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As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.

As the travel industry begins to rally, technology companies are taking steps to help their customers get back to business. Strategies run the gamut from complimentary webinars and virtual learning events to special promotions and discounts, all designed to enable hotels and other hospitality venues to reopen confidently and economically amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Room Service and the New Normal - Food always has been, and always will be, a major part of the travel experience. But in a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable. Crowded restaurants and menus which have been handled many times may well (even temporarily) be avoided by wary travelers.

Over the past few years, there has been much media hype around the concept of a voice-controlled hotel room. It’s not hard to see why: voice assistant devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home achieved remarkable penetration in the consumer market in just a few years. Statista reports that about 157 million smart speakers were installed in U.S. households as of December 2019, an astonishing 1.22 devices per household. I haven’t found hard numbers on penetration in hotels, but based on the companies in the market and what I know of their size and success, it’s still very low, probably still under 1% of US hotel rooms. Is that about to change? Should it?

As we examine and develop new strategies for the changes that we can expect to see in the hospitality industry post-crisis, we are also starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. The probability of guest technology expectations worldwide significantly changing becomes high as guests prefer a more touchless and fully mobile-enabled hospitality experience post-COVID-19. The future of hospitality has always been mobile–but COVID-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.



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Is the Age of the Hotel App Over?

10/28/2016
by Brendon Granger

A few short years ago, mobile apps were being heralded as the next big communication tool in the hotel industry. But in a presentation at this year's HITEC, it was argued that the hotel app might be coming to an end.

It seems a dramatic assessment considering all the potential mobile apps promised, and yet it turns out that hotel apps just aren’t delivering meaningful value.


The Trouble with Apps
In reality, most apps that are downloaded end up being abandoned or not used at all. And despite the fact iOS and Android have over 3.1 million apps available for download, a recent study showed that customers spend 80 percent of their time using just three of them – Facebook, Google and the text messaging app.

Apps are also expensive to build and maintain, putting them out of reach for a great deal of independent hotels.

And then there is the issue of awareness. When a guest checks into a hotel, they may have no idea that the property they’re staying at even has an app – and it’s unlikely most people would go out of their way to check.

But as apps are being written off, a new opportunity is arising. In the hotel industry, it seems the future of guest communication lies in messaging. Around the world, messaging has become the dominant way people communicate with friends and family. Whether it’s chatting over SMS, or keeping in touch through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, messaging has become ingrained in everyday life.

For hotels, it makes sense to engage with guests via a platform they use frequently, rather than trying to persuade them to download an app they may never have heard of. The one-to-one nature of messaging also provides a platform to build more personal relationships.

And of course, messaging also opens up the ability to offer far more responsive and effective customer service. If a guest needs a light fixed in their room, wants fresh towels or wishes to book a table at the hotel restaurant, they can easily make that request using their own phone – anywhere, anytime.


Growing Popularity
In 2015, Starwood Hotels started using WhatsApp to communicate with guests. Then later that same year, Hyatt became one of the first brands to use Facebook Messenger as a customer service platform.

More recently, a significant number of brands have started communicating with customers via text, and companies such as Glowing.io are helping hotels streamline their operation by interacting with guests across various messaging platforms.

Slowly but very surely, hotels are starting to embrace messaging and chat apps with greater confidence and as they do, it seems this form of engagement will start to become more commonplace across the industry.


The Challenges of Messaging
While the benefits are numerous, introducing messaging into the guest experience also comes with a few challenges.

Just like making customers aware of a mobile app, hotels similarly need to let customers know they can use messaging to engage with the hotel. This can be achieved relatively easily: a welcome message at check in or a room-ready notification could initiate that first conversation and prompt further interaction.

As the HITEC presentation pointed out, hotel staff will also need to deal with an increased expectation from customers that requests will be responded to quickly. This will naturally involve putting in place effective systems for managing this extra flow of interaction.  This is where companies such as Glowing.io come in. While there are certain educational and operational challenges to be considered, it’s clear that messaging represents an altogether more efficient, consistent and cost-effective way to communicate with guests. In addition, language translation also benefits international guests allowing them to communicate back and forth with the hotel in their preferred language.


Huge Potential
As mobile apps are being written off, messaging looks set to shape the future of how hotels communicate with customers. In fact it’s predicted that within just 2-3 years, talking to hotels using SMS and chat apps will no longer be seen as the exception but the norm.

The potential for hotels is huge.

With global ubiquity and ease of use, messaging provides a ready-made platform to offer enhanced levels of customer service. It also provides the opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with guests – professional in tone, but more personable in nature.

If hotels can harness its true potential, there’s every reason to believe messaging could truly revolutionize the guest experience in the years to come.
 
 
About The Author
Brendon Granger
Director
Technology4Hotels


With a great passion for all things hotels, but in particular technology and a desire to help others, his role as director at Technology4Hotels allows him to do both.

Brendon has worked with hundreds of hotels to help them with their in-room technology. In the last few years he has helped them to increase guest satisfaction, strengthen guest loyalty and encourage repeat bookings as well as win awards such as the best business hotel, best city hotel, best upscale hotel and best luxury hotel in Australasia.

Always going the extra mile, Brendon began his hospitality career over 25 years ago working in five-star hotels whilst completing his bachelor of business in hotel management. He has held various management positions within five-star hotels, worked as a consultant in both hotel feasibility and technology and has an extensive background in hotel technology.

 
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