ROOMDEX Webinar Recap: The Past, Present, and Future of Digital Guest Experience

Learn key takeaways from the ROOMDEX “The Real Economics of Hotel Guest Engagement” webinar featuring INTELITY CEO, Robert Stevenson, and other hotel tech leaders.

Yesterday our CEO, Robert Stevenson, joined a panel of esteemed industry leaders to discuss the evolution of digital guest engagement in ROOMDEX’s webinar, “The Real Economics of Hotel Guest Engagement.” The panelists’ lively discussion touched upon key issues regarding digital guest engagement, trends around automation and incremental transactions, and why some hoteliers are still reluctant to adopt new tech.

The Evolution of Digital Guest Engagement

Stevenson started the conversation rolling with a summary of how far digital guest engagement has come. Since INTELITY has been around since iPads were first taking the hospitality industry by storm, Stevenson has been witness to a breadth of digital growth and change in hotel tech. He noted that digital change is driven by both hoteliers’ needs and guests’ demands, as well as other facets of the travel industry like ride sharing companies and airports, which both now rely heavily on mobile apps. Hoteliers, by and large, tend to be more reluctant to adapt new technology than others in hospitality and travel. Which is, in part, why the hotel tech standard for so long has been little more than simple booking and rewards. But things are different now, due in large part to the pandemic forcing a huge shift to contactless and mobile tech. Now, full-flow platforms are becoming the standard—tech that elevates the guest experience before, during, and after their stay. Guests expect this kind of digital experience when they are at a hotel because they expect it, and get it elsewhere. And in order to remain competitive, hoteliers will need to adopt technology at a faster pace to avoid long check-in lines and deliver the digital guest experience the next generation expects.

Angie Anderson, Senior Director Global of Product Management at Shiji, added that the hotel and food service have a lot of crossover in that respect: “The digital experience for both hotels and food service- it really began with being able to book a table and being able to book a room online.” For decades, restaurants have been working on digital guest experiences through kiosks, digital menu boards, and other guest-facing devices. But the current times have led to the acceleration of guest-facing adoption. Since early 2020, the goal has been contactless everything. Tech that was a “nice to have,” is now a “must have.”

From a revenue perspective, cart value is much higher in a self-service environment. Fast-casual dining restaurants especially have implemented more mobile and kiosk ordering systems, which are convenient for customers and increase revenue substantially for the restaurant. It’s no wonder why more hotels are working towards deploying similar tech. Grab-and-go kiosks and mobile pick-up can capture incremental revenue in ways ordering from a phone and paper menu never could.

The Rise in Automation and AI

When asked about Automation and AI, Evan Chen, CEO at Akia, said the labor shortage is not the primary catalyst for automation, but it has been helpful in highlighting its benefits. Automation is currently in the spotlight for the way it can streamline check-in. For consumers, AI powered text messaging and chatbots communication are more intuitive and can feel more natural than a robotic sounding voice answering the phone.

Marvin Speh, Co-Founder & COO at Room Pricing Genie, took the connection between automation and guest experience even further, pointing out that hoteliers are not just responsible for guest experience when guests are on the property. “There is so much more you can do,” Speh encouraged. “We as technology providers are there to make your lives easier, to allow you to expand your scope from pre-arrival to post by using technology, by using automation.”

The Value of Intentional Personalization

Jos Schaap, CEO and Co-Founder at ROOMDEX, expressed the importance of intentionality, especially when it comes to upgrades and incremental transactions. “Take a step back,” was Schaap’s advice. Most of the time, travelers are very budget conscious at the time they book their trip. However, the closer they get to the date of their travels, guests are more focused on enjoying their trip.  This is the time to make them aware of a hotel’s additional services and amenities. Strategizing your offers and upgrades means more revenue for you and more comfort for your guests. Piggybacking on that thought, Anderson spoke further about pre-arrival guest engagement: “Guest experience starts before booking even begins.” Anderson went on to say that hoteliers need to understand guests’ sentiment and make a positive digital first impression. Focused pre-arrival emails are far better than generic emails.

Stevenson then reminded hoteliers that it’s not just about pinging the guests multiple times, it’s about the vector you hit them with. Some guests will bypass the intro email, some will pay more attention to texts, some will only look at push messages. To optimize communication, put the control in the hotel management’s hands. Casinos specifically, are great at  finding the right vector, right time of day, and right audience. Providing your hotel management with the tools to move in an automated way with the ability to override when they see areas that need shifting or tweaking is the best way to go. And as a last note on personalization he emphasized that, “Personalization can’t come off as fake…It needs to go beyond the basics.” Business travelers will have different needs and expectations than leisure travelers; personalization can’t be treated as a mathematics game, it needs to be intentional and genuine.

The Need for Tech Adoption

Finally, the panel addressed technical barriers to app adoption. Some of these barriers include property management systems that have hefty charges when integrating new tech; hoteliers feeling a lack of urgency to make the digital jump; and a hesitancy to replace friendly faces with automated tech. To that, Speh says, “Technology is your friend.” And when asked about the industry’s reluctance on app adoption, Anderson replied that the industry is missing how easily staff will be able to be trained in any prospective tech solution.

Stevenson’s final word on tech adoption was that  each hotel has to do what is right for them. Post-COVID, no one is disputing that a digital option needs to be available. But every hotel has a different need and preference. You should always have a nondigital and a digital pathway and let the guests decide. “We don’t try to get rid of face-to-face,” said Stevenson, “but you need digital pathways with digital touchpoints. That’s table stakes today, it’s expected.”

To learn more about what hotel tech is available to boost your digital guest experience, request a demo today.

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