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Authenticity and Technology Make for Excellent Room Guests
By Tim Alpe, Chief Operating Officer, Ovolo Group
More than ever, the modern traveller craves authentic and personalised experiences, seeking moments that enrich their lives and sense of well-being. As hotel operators, we are in a position of responsibility to influence these experiences, and as an industry, we need to step up their digital integration if they are to succeed. Certainly, this is no small feat, it is an end-to-end responsibility that many organisations struggle to deliver on.
We believe that Authenticity is key. This sounds typically cliché, but The Ovolo Group do not say this as a soft-branding catch phrase. We take an authentic approach to the consumer experience is all-encompassing, and it is applied across all of our 10 hotels. From guests’ online enquiries to post check-out feedback, we make sure that each experience is tailored to our guests. Interestingly, technology plays a big role in creating authenticity.
This too, has been one of the key tools of disruptive brands. Companies such as AirBnB have successfully, albeit through happenstance, embraced out-of-the-box accommodation solutions; and they have experienced immense reach through this strategy. We are now seeing a legion of new sub-brands borne from (or acquired by) the larger hotel chains. They are doing this in an effort to replicate the ‘live like a local’ experience, trying to add authenticity into their portfolio brands.
But the question remains: “Can you maintain the authenticity?”
Times are changing rapidly; up until five years ago, people would search for hotel rooms on mobile, but would ultimately log into a desktop to make a reservation. But nowadays, a guest’s personal mobile can play a much more important part to any stay. A significant portion of conversions occur on mobile devices directly, and online travel agencies are adapting their platforms to suit mobile accessibility.
Mobile integration is now expected, and indeed necessary. It makes sense then, for hotel brands to develop and integrate mobile technologies into their own websites. By extension, we have seen that direct messaging embedded with relevant and engaging content topics, can increase satisfaction and conversions. This extends to other options too, such as guest room access, personal content sharing, room service orders, digital guest directories, and city guides. The list goes on.
Nascent technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) & chatbots are becoming increasingly p o p u l a r, accessible, and effective in enhancing the customer experience.
For example, while a human front desk team member can solve almost any guest’s issue on the spot, much of their time can be freed up by simply using well curated, AI-enabled chatbots to answer the most common questions during the booking process.
We estimate 90% of most guest queries can be handled via mobile messaging alone. Love it or hate it, this is also a matter of convenience to modern-day travellers, who have a tendency to dislike talking to an actual person.
Those not embracing mobile adaptivity across their key customer touchpoints will continue to see their market share wither away, while those that adopt sooner will build on their vault of internal data, which will continue to feed machine learning and improve intelligent systems and chatbots over time. By implementing such technologies, we improve the customer journey by breaking down mental barriers and hesitation, responding sooner, and making way for a smoother enquiry process and increased conversions.
The beauty of the current pace of technology is that we are not laggards to the likes of AirBnB. While they may have been one of the first cabs off the rank in the ‘authenticity’ fight, the round has just begun, and the hotel industry have an equal shot at the title. It was only in recent times the online house-share platform implemented an ‘Instant Book’ function due to the number of lost bookings arising from slow acknowledgements and replies by its hosts. The function urges hosts to trust that the platform will make the right automated decision for them based on historical data, so that customers receive confirmations and feedback sooner. This demonstrates that the problems faced by hotels are no different to those that affect such tech brands competing in the same space.
Data, of course, is a hot topic at the moment, and rightly so. It drives many technologies that impact the overall customer experience. We have seen Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality making its mark, with 360° photos that allow sales teams to give potential clients a walkthrough of the entire portfolio from the convenience of a meeting room table. This allows for an experiential sneak peek of the destination prior to booking conversion.
Better technology is more accessible for operators across the board. For example, hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor, are now more transparent than ever and reveal a treasure trove of data to be analysed and put into action. Accessible to most operators, this data allow hotels to better understand their customers, deliver on their needs, and delighting them throughout the entire customer journey. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ anymore, customisation and automation is now viewed as a way to create efficient and effective engagements with potential clients.
Technology and data can certainly be a helpful tool to create enriching guest experiences. However, it is also worth mentioning the risk of ‘Analysis Paralysis’ - How many ways can you cut a pie? And do you need to cut it that many times? This is something that all organisations need to be cautious of. Technology for technology’s sake benefits nobody, and many operators have jumped in head-first with the newest and shiniest technology; installing integrated solutions into guestrooms that have not impacted the guest experience, either due to unneeded functionality, difficulty of use, or simply just unnecessarily adding to operating costs that adversely effective the bottom line.
Tech adoption needs to be strategic and focused. As with any business decision, it must be driven by a measurable goal or purpose. For our part, our technology has helped The OvoloGroup deliver on Authenticity, and as such, we have achieved outstanding results. Our hotels in Sydney are ranked #1 and #2 on TripAdvisor, While in Brisbane, we hold the #1 and #10 spots.
We must remember that the adoption of these advancements should always serve to improve the efficiency of operations, cost effectiveness and help drive ROI, or, to increase guests’ satisfaction and affinity with the brand.
Ultimately, technology aids us to serve our guests.