Digital Technology for Guest Satisfaction

The meteoric rise in the use of mobile phones and mobile apps has made it imperative for industries to make the necessary changes to adapt to market conditions. The hospitality industry too has undergone changes to meet the needs of the digital age.

Hotels, to remain competitive, must embrace technology in keeping with the changing environment. How the hospitality properties are adapting digital technology not only helps them to stay competitive in terms of their customer satisfaction, but can also influence their market positioning.

Ashok Malkani takes a look at how the Indian hotel industry has adapted new technologies to help create an environment that is in line with the needs of the tech-savvy generation of guests.  

A significant number of hotel guests these days are tech-savvy, and to attract them, hotels have to adapt technologies which would add to their comfort and save their time. According to research done by marketing technology firm Criteo, mobile travel sales in India are expected to rise at 67.1 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2020.

According to a Goldman Sachs report, online travel market is expected to grow from 11 billion USD in FY16 to 18.9 billion USD by FY20. The hospitality industry is aware of this and is adapting technology know-how to satiate the guests’ demands. Not only hotel booking can now be done online but one finds that technology is used to advantage even in hotel rooms. 

No wonder, many hotels and hotel brands are creating smartphone apps to help guests manage their experiences while on the property.

Technology to the Fore

Rajan Malhotra, Director of Sales and Marketing, Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru, declared, “The hospitality industry in India is witnessing a significant digital transformation, though there is still a long way to go when compared to the west. To begin with, technology has made inroads through restaurants with digital menus replacing paper menu cards, and tablets being used to make reservations, leave restaurant reviews and give feedback. Digitisation is playing a game changer role in the hospitality sector and Indian consumers are taking to digital platforms and mobile applications to make bookings.”

Rajan rightly thinks that “Technology helps provide instant solutions, enables proper documentation and reduces human errors, which eventually help lead to guest satisfaction.”

 “In an age where travel has become more of a necessity and less of a pre-planned undertaking, mobile phones have enabled spontaneous bookings. Online bookings are an easy and convenient option for guests. This has also created higher traffic on our websites and apps,” averred Aditya Shamsher Malla, General Manager, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pune-Chinchwad.

“Digitalisation has made the gathering of information easier and more relevant. In the service industry, personalisation is a key to the ultimate guest experience; digitisation has helped in creating a personalised experience for guests,” he added.  

“One of the most obvious platforms that hospitality brands leverage in taking their offerings closer to existing and potential guests is through their mobile application. Through mobile apps, guests directly interact with the brand and receive customised insights into the latest promotions which help them make informed choices with reservations. Latest features such as mobile check-in/check-out, points redemption, travel tips and integration with social media platforms further enhance guest experience and help build an interactive relationship with them,” Rajan elaborated.

“Consumers today are more savvy than ever before to the choices they have, and they are more willing to do their homework in search of the best possible deal,” expressed Gayatri Shukla, Asst Manager - Marketing & Communication, Four Points by Sheraton Navi Mumbai, Vashi.

“There were days when we relied on suggestions from friends and family, however today consumers are more towards exploring the best of options by doing their own research before travelling. Digital boom has given a rise to making consumers aware of what extra is in store for them,” Gayatri pointed out.

 “Some innovative technological trends that are being used today by some hotels include do-it-all remote (room personalisation), self-service concierge, mobile check-in, in-room iPAD/tablet service, and LED touch screen panels,” informed Gayatri.

“The usage of mobile/Internet is used by the consumer in today’s hospitality industry for comparison of hospitality brands, reading reviews about the hospitality property and knowing its overall facilities, taking a virtual tour of the property even before booking its room/s, and knowing about the surroundings of the hotel or convenience factor,” she iterated.

The use of artificial intelligence is another important facet of today’s technology-driven hospitality industry. Gayatri informed that a number of leading hotel groups was using some forms of artificial intelligence technology such as AI Concierge.

One of the all pervasive applications of technology in India’s hospitality industry can be seen from the growing usage of wi-fi across hospitality properties in the country. Today, the hotel guests who travel with devices such as phones, tablets and computers no longer see Wi-Fi as a perk, but as a must-have when they check-in at a hotel. They expect to be able to connect to the Internet seamlessly and without too many interruptions. This has induced hospitality properties to invest in better, faster wi-fi infrastructure, which in turn has facilitated personalised guest experience.

“Today, facilities such as LED lighting that detects natural light in the room and adjusts the brightness accordingly are some of the many smart products that could make guests’ stay worthwhile. A smart room in hotels could be the norm in the coming years,” opined Gayatri.

“Virtual reality is the future of information as well as entertainment that gives a completely immersive experience. This can be easily reflected in the hospitality industry. Guests can step into a VR video booth to understand attractions around the hotel and what is aligned to their interests,” she pointed out.

The Effects of Digitalisation

Hospitality industry is keen to embrace digitalisation because it not only enhances customer experience but also in turn facilitates in increasing the hospitality properties’ revenues.

 “Advancement in technology has helped in creating a more guest-friendly experience with easy to use applications like digital check-ins and online bookings. Technology has also helped to improve the effectiveness of hotel personnel with a diverse choice of interactive virtual classrooms and online trainings,” declared Aditya.

Digital age has not only facilitated the guests but also the employees across hospitality properties.  “Computers in general have made daily tasks much more organised and easy to access. Storing files on a hard drive in a folder rather than in a filing cabinet with thousands of other papers where they can be easily lost, is a big advantage for hospitality properties. Also, with the help of technology, some jobs can even be completed in the comfort of your own home via smartphones, Ipads, computers, etc. which could be a great benefit to some employees, as it gives them flexibility at work,” Gayatri offered.

“On the other hand, digitisation has also increased the carbon footprint of organisations, due to the use of more gadgets and electronic equipment. High speed wi-fi has become mandatory in today’s hotel industry and as an industry catering to people directly, we need to constantly keep up with our tech-savvy guests. However, even with the noticeable rise in digitalisation, human touch still remains to be the very essence of the service industry, which of course, includes the hospitality industry,” Aditya stated.

“One of the challenges that hotels face today is that consumers want a hotel that is both tech-friendly and eco-friendly. This is of course difficult to balance, but challenges always bring about a kind of evolution. At our hotel, we have introduced various eco-friendly methods to reduce energy consumption with a range of energy-efficient appliances. The hotel is also actively involved in recycling and reusing e-waste,” Aditya informed. 

 “Technology has facilitated hotels in various ways. Energy management systems (EMS) have helped many hotels in reducing the energy bills. A motion sensor that is placed in guest rooms can detect when the guest has left, which then essentially shuts the room down (lights, television, air-conditioning) thereby saving energy and saving costs,” disclosed Gayatri.

“Electronic Distribution Systems (EDS) are yet another benefit of technology in hotels. EDS helps hotels reach customers all over the world by advertising their business online as well as allowing travellers to make reservations at their fingertips in a short amount of time. Most importantly, they are at low cost for the hotel to use,” Gayatri explained.

 “Digitalisation has also fostered practices such as telework and crowdsourcing, which challenge the traditional understanding of our employment,” Gayatri conveyed.

Rajan believes that digitalisation is a two way process where both the guests as well as the hospitality properties benefit. “Guests have easy access to the hotels and their offerings at the touch of their fingertips while hotels see a positive impact on the pre and post sales phases with more instant online solutions. In addition, technology has also made it easier for hospitality brands to maintain records about guest preferences and their stay history. This in turn definitely has helped the industry elevate guest experience on the whole. However, luxury is associated with a personalised experience that requires human intervention and touch and everything cannot be replaced by technology,” he opined. 

However, the growth of digital technology can dilute the employment scope of many personnel in the hospitality industry, in the near future. “As digital technology is reaching ever-higher degrees of maturity, it becomes increasingly feasible to replace labour with digital technology. Recent technological advances have enabled the development of software that performs analytical, interpretative (pattern matching), and interactive tasks that are typical for work in many services industries,” informed Gayatri.

 “Such breakthroughs may seriously affect employment rates,” she predicted.

But overall, technology, no doubt, has impacted the hospitality industry in a positive way. Adaption of the right fit technology solutions allows hoteliers to ensure enhanced operational capabilities. Employees can also leverage hotel software to save on operational costs and provide better and faster services to their guests.

Personal Touch? 

One can truly say that technological revolution has opened new modes of guest interaction, including more guest exchanges that can be driven by new, data-centric loyalty strategies. By putting the needs of the guest first, adapting to a technology-first approach is a no-brainer.

However, one wonders whether with advancing digitalisation and enhanced use of technology hotels are losing personal touch. Gayatri does not seem to think so. She believes that one-to-one contact is still maintained.

 “Customer service definitely is the main aspect in hospitality. Consumers would still prefer to complain to an employee than a machine. Human employees can have a better understanding on a guest’s feeling, such as anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, excitement, etc.  Building and maintaining a solid relationship with guests could quite possibly be a factor that contributes to them choosing one hotel over others in the area.  Human interaction is an important piece of the overall hotel experience,” elaborated Gayatri.

 “The use of technology to accelerate hotel operations is crucial, but personal interaction is still the epitome of the service industry. The key is to always strike a balance between the two. Technology strengthens the function of the hotel staff, and supports them in creating a well organised and more guest-friendly experience,” maintained Aditya.

 “In fact, digitalisation has the potential to enhance personalisation in terms of guest experience. It has taken over basic tasks such as automated check-in and check outs which has given the staff at the hospitality properties more time to focus on the overall guest experience,” he added.

Technology Adaption

There is an urgent need for the Indian hospitality industry to adapt new technologies.  

So what are the steps being taken by different hotels in the country as far as embracing of new-age technologies go?

 “At Hilton, we are constantly improvising and upgrading our multi-functional guest-app to improve our guests’ experience. Apart from high-speed wi-fi, the Hilton Honors guest-app also allows the guest to e-check-in, manage and track their loyalty program, manage existing and new bookings, manage their room preferences and in some selected hotels, it also allows for a convenient keyless entry into the room,” informed Aditya. 

“Today’s biggest challenge is about staying relevant in the market. The need to provide a fantastic customer experience and embracing new market requirements are the key drivers for the digitisation in the hospitality industry,” declared Gayatri.

“At Four Points by Sheraton Navi Mumbai, Vashi we have an online guest feedback system which provides guests a chance to share moment of truths and it is ensured that guest feedback reaches to the management,” she affirmed. 

“Shangri-La’s mobile app was launched in January 2018 and includes key functionalities such as fast and easy booking; mobile check-in/check-out; managing Golden Circle account; and redeem rewards,” Rajan informed. 

“Hilton offers a range of digitalised options such as high speed Wi-Fi, digital check-ins, e-bills, key-less entry, automated check-in and check-out, airline check-ins, offering virtual reality tours and guest apps,” proffered Aditya.

 “We also have SPG mobile APP – a mobile tool where guests can enjoy the loyalty benefits. Online payment to the hotel by guests who do not want to share the credit card information has also emerged as a favourable way, both for the guests as well as for the hotels,” Gayatri asserted.

“From marketing point of view, message blasts/bulk e-mailing for promoting offers/festivals is also very helpful for the hospitality properties. And the most important platform for marketing of hospitality properties these days is the social media. Digital presence today is crucial, especially for the hospitality industry, as we have to keep upgrading ourselves and keep the audience informed of all the new experiences that we can create for them. Through social media we can showcase the best of the latest happenings live to our patrons, and most importantly stay connected with them,” she pointed out.

“For a digitally active hotel like Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru, digitally connected travellers is an important segment as they are twice as likely to make travel bookings via mobile. This segment of guests is very active on their smartphones while planning on their stay at a hospitality property. Since smartphones are their essential travel companions, our mobile application is developed in a way that encompasses features important to this community, which includes ease of use and speed; best available rates and promotions; travel tips on the app that help plan travel activities; and most lucrative of all — the mobile check-in/check-out,” Rajan disclosed.

Yes, the Indian hospitality industry has adapted not only the marketing opportunities provided by post-modern digital technology, which has facilitated and enabled radical shifts in the industry’s conventional marketing activities, and fostered Internet marketing. The Indian hospitality industry has also utilised the digital technology to help the guests experience unforgettable moments, which they are likely to cherish.

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