“Guests today expect more than just a place to sleep,” said Vaughn Davis, chief executive officer of Relevant Hospitality, a leader in launching luxury hospitality brands in new markets. “They’re looking for hotels that offer robust programming, exceptional food and beverage concepts, engaging activities and interactive experiences. In 2023, delivering a truly great guest experience involves catering to consumer desires for immersive and experiential stays.”
Mehmet Erdem, Ph.D., professor of hotel operations and tech- nology at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, agrees. “Every hotel guest expects some level of personalization, even guests who are staying in economy properties,” he said. “Consumer expectations continue to evolve, and the pace of change is staggering. It’s challenging for hotels to package a memorable experience.”
Challenging perhaps, but not impossible. According to Davis, who previously served as general manager of Dream Hollywood, an upscale boutique property in Los Angeles that’s as popular with locals – including sports stars and A-list actors – as it is with travel- ers, technology is the key to helping hoteliers achieve exceptional service. “Technology allows us to truly know our guests and curate a memorable stay, and it enables guests to get help quickly and to be more independent,” he said.
It also helps the industry remain relevant. “The world is changing faster than ever and consumers are interacting in new ways every day. We have to meet people where they are, and we have to evolve if we want to continue to create meaningful guest experiences,” he said. “Technology plays a crucial role in allowing us to do that.”
A data-driven approach
In today’s technologically-based culture, data is widely considered to be among the world’s most valuable resources. The internet and smartphones have made it plentiful, and practically every activity creates a digital trail. Consider that more than 4.59 billion people used social media last year, reports global database company Statista. And that number is projected to increase to almost six billion by 2027.
In the hospitality industry in particular, data ranks at the very top of the ‘most valuable list’ for its ability to boost guest satisfaction. “Data analytics is a game-changer for elevating the guest experience,” said Erdem. “By leveraging its power, properties can anticipate guest needs, personalize communications, identify areas for improvement and optimize every aspect of the guest journey.”
One of the main benefits of data analytics is the ability it gives hotels to target their marketing efforts. “By analyzing guest data like demographics, preferences and past purchasing behavior, you can generate highly tailored experiences,” he said. “You can segment guests into distinct groups and create marketing messages and offers that appeal to each one, which not only engages guests on a deeper level but also strengthens loyalty.”
Data analytics can also make the guest journey more efficient and enjoyable. By analyzing guest behavior at various touchpoints, hotels can identify bottlenecks and other problem areas and use that knowledge to streamline processes, perhaps by offering self-service check-in to eliminate long lobby waits or providing hotel information on guests’ smartphones – from general property info to room service menus with a self-ordering option. “The more friction you can reduce, the more your guests will enjoy their stay,” he said.
Still another benefit of data analytics is the revenue-generating opportunities it uncovers. “Understanding guests’ behaviors and purchasing patterns enables you to offer amenities and services that drive incremental revenue and guest satisfaction.”
And more, data analytics can help hotels optimize their loyalty programs. “Analysis of member data can reveal trends, preferences and opportunities for enhancing the loyalty experience,” Erdem said, perhaps through tailored rewards or exclusive benefits based on guest preferences.
Davis recommends that hoteliers always take a data-driven approach to the guest experience. “Any hotel employee can talk to guests, make them smile and check them in,” he says. “It’s the back-end work that allows you to provide a unique experience.” That back-end work involves using data analytics to gain a sound understanding of guests before they ever arrive on property. “Hotels possess a storehouse of data that, when properly analyzed, can offer insights that help them create highly personalized guest stays.”
Davis also advises every hotelier to hire a data scientist to uncover patterns and preferences. It’s worth the investment, he said. “Data scientists can uncover patterns and preferences and help hotels curate experiences based on the guests they attract, which is different for every property.”
The role of artificial intelligence
Perhaps the biggest buzz in the industry surrounds the use of artificial intelligence (AI), one of the fastest-growing technologies in the world. According to a recent report from accounting firm PwC, AI could add nearly $16 trillion to the global economy by 2030. In the hotel vertical alone, its potential seems unlimited, from optimizing pricing decisions to predicting maintenance needs. And it’s especially useful in the area of guest service.
At Dream, an AI-powered delivery robot named Alfred, implemented during the pandemic and originally intended to promote social distancing, turned out to be such a huge hit with guests that the hotel introduced Geoffrey the following year, an upgraded model with a larger capacity delivery bin and a fully autonomous self-driving capability. The robots, dressed in stylish tuxedos that mirror the property's ambience, assist with assist with a variety of routine tasks, such as the delivery of snacks, food, drinks, towels and other items. They also deliver tablets to guest rooms, which provide guests with access to hotel services and amenities.
Best of all, Davis said, Albert and Geoffrey ensure that personalized exchanges are more rewarding than ever. “When they're not making deliveries, they're in the lobby greeting visitors. Guests have fun interacting with them."
The addition of the robots also frees hotel staff to spend extra time with guests. “With the delivery duties taken care of, staff can tackle more complex tasks and nurture the human connections that travelers deserve,” he said.
According to Erdem, one of the most profound ways in which AI can impact guest service is through the transformation of hotel marketing. “AI not only automates tedious and time-consuming tasks like campaign management and customer segmenta- tion, but also enables marketers to analyze large amounts of data and use predictive analytics to forecast trends and guest behavior.” Moreover, the technology allows hotels to create more targeted marketing campaigns based on a variety of factors, such as demographics, past purchasing behavior and individual preferences.
Smart hoteliers also use AI to monitor social media platforms and identify effective influencers for their marketing campaigns. Similarly, AI is helpful in recognizing guest comments about the hotel or brand, so that the property can provide prompt feedback. “Take social media comments seriously and respond quickly,” he advised. “If you leave a comment unanswered it appears that you don’t care, while quick and thoughtful responses create goodwill.”
AI can be integrated with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to provide guests with immersive experiences such as virtual room selection and virtual property tours. Simi- larly, the technology enables travelers to explore landmarks near the hotel, from parks and museums to restaurants and nightclubs. “It helps guests plan their itineraries and improves guest engagement and satisfaction,” Erdem said.
And more, smart room technology powered by AI elevates the guest experience. A smart hotel room is often defined as a technologically advanced space that utilizes various devices, sensors and software to automate and personalize various aspects of the guest experience. Smart room tech- nology includes AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots that anticipate guest requests, tailor their recommendations and provide seamless communication. Other smart room devices include sensors that adjust room settings, smart locks that allow guests to enter the room using their smartphones, automated lighting and temperature controls, and high-tech entertainment systems with access to streaming services.
Davis notes that the incorporation of smart technology into the hotel comes with privacy and data security concerns. “Protecting guest privacy is paramount in these imple- mentations,” he said. “We have an aggressive data privacy strategy in collaboration with our IT department to safeguard guest information.” Erdem agrees. The more technology you have, the more opportunities for security breaches,” he said. “Hotels should implement good security practices as well as staff training. Employees have to understand the technology in order to encourage guest adoption, and they’re also on the front lines when it comes to troubleshooting.”
A new hospitality landscape
In an innovative move to further elevate the guest experience at Dream Hollywood, Davis dove into the world of non- fungible tokens (NFTs), which are unique digital assets – often drawings or music – that have been tokenized via a blockchain and can be traded or exchanged for money, cryptocurrencies, or other NFTs. In 2021, the hotel implemented the first NFT art gallery in a hospitality setting. The exhibition, coordinated in partnership with The Crypt Gallery and located in the hotel’s double-height light-filled lobby, explored the world of NFTs and digital art and highlighted a diverse line-up of both digital artists and well-established physical artists who composed a limited number of pieces.
Blending in-person and metaverse experiences, the program allows members to immerse themselves in a world of bespoke services.
Open to the public around-the-clock with constantly rotating curations, the gallery became a hot spot for discovering rising talent while providing hotel guests and local residents with opportunities to engage with new art forms. The hotel now hosts NFT pop-up events, which can be attended virtually. And that’s not all. Last year, the hotel unveiled a unique VIP membership program called Social Club that can be purchased through an NFT in the form of a limited-edition original Perry Cooper NFT artwork. Blending in-person and metaverse experiences, the program allows members to immerse themselves in a world of bespoke services and gain access to a wide range of perks, including concierge services, use of the hotel gym, reserved poolside loungers, discounted rates on hotel rooms, private events with The Crypt Gallery and more.
“With the introduction of this innovative membership program, we elevated the guest experience to new heights,” Davis said, noting that club members also have a piece of art with trending value. “If they decide to sell it, they make a profit on their membership.”
Davis believes NFTs will play a significant role in shifting the hospitality industry to Web 3.0, the third evolution of web technologies that encompasses the decentralized applications that run on blockchain, including cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens. Web 3.0 will also leverage artificial intelligence and allow users to capitalize on 3D visuals and graphics. “We’re moving into a new environment,” he said. “The entire landscape has changed.”
Balancing high tech with high touch
When used wisely, technology goes hand-in-hand with guest satisfaction. Yet hotels must never forget the role of the human touch in the hospitality setting. “Far too many hotels prioritize automation over empathy,” Erdem said. “Others implement technology for technology’s sake rather than for its value to guests or employees.”
Both approaches are wrongheaded, he claims. Properties that want to succeed must balance high tech with high touch. “Nothing can replace human warmth. It’s about combining technology and staff to anticipate guest needs and make them feel appreciated and valued,” he said. The right mix will result not only in an improved guest experience but also in more streamlined operations and increased profitability.
For Davis, it’s about using technology to move the industry forward. “New technologies are disrupting some of our traditional paradigms, but the disruption allows us to gain a fresh new perspective,” he concluded. “Embracing new technology helps us create better business models and provide more personalized experiences. We have to be prepared for that next step in hospitality.”
Guest Satisfaction Study Underscores Importance of Frontline Staff
A recent guest satisfaction study by J.D. Power & Associates, a global leader in consumer insights, reveals the importance of staff service to consumers’ hotel stays. According to the company’s 2023 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, which was released in July, staff service was the highest- scoring factor across every hotel segment, from economy to luxury.
As U.S. hotel occupancy reaches pre-pandemic levels, properties are hiring in record numbers and doubling down on guest service. “Hospitality is the ‘rock star’ among the industries reported in monthly U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures,” said Andrea Stokes, hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “This increase in staffing, along with an emphasis on guest service, is showing up in the form of high guest satisfaction scores.”
The study highlights the importance of frontline staff in defining the guest experience, even in today’s technologically-driven world. “Many hoteliers believe that guests who use apps don’t care about staff interaction, but our research found that this isn’t the case,” she said. “Although guests might use an app to check in, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to communicate with staff. When they experience a problem, for example, they really want to talk with a person.”
The study, which ran for 12 months, collected guest feedback on the performance of 102 brands across nine market segments: luxury, upper upscale, upscale, upscale extended stay, upper midscale, upper midscale/midscale extended stay, midscale, economy, and economy extended stay. It covered six key areas: guest room, food and beverage, staff service, hotel facilities (including common areas, grounds and pool), value for money, and communications and connectivity. The latter category, which was added this year, focused on guest-facing technology such as app usage, streaming services and voice assistants.
Regarding technology, more than 30 percent of hotel guests had the hotel or brand app on a mobile device, and among that group, 40 percent had used it to check in. However, more than 75 percent of respondents who checked in online still interacted with front desk staff during their stay. One in four guests communicated with staff using the app, and one in five ordered food and beverage via the app.
The study also showed that almost 60 percent of guests reported a Smart TV and streaming capabilities in the room. Almost 10 percent reported a voice assistant device in the room, with more than half of those guests indicating that they used that device during their stay.