Personalisation is one of the main buzzwords dominating the industry and trends reports in 2018. Since the shift from offline and print advertisement to digital campaigns has taken place years ago, hoteliers are able to use digital campaigns and tools in order to provide users with a more personalised experience pre, during and post stay. But why should hospitality businesses take a new approach to customer experience? And how does personalisation take place in the constantly changing digital world?
Recent studies claim that 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when promotional or advertising content appears not related to their interests. This leaves businesses with an increasing pressure to sell their products to the right audience within a short length of time. Not only does the average attention span diminish, but competition increases simultaneously. In order to foster loyalty and grow their market share personalisation offers a new approach.
Disruptive innovators such as Instagram and Netflix have realised the importance of personalising the user experience and have made it their core business strategy. Leading by example, Netflix conducted various studies among their users and their behaviour while on platform. Their findings concluded that users tend to be more selective and impatient at the same time, and spend 90 seconds or less to select the right movie or drop off altogether.
The famous online broadcasting company faces similar struggles to the hotel industry having a limited stock (in their case – movies) while targeting a wide range of users with different demographics and interests.
Netflix addressed the problem by selling the exact same product using a wide selection of images and themes. Which image is displayed to a Netflix user is based on analysis of personal choices and shows watched previously. A frequently used example is the show “Stranger Things” being promoted to members with an array of different imagery based on the users’ preferences.
Most hotels will not be able to take personalisation to that level, but as a hotelier one might ask – is it not all about customer experience once a guest has arrived and how does personalisation affect the hospitality and travel industry overall?
An industry example that gets it right is the citizenM hotel chain. According to their CEO Michael Levie “their core business philosophy is to offer a brand new model of affordable luxury for the modern traveller that combines a highly personalized and unique experience with sustainability and awareness for a reasonable price”. Upon check in all guests choose from items such as favourite TV content, music, preferred room temperature, lighting scheme, and other preferences through their in-room tablet, all of which are automatically adjusted and stored in the hotels’ online system. But the popular global hotel chain takes it a step further, using a Guest Experience Ecosystem, which provides all employees with real-time information on guests’ preferences at any touch-point. According to the hotel chain, the seamless connectivity between customer preferences and their surrounding environment, citizenM can enhance each encounter with a guest while also maximizing its revenue.
Virgin Hotels aims to give guests greater control to customise their stay by focusing on technology. Their branded smartphone app allows guests to check in, check out, control the in-room entertainment, and manage the room temperature. Pre stay guests will receive a questionnaire to help with the personalisation process ahead of the arrival date. “Guests only complete it if they want to. We ask things like whether they’re afraid of heights, whether they want to be away from the elevator, and what they want in their minibar” explains Allie Hope – Head of Acquisition & Development at Virgin Hotels.
Only offering personal experiences upon arrival, your hotel is missing out already e.g. targeting users at the initial holiday research stage! Further stages of touch points and personalisation opportunities are as follows:
- Searching online: Personalise your offering and rates based on who are you trying to target – promote a couple getaway, girlie break or family holiday rather than a Flash Sale; it will make it easier for guests to identify with the offer. Use ad copy to match your offering. “Hotels don’t need to sell a bed anymore, but an emotion” says Hans Meyer – the founder of Zoku.
- Booking stage: At the booking stage a guest should be able to define preferences and provide the hotel with information about their visit. Do you offer different facilities and in-room features? Leave it up to your guest to pick according to their requirements! Pre stay emails are the most efficient way to find out what your guest needs.
- Checking-In: The first face to face touch point between the guest and the hotel! Make sure it is a memorable one for the right reasons! Return guests should be greeted by name and provided with relevant information based on the type of holiday they are on.
- Around the hotel: Hotels should also offer a customisable stay, whether through food and drink, advice on restaurant menus linked to known preferences, or information on local attractions.
- After leaving: Personalisation doesn’t end at check-out. Customers may have preferences about accessing invoices and expenses. Hotels could invite guests to create social media content – whether photos or reviews. Maintain the connection for the future!
The 5 stages of personalisation require data collection and analysis. But how should hotels approach data collection along with GDPR? As hotels move towards data-enabled personalisation, data security and privacy must remain a top priority at all times. Not only is the legal fall-out increasingly serious – EU companies will soon face penalties of up to 4% of global turnover or €20 million. On top of that reputational damage will be severe.
There is a fine line between personalisation and privacy. It may be tempting for hotels to justify collecting, storing and analysing vast amounts of data the name of creating more personal experience. Ideally all hotels should have a dedicated department and GDPR officer devoted exclusively to data protection and management. Hotels should be asking themselves if sensitive information such as email addresses, credit card details and birth date are really required in personalising the user experience. From the 25th of May 2018, the answer should be no!
Technology and personalisation is still in its baby steps for most independent hotels and it will never fully replace the human aspect to the guest experience. To conclude, Hassan Ahdab – VP Starwood & Hotels Resorts Africa & Indian Ocean seems to have found the right approach stating “The real magic, we believe, is not technology, but how technology enables us to connect with guests and deliver great experiences”.