Our Guest Blogger, Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder of Bookassist (bookassist.org), the leading technology and online strategy partner for hotels. Bookassist provides Site Builder web design, Traffic Builder online marketing and Booking Engine services to drive direct business to hotels and was recently voted World’s Leading Booking engine Technology Provider by the industry.
In the evolution of the hotel business, the guest is the driver and the dominant change in guest behaviour in recent years has undoubtedly been in the realm of technology. Guests are increasingly tech-savvy leading them to demand higher and higher standards. These fast-changing standards are increasingly difficult for hotels to reach. But they are a key factor in guest choice.
It was a truism in the restaurant business that a customer would be disappointed if presented with food inferior to what they could reproduce at home. The analogous problem for hotels now is that guests often have far superior levels of networking and technology at home, leading to a disappointment factor with the hotel.
Here are just some of the areas that we see as crucial to hotels today, based on customer searches we monitor, customer reviews we collect, and general industry commentary.
Guests Expect Speed
Guests are now traveling with their own technology, and prefer to choose and consume their own media. This has a number of immediate implications.
Wireless broadband connections in rooms and throughout the hotel must now be fast, easily accessible and preferably free. On the speed end, many hotel customers would now routinely have 50Mb or 100Mb fibre connections to their homes, so inferior speeds at hotels leads to frustration. It is not an exaggeration to say that the lack of quality high speed wifi is an inhibitor to your business. At Bookassist, we see “wifi” and “free wifi” to be a dominant search term for our hotels online.
A mistake that many hotels make is “rationing” of wifi connections. Providing access to wifi based on guest name and room number log-in is commonplace, but often it is restricted to one or two simultaneous logins per room. This is crazy in the modern age.
It’s not just business travelers who need connectivity. Most of your guests will have two or more wifi devices. It’s not uncommon for one person to have a laptop, iPad and smart phone all on the go at the same time and with a couple or a family in a room, the number of devices required to be connected can quickly mushroom. Even cameras can now use wifi to transfer photos to computers and iPads. Expect guests’ smart watches to be adding to the connectivity list by this time next year.
If you are aiming to deliver an experience that is even better than “home away from home”, then your network architecture is an area that needs to be seriously and quickly addressed.
Are You Investing In Pointless Provision?
Traditional in-house entertainment is rapidly fading as a service. On-demand TV movies are increasingly ignored. A guest with an iPhone likely has their entire music collection with them, or can access it from the cloud. With a tablet or phone, it is likely your guest has movies with them, or access to a cloud movie store with far greater choice than you can offer. Ensuring that your wifi can handle this traffic is therefore critical. But you can go further and ensure the guests’ experience can be enhanced by what you provide.
Docks for iPhone/iPod are already problematic since Apple’s devices have multiple connectors and many guests are not Apple users. But both Apple and Google have cheap wifi devices that connect to HDMI flat screens and sound systems and allow content to be “beamed” wirelessly to them from smartphones, tablets and laptops. The AppleTV device is a small wifi device that also shows the iTunes store, and Netflix, for renting movies with a choice that would be unrealistic and impractical for a hotel to attempt to provide. Google’s new Chromecast similarly allows any smart device running the Google’s Chrome web browser to feed its screen wirelessly to an equipped TV. Guests may indeed increasingly be bringing these devices with them.
Beyond accessing online movie content, another major advantage of these inexpensive connectivity devices is that they allow for large screen gaming. As family vacationers know, gaming is a critical time filler for the kids much appreciated by their parents. But gaming is also strongly embraced by adults of all ages. Connectivity should facilitate it.
It may not be necessary to equip all TVs with these gizmos, but having a stock of them available and advertised at check-in is something you should consider. Some hotels have gone further, with the provision of in-house iPads for guests, loaded with local info and hotel information, but the cost of this service and the speed at which these devices are superceded would indicate that this is not a trend to follow. With guests bringing their own technology, connectivity is the key focus area.
Mobile and Social Feed Each Other
Of course you can capitalise on all this connectivity you are providing too. Ask guests to share pictures online of their happy moments in your hotel. Post signs and have your check-out staff remind them to request their positive comments online if they are enjoying their stay. Give rewards for the best meal photo of the week shared on your Facebook page. Be creative in encouraging social media in a positive way. Most of all, ensure it is being monitored on the major channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, TripAdvisor so that you can fix issues arising instantly.
Remember that the impact of social media on hotels is not just all about TripAdvisor. Private social media is even larger, where people check-in or comment on Facebook or Google+ or other such services. When guests post pictures and comments about your hotel to their friends, you do not have the opportunity to interact at all. But the influence of a friend’s comments on you are far more persuasive than those of hundreds of anonymous TripAdvisors.
Digital Guest Interaction
Evaluating an in-house internet channel, or in-house app service, specifically for guest interaction and information provision is something well worth considering. Digital concierge is a fast growing area, and is a natural but powerful evolution of the old TV-driven in-room information system. For example, having multilingual room service menus on such a channel, as well as ordering capability, is something that is trending well in larger hotels and has a place in smaller ones too. Couple this with clear and regularly-updated information on services available in the hotel (like your stock of AppleTVs or Chromecasts available on request) and you are providing information right where your guests expect it. Your app could even suggest services based on the type of device the guest is using, or the usage pattern in the hotel. This is a strong area for the future.
There is a popular trend towards automated check-in and check-out, which is desirable in larger properties and business properties to avoid queues. Such services are probably far less necessary in boutique and family hotels with the personal touch, but are nevertheless worth watching. It is also the point at which services can be advertised and upsold in simple touch-screen format.
Guests are highly connected and multi-device dependent. They are increasingly bringing and consuming their own media. Hotels must deliver high speed connectivity, online services, and allow guests to optimise their own digital experience. It is no longer just the business guest that requires technology, though the requirements for business and conference capabilities have just as seriously grown in recent years. The question for you is, is guest-facing technology a true priority for your hotel?