Why Hoteliers are Flocking to Technology?
Hoteliers can no longer woo their guests with the original hallmarks of a hotel: great service, a clean guestroom stocked with terry towels, large pillows, and room service, along with a full-service restaurant, pool, and fitness facility. Guests’ expectations are higher than ever as they have more control of their choices and seek hotels that go above and beyond the standard amenities and offerings. More and more hoteliers find themselves flocking to technology as their saving grace in delivering value to guests. To stay competitive, hoteliers are finding innovative ways to deliver high-touch and high-tech service. A reason for this shift into technology is largely in part due to the Millennials. This demographic is of interest to the industry for two reasons: first, 52% of Millennials rank “far above or above average” as early adopters of technology and second, Millennials are estimated to spend $4.1 trillion annually by 20201.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts – A Beacon of Hotel Technology
The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty reward program is the darling of the industry because of its success in creating a strong loyalty membership-base. Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which was recently acquired by Marriott International, owes much of the success of the SPG program to the company’s ability to be innovative with technology. Given Starwood will be folded into Marriott, it is still unknown what will happen to SPG; however, it is worth exploring how Starwood became the pioneer of the hotel technology2.
Starwood is hyper-focused in understanding their consumers’ needs, preferences, and pain-points. This focus is done in part to achieve a personalized guest experience that recognizes and rewards guests for their loyalty to the brand.
Considering Starwood’s business model, it aims to deliver a unique guest experience and engage their customers across several touchpoints: the guestroom, food & beverage, group events, and health & wellness. The business model is successful in part due to the adoption of technology, but also because of their operating model. Behind these different guest touchpoints involves a seamless operating model that leverages guest data to deliver the promise of a unique guest experience. With a portfolio of 1,200 properties that expand across 11 brands, Starwood’s operating is structured to deliver a consistent quality of service while also is adapting to the evolving needs of their guests.
Innovative Technologies Find Their Way into Hotels
Most of the adoption of technology has come from understanding different pain-points for the guest. For example, the check-in process is time consuming, inefficient, and redundant. To address this issue, Starwood leveraged the use of beacons, a special augmented reality that transmits data via Bluetooth, to enable keyless entry3. Launched in the Fall of 2014, Starwood has “opened its doors” to its SPG loyalty member guests with keyless entry4. One of the key advantages of this new technology is the omission of the front desk check-in process and self-directed guest experience.
The keyless entry lives within the Starwood mobile app along with many other guest features. This is a great example of how technology continues to evolve and build upon existing technologies, such as the mobile app. For example, the James Hotel added an e-concierge feature via their mobile app, which provides guests access to special offers, self-guided tours of the hotel art work, and local recommendations 5.
The Future of Technology in Hotels
The future success of Starwood will largely depend on its ability to adapt to evolving demands of the consumer and deliver a seamless personalized experience. The business model needs a top-down mandate that prioritizes ongoing implementation of tech infrastructure. The operating model needs to integrate and leverage these technologies to execute this seamless personalized experience, which is where Starwood needs to continue innovating.
Starwood should leverage the use of beacon technology to help recognize guests by their first name, let housekeeping know when guests are still in a room, and let the hotel staff know when guests are on the property. Often, a SPG member may be eating at a hotel restaurant but is not a registered guest staying at that hotel. Starwood should know when their members are on property to recognize them for their loyalty 6.
Part of the personalized experience involves a self-guided engagement. Guests want on-demand access to information. The next frontier is augmented reality. Printed materials, such as brochures and food menus could be further enhanced. A guest could point their mobile phone to visualize a pop-up hotel map, or a map of local points of interests or read reviews and recommendations from a restaurant menu. Possibilities are endless with the enhancement of technology. Gone are the days when you wait in line to order food, call up housekeeping to request towels, or are placed on hold to connect with the restaurant to make a reservation.
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1 Experian, “The 2013 Digital Marketer Report” (PDF file), downloaded from Experian website, http://www.experian.com/assets/marketing-services/reports/2013-digital-marketer-download.pdf?SP_MID=768&SP_RID=4037003k, accessed on November 16, 2016
2 “Marriott-Starwood deal will raise the bar for hotel technology across the industry”, December 3, 2015, StaynTouch Blog, http://connect.stayntouch.com/blog/marriott-starwood-merger-impacts-hotel-technology/, accessed on November 16, 2016
3 “How Hotels Are Using Beacons and Augmented Reality”, Hospitality Technology, December 14, 2015, http://hospitalitytechnology.edgl.com/news/How-Hotels-Are-Using-Beacons-and-Augmented-Reality103717, accessed of November 16, 2016
4 Deanna Ting, “The Current State of Keyless Entry at Big Hotel Brands”, Skift, June 29, 2016, https://skift.com/2016/06/29/the-current-state-of-keyless-entry-at-big-hotel-brands/, accessed on November 16, 2016
5 “How Hotels Are Using Beacons and Augmented Reality”, December 14, 2015, Hospitality Technology, http://hospitalitytechnology.edgl.com/news/How-Hotels-Are-Using-Beacons-and-Augmented-Reality103717, accessed of November 16, 2016
6 Abigail A. Lorden & Dorothy Creamer, “Starwood Opens the Door to Next Gen-Engagement”, September 18, 2015, Hospitality Technology, http://hospitalitytechnology.edgl.com/news/Starwood-Opens-the-Door-to-Next-Gen-Engagement102246, accessed on November 16, 2016