Our view: The personal touch – how hotel chains are using technology to deliver personalisation

Consider this. The number of connected desktop computers, mobile devices, iPads, smart watches and the like is expected to hit 55 billion by 2025. Little wonder hotels are exploring how to connect with each guest consistently across different channels.

Consumers are used to interacting with brands like Amazon, so they want a tailored experience that predicts their wants and needs. Around 35% of Amazon’s sales are generated from their recommendation engine.

67% of consumers will pay more for a great experience, and since the ideal hospitality environment creates a "home away from home" experience for guests, hotels are personalising that experience using technology to satisfy hyper-connected guests.

Hotel brands have reacted in different ways. Hilton has hired 150 data scientists and is now collecting more than one billion data points daily to enable personalised decision making. All IHG marketing communications, email, SMS, or Facebook Messenger, come from a single platform for the same purpose.

A key factor in the personalisation revolution has been the influence pf the Millennial generation. Hotels have to support millennials’ addiction to connectivity; over half of travellers will stay longer at a hotel, cafe, restaurant or bar if they can charge their device.

The concept of personalisation in hotels is nothing new. It seems like the industry has talked of little else over the last two years. But who has put their money where their mouth is?

Some brands, like Accor, have focused on generating direct bookings. Others, Like Best Western, have concentrated technology investment on their loyalty programmes. Starwood Hotels uses beacon technology to send a virtual key to guests, allowing them to unlock their door through their phone. Hilton’s Fun Finder app uses WiFi, GPS technology and beacons to provide on-site recommendations based on users’ preferences.

Amongst the examples of how hotels are using smart technology are connected communal spaces with smart wireless charging. Brands like IHG’s Indigo are developing lobby-based concepts as places for guests to hang out.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has introduced chatbots and robotics to the hotel industry. Marriott Hotels’ Mobile Requests service started in May 2015. A year later, Edwardian Hotels launched Edward, its guest self-service chatbot. In 2018, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts followed suit with a digital concierge service that lets guests chat with hotel staff via Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or SMS.

Despite the potential for cost savings compared to employing humans, robotics in hotels are proving a bigger challenge. The world’s first robot-operated hotel opened in Japan in 2015. Four years later, it is replacing many of its robots with humans.

Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant Connect are increasingly found in hotel bedrooms. Alexa for hospitality has been taken up by several chains, including Marriott, with 70% of hotel operators saying that by 2025 voice recognition will be switching appliances and lighting on and off and replacing the phone for ordering room service. However, data privacy could be a barrier to further adoption of voice recognition. Under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), hotels risk 4% of their annual turnover in the event of a data breach, reputational damage not included.

Hoteliers are also starting to use Augmented Reality (AR) to inspire their guests. For example, Premier Inn’s The Hub allows guests to point their smartphone at a map on the hotel room wall and instantly receive local tourist information. Holiday Inn has been using AR to enable guests to visualise (virtual) celebrities in their hotel. Marriott’s AI now runs through its Bonvoy mobile app, using user data to make detailed recommendations around in-destination offerings.

One step beyond AR is Virtual Reality (VR), which smart hoteliers are aiming to deploy to offer guests a 360-degree computer generated destination tour. 66% of hotel guests say VR would improve their hotel experience. [Source: Oracle Hospitality Report - Hotel 2025] Millennium have been an early adopter in this space, making virtual room tours available pre-check-in.

Companies now have more data than ever to drive personalization. The brands that leverage this knowledge into a robust, predictive digital experience will be the market leaders over the next decade.

The good news is that personalization and AI programs in hospitality are still in their infancy for most hotels and hospitality companies. So, the field is wide open.