Today, there are nearly 800 luxury hotels and resorts across the globe with an average life of about 40 years. Many of these properties are nearing the end of their peak revenue, and will need to consider how to remain competitive against the continual flow of new and updated hotels and resorts.
To provide some context, hotels in this age range were built before the commercial web was launched, before the experience economy, before the cloud and before big data. While many properties will opt for surface-level renovations that focus on look and feel, forward-thinking resorts will look as well at the technological advances for customer experience that will stave off their obsolescence and keep them competitive with newer higher-end facilities. For these resorts, the Internet of Things (IoT) may be just the answer they need to create and manage an amazing guest experience.
The Internet of Things is a network of connected devices that collect and leverage data to provide services to users. In your home, your Alexa plays your online music and places shopping orders. But, it may also connect to other devices to regulate lights and control thermostats. Other IoT devices might monitor and manage home security and control connected appliances. Each of these devices learns your habits and preferences and becomes smarter over time to increase your satisfaction. The more “things” they connect to, the smarter they will become and the better your experience.
In a lodging environment, implementing an IoT operates on the same principles, but it is much more complicated to launch than the plug-and-play version in your home. While home IoTs start as blank slates and learn as they go, in the services environment you must start with a variety of guest data and all the right processes and systems to provide a personalized, valuable experience from the start. On day one, you must be ready to deliver personalized content to guests through an app, wearable or in-room tablet that might include dinner and event recommendations, along with promotions for perishable services like massages and tickets.
First Steps
Hotels and resorts can build an IoT using many of the investments they already have in security sensors and in-room and in-resort technology to provide a customized, high-end experience that will knock the socks off guests and increase efficiencies at the same time. This is a win-win for everyone. The trick is getting started.
Most high-end hotels and resorts are already working to differentiate based on customer satisfaction. But, before jumping headlong into technology investments, it is important first to understand the business problem and guest pain points you are trying to solve, and then look at how an IoT and its components can solve those issues.
From the beginning, all business units that influence guest experience must work together to agree on the need and outline common goals. This likely will include facility management, IT, marketing, employee training and more. It’s important that each understands what a guest experience program is, why it is being implemented, how it will benefit business units, and what might be expected of them before, during and after it launches. It is generally recommended to have a dedicated Experience Manager to guide the implementation of the program and the supporting IoT - ideally played by someone who gives equal weight to operational and experience KPIs.
Contrary to popular myth, an IoT is not designed to replace employees, though efficiencies will be gained. Instead, the IoT should empower employees to improve guest experience at every turn. If an employee knows through their app that a guest has been sitting by the pool on a hot day for over an hour, they can proactively arrive with a favorite drink without the guest lifting a finger.
Starting with Data
To create the best experiences and build the IoT to support them, you will need to assess the current data the organization possesses and determine which will be most useful in influencing the guest experience. It will likely be a small subset of the masses of data you have on customers, so identifying the most salient points will be important to control costs and scope of the project.
Technical resources can build connectors to make the most important data accessible by the relevant systems of records (SORs). This helps properties leverage their existing infrastructure investments wherever possible. Guest touch points in the IoT should help capture other influential data that may be leveraged later.
As an IoT becomes more sophisticated, outside data can be layered on to extend the guest experience. For instance, some hotels partner with Uber to provide local entertainment recommendations to guests, and links built between the the hotel and Uber apps make the travel experience more seamless. Both companies benefit from understanding more about their guest’s journey.
Building for the Future
As intense competition pushes room rates down and rising guest expectations drive costs up, hoteliers must reduce costs while simultaneously delighting guests. When hotels use the right technology that is networked together to build an IoT and supported with a foundation of critical guest data, they will be able to standardize and scale guest experience in ways that will reduce costs and increase satisfaction. This will allow hotels to implement new solutions more quickly, helping them remain competitive in the future.
An IoT is the foundation that supports the entire guest experience efforts. It ties together SORs, guest preference data, information kiosks and signage, and every facility on your property to deliver a cohesive and personalized guest experience that will eventually become the norm. The days of one size fits all travel is over, and an investment in an IoT and a customer experience program will ensure your hotel is still around to provide guest experience for years to come.