The digital transformation (DX) revolution is accelerating and organizations can either participate or potentially perish. New markets are being created, and industries are being disrupted. We have only to name Uber as one example. Their presence is having a profound effect on the cab industry, taking over market share quickly. Digital technologies and new ways of thinking have made innovative companies like Uber possible.
The effects of digital transformation are far reaching. Organizations across every industry are analyzing where they can employ new processes and technologies for competitive advantage. These endeavors are best served not as short-lived projects but as part of an evolution or process that is strategically planned and continuously implemented.
In one sector, the hospitality industry (tourism, hotels and leisure), leaders are leveraging technologies like Mobility, Cloud, IoT, Big Data, and process improvements via Robotic Process Automation (RPA), to boost operational productivity, enhance engagement and drive revenue growth.
The hospitality industry is massive and a large component of many economies, whether developed (US, UK etc.) or developing (Indonesia, Croatia, Thailand etc.). Per Deloitte, from 2009 to 2017, US hotel gross bookings grew from $116 billion to $185 billion. Airline revenue jumped from $155 billion to $222 billion. Other sectors, from cruise to ground transportation and restaurants also benefited as US consumers reconnected with an inherent love for travel. International travel demand has flourished, and more companies are leaning on the power of business travel to help their organizations connect and grow.
The hospitality industry is generally divided into four areas: lodging, food and beverage (F&B), recreation, and travel. Tourism is far reaching and serves diverse jobs, locations, activities, and economic brackets.
According to www.ehotelier.com, the millennial traveler, now makes up over one third of the world’s hotel guests, with predictions that they will reach over 50% by 2020. Travel buyers from this generation are extremely tech-savvy and prefer digital experiences that are easy-to-use and require minimal personal involvement. To remain competitive, organizations looking to serve these buyers need to adapt to how they wish to be served. Hoteliers and travel focused organizations that were quick to realize and adopt emerging technologies have seen incredible growth in brand visibility and loyalty as well as and enhanced operational efficiencies.
What technologies and digital trends are at the top of the list for hospitality firms? Here are 4 technologies which are influencing how the hospitality industry operates and serves their customers:
- Automation via Chatbots and Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Most travel buyers now prefer a “everything digital” approach that allows them to conduct their own research whenever they please. Customer satisfaction is critical in the hospitality industry, especially now in the age of social media when one bad review can send your sales reeling. These technologies can play a key role delivering a smooth experience when users are evaluating travel destinations, asking Qs, booking travel and for post-sale communications. Automation is one way to ensure peak customer service even during peak season. As an example, instead of having an inbox flooded with requests with over-worked employees replying to each and every call and email to answer basic questions and provide relevant room or package pricing options, chatbots can help. Bots and RPA automate the gathering of necessary information from clients and can showcase available options (rooms, suites, restaurants, conference rooms) virtually (with the help of VR /AR). As an example, if a prospective traveler inputs “a room for 2, Oceanfront”. A bot finds and shares the most suitable properties which includes availability for terms like “oceanfront”, “double occupancy” etc. Hospitality sales execs can spend their time on more valued or complex conversations, while providing immediate gratification for those doing their research online. RPA (Robotic Process Automation) automates repetitive processes to better manage travel client data, answer commonly asked questions, automatically email pertinent information, and provide a smooth, error-free booking process available 24x7 to night-owl clients’ delight!
- Embracing Mobility: Embracing mobility can make a huge impact in the services industry for both travelers as well as back office and field staff. A mobile app creates a more personalized experience for customers by giving options to book rooms and reservations easily based on their preferences using filters or previous travel data. These apps also include features like property maps, virtual tours, one click call/chat options, requests for housekeeping / room service and much more. Talk about customer service! Hotels utilize mobile apps for customer engagement and loyalty as well to communicate perks to loyal customers and send push notifications to share important offers or events. They are a great tool to keep their brand top-of-mind to prospective travelers. For internal staff, mobile apps can be used to help housekeeping staff address guest requests quickly or track activities or log issues for maintenance or other staff. In a similar manner, here is how a global food and support services leader embraced mobility to enable their field services teams. Of course, mobile device management is a critical component to ensure employees can access organizational data on a fully secured device. Mobile apps are a great way for hospitality focused organizations to empower staff and provide guests with a next-level traveling experience.
- Smart Rooms powered by Artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT): As already mentioned, millennials are one of the largest spending groups for hospitality and they have grown up on smart devices and digital technologies. Of course, it would make sense that they would gravitate towards smart hotel rooms too. Innovative technologies as well as changing lifestyles, trends and standard of living have made smart home systems possible via artificial intelligence driven IoT devices. Close your eyes and envision a room digitally enabled with room service, security, lighting, temperature, entertainment, cleaning etc. - with just one voice command, and your wish is the hotel’s command. The flexibility and ease of use offered by IoT driven smart home devices (google home, amazon echo and more) have led to an increased demand from next-gen travelers to have access to the same functionality when they are on the go. Hospitality organizations are now deploying smart devices throughout their properties to create a luxurious experience. By leveraging the data generated from past bookings, food selection, service requests and in-room amenities, hoteliers can transform guest experiences while continuously improving their offerings and service, driving increased revenue and reduced operational costs.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Imagine visiting the next destination on your bucket list, experiencing its building interiors, the lush property, exploring all the facility has to offer without visiting it physically. This is possible through AR/VR. Simply put on VR gear and immerse yourself into a 360 degree experience including a 3D walk through of rooms, restaurants and more. Hotels and destinations don’t need complex programming or high-end software to accomplish this, a simple panoramic camera to capture 360-degree video is all they need. A major benefit with VR tours is prospective travelers can “visit” these properties at all hours of the day. Planning a wedding? Just review the prospective location’s VR tour! According to Forbes, “back in 2015, Marriott simultaneously debuted in New York City and London what it calls the first in-room virtual reality travel experience called VRoom Service. It changed the way hotelier’s marketed. Hotel guests were invited to call a dedicated VRoom Service extension or use Marriott’s Mobile Request app to request a Samsung virtual reality headset and accompanying headphones. VR Postcards were described as a virtual travel content platform that offers “intimate and immersive travel stories that users experience in 360-degree 3D, via a virtual reality headset.” The program was successful and after just nine days at the Marriott Marquis, the hotel's received 558 requests for the VR experience.”
From big data / predictive analytics analyzing the most successful revenue streams and the likes/dislikes of guests - to using drone technology for aerial photography of the property as part of a marketing strategy to drive increased bookings - to blockchain for validating guest’s transactions and more, the future holds vast opportunities for the hospitality sector. Digital transformation technologies have made connections with people anywhere in the world possible for more meaningful engagement and opportunity capitalization on a global scale. These opportunities are no longer just for large conglomerates or hotel chains, even local establishments can compete by embracing these technologies.
As buyers, sellers and the entire market becomes more reliant on digital technologies, industry players will need to constantly amend their strategies and approach so that they can continue to attract, engage and delight guests on a global scale. Looking to embrace “digital”? Contact us!
Coauthored by Shweta Joshi.