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Customized Hotel Experiences

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October 15, 2015
Sales & Marketing
Anna de Visser-Amundson - research@hotelschool.nl

A constant stream of new innovations enables hoteliers to improve offerings. At the same time, competition forces us to constantly stay on top of the latest trends, developments and to find unique features to differentiate ourselves. Relying on intuition or imitation, do hoteliers unconsciously create a suffocating feature war that leads to more sameness rather than differentiation? What are guests truly looking for?

A hotel brand has not been featured on the Interbrand list of the Top 100 Global Brands since 2008. A reason for this is a lack of clear brand differentiation. Indeed, hotel guests no longer see any significant differences between different hotel brands. Consumers instead rely on price, location and online reviews as their key decision criteria when choosing a hotel. Properties have responded to this by offering new services and extras to stand out. But as competitors do the same, this has been counterproductive, making all the players in the market more similar – not only between brands but also across star classifications. Many consumers find it hard to understand the real difference between three-star hotels and four or even five-star properties in some cases.

Guests can find interactive touch screens in the lobby with news and information about the area, tablets in rooms that can serve as personal concierges, smartphones that act as room keys, smartphone docking stations and cordless phones that can be used for VoIP. However, these new technologies add little value if they do not match the overall guest experience. A 40-inch flat-screen television only makes sense as part of a well thought through guest experience, for instance, can a guest stream movies or music on the TV from her own device? A study on “Hotels of the Future” shows that mobile technologies and associated apps are increasingly important to consumers when both planning their trip and during their stay. Guests especially value when they can connect their own devices while interacting with the hotel’s virtual services.

Focus on the Guest
Today's consumers are more experienced, better informed and more demanding than ever. They bring an average of more than two devices on which they also bring their own content. This means that the hotel not only misses out on revenue from the telephone but also from pay TV and video on demand. Investments in in-room technology are often difficult to recuperate.

This was the business case given to us by Mark Selwary and Johan Westberg from Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. They asked us to map out who the industry leader is in terms of implementing guest-related technology innovations and to find out what guests are really looking for. Our study showed that adoption of in-room technology innovations was scattered across hotel companies and then quickly imitated by competitors. On the other hand, guests would rather choose relevant features, attributes and services themselves. By customizing their stays, consumers don’t have to interact with offerings that are not relevant. Instead, the hotel experience can be customized according to individual and personal preferences. Research shows that guests appreciate this, not only because they value a closer fit with the offering and their personal preferences, but also because they find the creative process of customization very cool. The results of this study reinforced Carlson Rezidor in its earlier intentions of not just introducing new features in its hotels, but looking to guests’ needs and wants: customize offerings where ever possible, maintain free high-speed Internet and become a technology facilitator rather than a technology supplier.

Customers’ value perceptions and willingness to pay for special services increase significantly if they can customize the hotel experience in the booking process. Despite the complexity of offering personalized solutions, it can drive more direct bookings and higher revenues. To facilitate the process, the level of customization can be set by the hotel and the expectation of the hotel’s guests. 

Mass Customization
Mass customization is now an ubiquitous consumer trend. Already a common strategy for many industries, hotels are now catching up. For example, Conrad Hotels and Resorts lets guests choose from three different brands of bathroom products, whereas Hyatt let guests borrow items like phone chargers, razors and yoga mats. At the Library Collection Hotels in New York guests can request coffee machines, makeup mirrors or refrigerators to be placed in the room, and the Four Seasons offers a program where a guest can adjust her sleep experience by choosing a mattress' firmness. These examples can be a great start to improving personalized service. In the future, hotels will offer more of these customized solutions to facilitate better brand differentation and more customer excitement.

Anna de Visser-Amundson is a lecturer and member of the research team at the Hotelschool The Hague, Hospitality Business School. She can be reached at research@hotelschool.nl.

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