To help deliver a personalized customer service, hoteliers should look more deeply into their data. The process is not as complex as some might fear, but could help drive non-rooms revenue in a period of low occupancy.
Tom Rimmer, director of technology for hospitality company Ennismore, said: “The more data you have the less you are going to know what to do with it. We’d like to know what the preferences are of the guest as they arrive onsite, not relying on the PMS. We want to be able to offer someone a glass of red at the bar. What do you need to know about the guest? It’s probably only around 10 questions. You then know who you’re marketing to and who you’re trying to retain.
“We’re big believers in being transparent about how we use data. If we ask someone for their phone number, we have to have a reason. For F&B we have to have a reason and stop just having it for its own sake. Privacy is changing. In six months' time, most people will be walking around with masked Mac addresses and there goes your wifi option telling you where the guest is.
“Communication with the guests has always been at the front of our offering. Direct communication between the guest and the property will be key.”
As with other areas of hotel operations, the pandemic was seen to be accelerating trends that were already coming into the sector.
Alan O’Riordan, co-founder of property management system Apaleo, added: “We’ve been talking for some time about technology as an enabler, but we’ve also been wary of taking over from humans. There has been a lot of talk about robots taking over hospitality, but that’s never going to happen. But using tech to support operations, that has come to the fore. Hotels must now offer the same level of guest satisfaction, with less staff. Some of our customers have used the downtime to do a deeper dive on their systems than they might have done.
“Are your legacy systems capable of integrating into your no-touch options at low or no cost? A lot of systems are very mature, the old adage used to be ‘can you find a hotel which is using more than 40 percent of the functionality of its PMS?’ A lot of IT budget goes on vendor support contracts—that doesn’t leave much for innovation. But true cloud systems shouldn’t have any CapEx to implement them.
“We’ve seen people who have started to look at CRM very seriously, so they can get a 360-[degree] view of the guests. The ability to analyze trends has become very important. Are check-in kicks still relevant? Is there a hygiene issue? Online check-in and check-out with automated payment may work better. You can give the guest choices.
“Digitizing an F&B process is very different from digital check in. It’s definitely a crawl, walk, run. Payments, mobile keys can help with that process.
“The caveat is that we have people with app hangovers, it’s not going to shift with COVID—it has to be an omni-channel approach, giving the customer the choice in how they interact. Don’t lose the humanity in the process, chip away at it. It’s not ‘boil the ocean all in one go.’”
O’Riordan told hotels not to be wary of the cost, commenting: “Traditionally the hotel group and chains have been able to innovate and pull data together easier than the small groups, but that gap is changing and there are options now to do this—the world has changed very rapidly over the last two to three years.”
Tristan Gadsby, CEO of hospitality technology firm Alliants, drew attention to the multiple data options available to everyone, to help build a greater knowledge of the consumer. He said: “There is everything from trends on the web, data from their own devices, through to the industry insights that exist. When you mix those sources together you can really start to get insights. A lot of data sits in CRM systems and never gets used. Who are your loyal guests? How can you look after them? How can you bring them back in? What will those guests need? We tend to be a very room-oriented industry, we need to look not only at rooms, also F&B, activities, all those other ways that you can monetize guests. There are many good cloud-based analytics platforms out there which will help you unlock value—we probably only use 5 percent of data which gets gathered by hotels. There are huge pockets of information and value out there that companies can unlock.”
He concluded: “We’ve never seen this situation before, travel’s never been impacted this way. It’s very difficult to try and determine what to do, but there are some things we can learn from the past. The recent Harvard Business Review looked at what the most successful companies did and what they found was a mix between cost cutting and becoming more agile. So don’t only focus on the short term, but on getting set up for success. We’ve all seen domestic travel grow and that is what companies need to attract. Technology can help in many ways, but we haver to come back to the core principles of hospitality, no matter how many staff we have.”
This article originally appeared on Hospitality Insights.