Hotel Guest Personalisation: Challenges & Opportunities

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Contrary to what thrusting young digital marketers may have us believe, the concept of customer personalisation is as old as trade itself. As recently as 30-40 years ago (or even today in many developing countries and rural areas), people dealt almost exclusively with local businesses – they bought their meat from the local butcher, bought fruit & veg from the local grocer, bought bread from the local baker, banked with their local bank, drank in their local pub. The owners of these small businesses knew each customer personally – their names, their preferences, their habits, their families, everything – and used that data to offer highly personal service.

With the advent of big supermarkets and greater mobility, this personal touch died out – local stores were killed off, banks closed down their local branches, and local pubs/bars began closing down (and, sadly, continue to do so). Business became highly impersonal. But the digital revolution and the increased ease of collecting customer data means that personalisation is once again becoming simpler and more common, most obviously in retail and banking.

In theory, hotels should be at the forefront of the increasing drive towards personalisation. After all, what could be more personal than having someone stay with you for a few nights? But in practice, hotels are lagging behind. Personalisation presents many opportunities for hotels, but there are also several challenges. Let’s look at some of them:

Challenges

Resistance

Sometimes when we talk to hoteliers about a particular tech solution – social WiFi or mobile check-in for example – we hear the objection “Oh no, our guests won’t like that”. The assumption here is that all guests are the same, with the same preferences, so personalisation isn’t necessary. Which is, of course, a pretty daft way to think.

Data Collection

Personalisation, now as ever, is driven by knowledge and data. The problem is, hotels tend not to collect a lot of data before the guest checks in – name, contact details, nationality, and that’s about it. Data collection, if it happens at all, occurs either during the stay or at the end of it in the form of guest surveys, by which point the chance to personalise the guest’s stay is long gone.

Infrequency

Personalisation is easy for banks or supermarkets, with whom customers interact on a weekly basis or even more often. For hotels, it’s different – most guests, in the leisure sector in particular, only stay at a hotel once, and even regular guests may only stay a maximum of 2-3 times per year. That gives hotels very few contact points and little opportunity to study and learn about guest behaviour.

Multiple Data Sources

I spoke to a hotel marketer this morning whose complaint was all too common: he has stacks and stacks of data, but before he can decide what to do with it, he has to collate it, which is very difficult given the sheer number of different sources it comes from – PMS, web booking engine, channel manager, CRM, POS, guest surveys, online analytics, WiFi network and so on. How can you even begin to think about creating individual guest profiles and using them to personalise guest stays when the data is contained in different systems which, more often than not, don’t integrate? And for chains, with each hotel having its own data sources, the challenge is even bigger!

Execution

Even if a hotel overcomes the data challenges, creating personalised experiences for several hundred guests every night is a daunting logistical exercise, seemingly requiring a huge shift in approach throughout the entire business.

But if personalisation is beset by challenges, hotels by their very nature have several opportunities and advantages over other types of business when it comes to customer personalisation…

Opportunities

Foresight

Hotels have one big advantage over supermarkets and banks – they know exactly when their customer is coming to visit! It’s hard to personalise a customer experience when they might drop in at any moment, but if you know the exact date on which they’re coming, you can be better prepared. The fact that guests generally book their stay days, weeks or even months prior to arrival gives hotels ample opportunity to communicate with them prior to arrival and find out more about their preferences, and it remains a mystery as to why so few hotels bother to do this.

Quality Time

Hotels may have fewer contact points with customers than other business types, but the contact they do have is long – days, rather than minutes. Plenty of time to analyse guest behaviour and collect valuable data.

Customer Acceptance

In some sectors, customers are resistant to personalisation. We find online retargeting a little bit creepy, for example. Some of us don’t want our bank sending us emails or letters about loans or credit card deals every week. And many of us neither expect nor want our visit to the supermarket to be personalised – we just want to shop and get the hell out! But hotel guests are different, especially at the higher star ratings. We expect to be looked after, we expect the staff to know our names, we love little personal touches in our room, and research suggests that we’re more than happy to facilitate this by sharing personal information.

Technological Enablers

Far from depersonalising the guest experience, technology is there to enable it, not only by collecting data, but also by helping hotels act on it with a minimum of effort. And the hotel industry is blessed with a wealth of such solutions. Any good web booking engine/PMS will automate pre-stay emails and surveys. Mobile check-in/keyless entry solutions know when a guest is arriving and make sure their room is ready. Social WiFi solutions collect guest data and send out automated messages (eg birthday greetings). Location-sensitive beacons alert guests to spa or F&B deals. POS and mobile concierge solutions track in-house spending and food/drink preferences. Smart room controls allow room temperature and lighting to be set to the guest’s preference every time they enter the room. Mobile guest surveys collect feedback during the guest’s stay and/or at checkout. The list grows every week.


So whilst on the one hand gathering and analysing the data required to personalise guest experiences can be a challenge, it’s never been easier for hotels to create truly personal stays, and as with any other business, personalisation drives loyalty, which in turn drives revenue. The word “hospitality” itself comes from a Greek word meaning “the love of strangers” – and what can be more personal than love?

At Representasia we sell a number of solutions that enable the collection analysis and implementation of guest personalisation data. We’d love to discuss your hotel’s challenges and goals in this area, so to find out more please email us on hello@representasia.com or call us on (+66) 2 7111585. 

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About Author

Tim is one of representasia’s co-founders and the company’s CMO. He has been in the tourism industry since 1992 and has worked in Paris, London, Saigon & Bangkok. He has a strong background in operations, technology, sales & marketing. Representasia is his second business venture, following his founding of a successful Vietnam DMC in 2009.

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