How Can Hotels Best Cater to the New Norm in Customer Expectations?

SEATTLE—A clean, quiet, comfortable room used to be all that it took to make guests happy. But now—in addition to local, authentic, lifestyle experiences—guests demand more from a hotel’s technology—and that doesn’t just mean fast, reliable WiFi.

“There is a rapid shift occurring in traveler demographics. Younger generations are starting to make up the majority of those planning and booking travel, causing mainstream preferences to evolve as well,” said Karim Meghji, BookingSuite’s head of product. “As technology and lifestyles change, travelers anticipate that hotel amenities will be upgraded as well. The ‘digital-native’ generations of today and the future will demand that modern technology, an always-connected feel and modern amenities are incorporated into the hotel’s offerings.”

Meghji noted that making significant changes rapidly can be difficult, particularly for large hotel chains, but small adjustments can be made without substantially overhauling the entire property. For instance, hotels must make sure their websites are optimized across all mobile platforms. “Interested consumers need to be able to easily book regardless of what device they are using,” he said. Meghji stressed the importance of high-resolution images on mobile platforms. “Guests do not want to be unpleasantly surprised when they arrive at a property, which is why it is vital to project photos that accurately reflect the experience guests can expect,” he said. “We’ve found that adding high-quality photos of the bathrooms can be surprisingly beneficial in communicating the accommodation’s cleanliness and attention to detail.

“On the topic of mobile, many hotels have started to build brand-specific apps that streamline the guest experience, allowing users quicker access to order hotel services and engage with hotel staff,” he continued. In addition, hotels heed to be active on social media. “Initiating conversations with guests through social channels invites them to engage with the property and makes them feel welcome and appreciated even before they arrive… While it is smart to engage with guests via social media before, during and after their stay, do not bombard them with direct activity across all channels,” said Meghji. “Additionally, a robust history of reviews can give a hotel a level of credibility and trustworthiness.  And, to extend the hospitality experience beyond the stay, hotels should engage with guests by frequently checking on and responding to reviews. All of these activities not only build goodwill with past and current guests, but also signal to future guests an engaged, ready to help, ‘digitally comfortable’ hotel and staff.”

Highlighting the staff and the services they provide is also vitally important. “Properties should cater to desires and tout these services on their websites, OTA listings and social channels. These services could be a room to freshen up in for early arrivals; gourmet breakfast for a reasonable fee; transportation from the airport; complimentary evening snacks and appetizers; or the simple touch of plush robes in every room. It is these types of perk that guests consider to be of high value, making them more likely to return again,” said Meghji.

Hotels can also update their properties to appeal to this new Millennial-minded traveler without undergoing a massive renovation. While in-room phones are a requirement in hotels, the emphasis of the nightstand space should be focused on devices that interact with guest devices. “With smartphones handy at all times, clock radios and in-room telephones are a thing of the past and should be replaced by Bluetooth speakers and smart, connected TVs,” said Meghji. “In addition to extra toothbrushes, hotels should consider extra phone, tablet and laptop charging cables, docking stations and the like.”

Hotels can also tap into the local market in small ways. “Travelers want to experience destinations as locals do, and count on hoteliers to guide them in the right direction in this quest. This can be as simple as ensuring that all employees are knowledgeable about the area and can suggest interesting activities, restaurants and attractions aside from usual tourist traps,” said Meghji. “Additionally, hotels can try to offer local products in rooms, such as bath products, beverages or chocolate.”

 —Nicole Carlino

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