You enter your hotel after a long flight, skip check-in, and swipe into your room using your iPhone. Upon entering, you notice your favorite scented candle is awaiting you even though you have never expressed this preference. A moment later, a robot arrives at your front door to deliver the toothpaste you forgot. Although this seamless customer experience may seem like a distant dream far removed from the current headache of travel, Marriott International is rolling out this experience across the globe thanks to the use of advanced analytics.
Digital Disruption in the Hospitality Industry
Throughout the hospitality industry, there is an increasing reliance on digitization and advanced analytics to improve the customer experience. Hotels, airlines, and others are using data to delight customers and differentiate their experience by reducing the pain points associated with travel. Traditional hotel companies like Marriott have already been disrupted by AirBnB and other digital natives who use advanced analytics to radically rethink and reshape the customer experience, delivering a higher level of service at a lower price . Now these industry incumbents must refocus their attention on the next wave of innovation to capture growth and ensure survival . However, critics suggest this focus on data could depersonalize the experience, losing that thoughtful touch travelers crave . Does digitization inherently degrade the human connection that hospitality is based on? Or is it merely a medium to prioritize and provide higher-touch, personalized service?
Marriott International: An Agenda of Innovation
Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel chain and, as a result, is acutely feeling the industry’s push towards digitization. Marriott International cites innovation as a top priority and has introduced a variety of digital solutions to improve stays . At the Marriott Charlotte City Center, guests can swipe into their rooms using their iPhone . At some Marriott hotels, VRoom Service lets guests explore the world from their room using virtual reality . At The Residence Inn by Marriott in Los Angeles, Wally the Robot uses analytics to masterfully navigate the hotel, riding elevators and buzzing guests rooms to deliver everything from towels to toothpaste. Wally provides prompt service and delights travelers who frequently post about him on social media (albeit only when in service as guests have been known to put wet towels in Wally, causing him to short-circuit) .
For the longer term, Marriott has made innovation a core part of their corporate strategy and emphasize that ‘[Marriott’s] digital strategy continues to focus on …creat[ing] a superior and memorable stay experience for our guests powered by digital guest services’ . Marriott is rolling out these innovations and more through the use of a digitally-focused beta hotel and the launch of the Marriott Innovation Lab  . This long-term strategy will be key for Marriott as competitors leverage advanced analytics to do everything from personalizing rewards to allowing travelers to select their preferred hotel room from available inventory . Digitization and advanced analytics have huge potential create differentiation for hotels brands such as Marriott who have not been traditionally associated with cutting-edge technology and highly personalized service.
Depersonalization: The Downfall of Digital?
However, these innovative advances are not without naysayers. Wally’s dissenters argue that analytical advances steal jobs and depersonalize the customer experience. High-end hoteliers argue that data-driven solutions like eliminating check-in or reliance on robots will never take hold because luxury guests expect high-touch human service . Marriott managers respond that automation of simple tasks frees hotel staff to provide guests more attention and that advanced analytics has now made the hyper-personalized service of luxury hotels accessible to a broader audience . Moving forward, Marriott International should focus on capitalizing on the potential of advanced analytics to improve and personalize their customer experience, while retaining the human element travelers desire.
Further Questions to Consider
The rise of advanced analytics in hospitality begs the question whether personalization and better service have the potential to cheapen the experience or impede on guest privacy? Let’s say, for example, you and your partner stayed at a Marriott hotel on your honeymoon and each evening you bought the same bottle of wine from the mini-fridge. A year later, you return to that hotel and receive a complimentary bottle of that wine. Will you appreciate this gesture more as it is more personalized than a fruit basket? Or appreciate it less because you recognize it was purely data driven? Even further, will you view this as an invasion of privacy – or worse – an unsavory, analytical exploitation of a personal moment and cherished memory?
As the Chairman of the Board recently said in response to the increased use of technology at Marriott, “I think we have to be careful we don’t lose the human touch,” Bill Marriott said. “Every time I get on the elevator, there’s a bunch of people looking at their iPhones. They never say good morning to anyone. They never say hello to anyone” .
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