similar to what they experience in their day-to-day lives. A study by Deloitte Digital found 60% of guests preferred digital guest engagement such as check-in and keyless room entry – and that was even before the pandemic. Angie Andresen, Senior Director Global Product Management at Shiji, said, “As technology become more and more a part of our everyday lives – as they lean further into this digital engagement space, guest expectations of convenience of everything mobile in the palm of their hand is going to carry into their rebooking and into their property digital experience. It’s becoming an expectation of life.”
COVID-19 has only accelerated this need. A survey in 2020 by Skift found that after the onset of the pandemic, 71% of travelers stated that they would be more likely to stay at a hotel offered digital guest engagement that minimizes the need for face-to-face contact with the hotel and staff.
The role of automation
Not only can digital guest engagement provide new ways to interact with the guest, but it can deliver operational efficiencies, and additional revenue streams for the hotel at the same time.
Managing a hotel in a post-pandemic world means doing more with less. The labor shortage in particular has highlighted how automation can provide a way to back in business and streamline the operations. “Hoteliers are in the business of been hosts – and the reason why they run a hotel is that they love being a host. So, you have being the host while the guest is there, but you also have to take care of all the other things around and that’s exactly where automation comes into play,” noted Marvin Speh, Co-Founder & COO at Roompricegenie. Evan Chen, CEO at Akia went on to add, “Regardless of the Covid pandemic, automation lends itself very well to hotels. Hotels can automate the small administrative, allowing the hotel to spend a lot more time engaging with the guest in the right ways – building more personalized experiences – creating better experiences for their guests.”
The panelists agreed, that in a way, automation is an experience enhancing tool. Ultimately the guest experience has an impact on your reputation and a direct impact on your down- stream pricing and demand. By automating the more menial tasks you can deliver on the exceptional.
In addition, automation of digital guest engagement allows hoteliers to automatically and intelligently use data to personalize the guest experience and capture incremental revenue in the process. As Angie Andresen commented, “…There is an opportunity to make hotel services available to guests’ pre-stay, during booking – because if I’m booking on property is quite likely I’m booking off property too. It really important to encapsulate all of the services the property at the time of booking and raise awareness that they exist… [Hotels should] Look towards technology to really support those transactional pieces to help capture incremental revenue.”
Digital guest engagement: “Technology is your friend”
In a time where guests not only want more digital interaction, where occupancy remains low and hotels are struggling with labor shortages, automation can provide a real, tangible solution. Marvin Speh from Roompricegenie finished by saying, “Time is the most crucial resource that you have, so freeing up time is essential – so when it comes to deciding in what technology to invest in – you should be asking what tasks am I doing that either take up a lot of time / spend too much time on or I don’t have time to do currently. As soon as you learn that technology is your friend, you can run your business better, because you can have technology that can take care of many things – then you’ll think differently about ROI”.