Innovate or risk irrelevance: redefining hospitality’s “personal touch” for a truly personal guest experience

10.4.2022
Alex Alt
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Hospitality is an industry whose quality of guest experience hinges on “personal touch.” But after two years spent six feet apart, the definition of “personal touch” is being completely reconstructed.

This comes at a time when hospitality operators are facing critical staffing shortages… and guests are feeling the aftershocks. In a recent survey by Oracle, travelers’ biggest complaints were staff shortages (33.7%) and long lines at check in/out (32.8%). This creates a conundrum: how to deliver a seamless, personalized guest experiences without more hands to do so.

The primary way hospitality must respond is with the digitization of the guest experience. This approach turns one of the industry’s biggest challenges into a massive opportunity.

Give the guests what they want: more “personal,” less “touch”

Tech like contactless check-in, mobile messaging, and AI-powered insights will help smooth the guest experience, with the added benefit that these same technologies will also alleviate labor shortages and build a more efficient service model going forward. These technologies are occasionally criticized by some hoteliers as dehumanizing hospitality… But the fact is that personal touch is not synonymous with “high touch,” and consumers are increasingly demanding these innovations for the vast majority of services.

In the aforementioned survey by Oracle, a fully contactless experience for all basic hotel transactions, like check-in/-out was the number one “must-have” by guests. A fully self-service model, like ordering room service or concierge services from a mobile device or chatbot, was the second most selected.

Not only do these technologies give guests the experience they desire, they will also be a welcome reprieve for short-staffed properties. Mobile check-in, for example, is both more convenient for travelers and untethers crew from a mundane, repetitive tasks at the service desk to instead focus on work that contributes more significantly to guest experiences.

Many properties are already putting this into practice. In a recent blog, Claus Larsen and Gerry Tessier of Predator Ridge, a resort community in Vernon, British Columbia, said, “Speed to market is what we’re pursuing, especially with contactless offerings that’ll provide guests with self-service options. For example, we’ll add key-card kiosks, letting guests pick up their keys and go directly to their rooms… It’ll require fewer people on the front desk, which is one of the areas where we’re hardest hit.”

Build personalization into each part of the journey

Because guests expect highly personalized experiences that cater to the unique individuals that they are, personalization must be built into every part of the traveler journey. This means hospitality operators need to be able to build comprehensive guest profiles – encompassing all their behaviors and preferences – in a single repository for easy access by relevant staff. As technology becomes a more integral part of every step of the guest journey, more opportunities are created to capture information that helps to create magical moments for guests.

Past personalization efforts have only scratched the surface, limited to recognizing guests by name and perhaps capturing basic preferences. The next frontier will be deeper, using technology to gain greater understanding of guest preferences; then operationalizing those preferences with bespoke offers and tailored experiences. This is made possible by deep integration between loyalty systems, property systems, and brand mobile apps.

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As hospitality continues to run lean, a greater focus needs to be placed on how employees’ days are spent, and what parts of the guest journey would benefit from being automated with technology. For example, is anyone at your organization completing mundane, repetitive tasks that don’t deliver unique value to the guest? Manually entering invoices into a system? Facing complex, lengthy internal policies and procedures? If yes… that’s a good place to start.

Technology will never fully replace the “personal touch” that only staff can deliver; but it will help the industry to make up for staff shortages, and simultaneously deliver more convenient, better-informed guest experiences. The more mundane tasks that technology can handle, the more staff can focus on delivering a truly exceptional, personal experience to visitors that will “wow” them and win their loyalty for years to come.

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