Using Digital Technology to Rethink Hospitality


When it’s mission-critical to know more about the latest digital innovations in the hospitality space, the time is now.

In order to master the hotel industry’s digital transformation to realize the substantial economic benefits and retain guests’ interest, brands must be able to adapt and overcome significant challenges—namely the growth of OTAs and sharing economy websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

“Over the last year or so, digital has transformed the way travelers research and book travel. The rise of the OTAs and the online presence of hotel companies themselves clearly has led to a huge increase in the number of bookings coming digitally,” said Umar Riaz, managing director for Accenture Travel in North America.

This technological shift is further underscored by the results of Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse Research study, a tracking of the intentions and actions of consumers, which found only one-quarter of consumers felt very loyal toward their providers. In addition, the study showed 88% of travelers use at least one online channel to learn about products and services, and 66% of respondents said the number of brands they’d consider for purchase has increased significantly.

“What we see is digital leading to completely new online business models in the industry, specifically companies like Airbnb, which are giving customers more choice on where to stay,” said Riaz. “Also, hotel companies are not only expanding the reach of digital into the research and book portion of the life cycle, but into the stay portion too. For example, how you check in and how you experience a property is being transformed by digital, and how hotel companies manage loyalty has also changed.”

On an operational level, larger hotel chains seeking to implement a change across a brand simultaneously with 10,000 franchises can be a difficult hurdle to pass, according to Riaz.

“If you give customers the ability to interact with your brand digitally, then you don’t have to rely as much on changing the behavior of every single property that you own,” he said. “The highly distributed and global nature of the industry presents a particular issue in terms of how to manage change, and the remedy for that is to put digital capabilities into the hands of customers.”

TripAdvisor and similar websites appear to have broken an invisible shield between customers and the hotel brand, giving potential guests more insight into what an individual property is really like through reviews, photos and videos uploaded by other travelers.

“It’s no longer what Marriott’s brand stands for, it’s what is the Marriott in the location I’m going to…and people will research that. So, increasingly at the property level, there’s a tremendous amount of transparency now in terms of the quality of the property and customer experience,” Riaz said.

Hotels can attract savvy guests by finding ways to win the stay digitally, such as enabling the ability for guests to share their stay on social media or by offering mobile check-in and similar services.

While digital technology in hospitality is a vital tool to engage with guests, it’s also a powerful tool to make employees more productive and effectively improve the operations of a hotel.

“What you’ll see is increasingly to the use of technology to streamline customer service especially at limited-service hotels. Limited-service hotels are focused on delivering a great customer experience at the lowest price point possible and, for them, the use of technology is going to become increasingly important to streamline the customer experience,” Riaz said.

In terms of marketing, hotels are up against emerging competitors who are able to design a seamless customer experience and market their product 100% online.

“The sophistication that they bring to that is something the hotel companies needs to adopt along with leading-edge marketing practices in order to seamlessly connect with customers and provide more efficient marketing services to customers,” Riaz said.

According to Riaz, he expects corporate travel to be the next big frontier as companies like Expedia and Airbnb try to penetrate and expand their portfolios in this area. The hospitality industry will want to keep a watchful eye on this segment.

“The mind share for corporate dollars will be quite significant, and that will force some of the hospitality companies to rethink how they sell, package and deliver corporate travel. The OTAs of the world are going to attack that space with more attractive offerings. Corporate travel is likely to benefit as companies seek to redefine how they engage with corporations,” he said.

Hotel brands are no longer reactive, they are becoming more innovative in terms of technology—think robots delivering room service—and taking an offensive approach to competitors.

“The way they are attacking it, they are providing their customer with enhanced value propositions based on booking their stay through the hotel brand’s channel. That’s one way of protecting loyalty and making sure customers interact directly with them,” Riaz said. “Putting in processes a customer can enjoy and stay loyal to; using social media and other digital channels more effectively to enhance your brand, so loyal customers feel good about it; and providing digital tools for customer support will be important to success.”

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Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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