Tech-Phobic Hotels Will Lose Out – Grant Thornton

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HOTELS have an urgent need to leverage cutting-edge technology to personalise the customer experience, but always in balance with the traditional human touch, professional-services firm Grant Thornton reported after the “International Hotel Investment Forum” in Berlin last week.

While high-profile disruptor Airbnb expects to break the US$1-billion (Bt35 billion) profit mark this year, firms that fail to act on personalisation enabled through technology risk being cut adrift, and growth could suffer as a result.

Key pressures facing hotels today include the growth of shared-accommodation providers, increasing influence of online travel agents in the booking process and rapidly evolving needs and expectations of guests.

Mastering big data and harnessing its potential to provide the personalisation that guests will expect and demand are fundamental to addressing these challenges.

Despite this, just 10 per cent of tourism companies globally plan to increase research spending this year.

“Technology is a major driver in our hotel industry today. In particular, the Internet of Things and big data help us to accurately understand and predict guests’ behaviour,” Tom Sorensen, partner and hospitality and tourism leader of Grant Thornton in Thailand, said yesterday.

“Too many hoteliers are yet to fully embrace big data. Without analytics technology and sufficiently trained staff to make sense of the noise, they can’t plot how to enrich guest experiences from pre-arrival to post-departure.

“At the same time, the new tools that allow for more targeted services risk diverting attention from the very skill on which the hotel industry was built – human interaction.

“With disruptors threatening the very fabric of the sector, these are crucial months and years ahead for hotel brands. Greater investment in technology and in training staff must be a priority if they are to keep pace.”

Examples of hotel brands already making innovative use of data to personalise the experiences their guests receive include Starwood Hotels, where guests can bypass check-in and unlock their rooms with their smartphones.

And the Bratislava Sheraton uses guests’ social-media “likes” to present tailored gifts upon check-in.

There are seven areas where hotels can deploy technological and human innovations to improve the customer experience. They include understanding that the guest journey begins long before they arrive in reception, and using ad-content algorithms to show customised offers to customers based on searches.

At the hotel, technology can be developed to let customers check in, control their room temperature and even customise the room layout.

And once guests leave, recording individual preferences can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable repeat experience.

“Technology is reshaping the world we live in, and the hotel industry is not – and should not – be immune to that,” Sorensen said.

“But hotel brands must ensure that if they invest in better data-management technology, they can measure its impact on guest satisfaction.

Or, that they are getting the balance right between data harvesting and respecting customer privacy. To do this, hiring new staff or retaining existing employees with the right skills will be critical.

“The most innovative hotels are already responding to these challenges. Those brands that are slowest to react to the demand for greater innovation will increasingly find themselves cut adrift.”

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