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Future of User Experience

in the Hotel Industry
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Jaime Biencinto

Senior Qualitative Researcher

The Hotel Customer Experience of the Future

Hotel guests of the future won’t want just a nice room and a comfortable bed, they will seek experiences and hotels that are like them, or how they would like to be. In this new scenario, technology assisted customer experience service design will be a key tool that will help the hotel industry to respond to these new expectations.

Not so long ago hotels were little more than spaces designed around a group of private rooms whose central element was a bed. This concept has fundamentally changed as customers" expectations have quickly and profoundly evolved, among other reasons, due to the development and spread of technology.

Of course, hotel guests still demand a level of practical and functional services such as a good bed, silent room and well-equipped bathroom. However, these have progressively become commodities and differentiation through them alone, increasingly more difficult.

How are hotel customers changing?

Now and in the future, providing a more emotional dimension of service is critical, one that appeals to guests’ aspirations, lifestyles, values, identities and social needs. The hotel sector is addressing this with diverse initiatives, all of which are born from a common conviction: the need to know their customers better.

Multifaceted or multidimensional. The traditional way of segmenting hotel customers is increasingly more inefficient. We could say that the singular profile view of a guest travelling for business, pleasure or with their families, no longer exists. Guests of the future will have a far more fluid personality: today they stay for work reasons, tomorrow they"ll come to relax with their partner, and a week later they"ll be back on holiday with their family. Their expectations and preferences will vary considerably at each point.

Passionate for experiences. Here we speak about guests who search for and enjoy unique experiences. They look to be surprised and for their expectations to be surpassed. They value discovery and being impressed by innovative, unconventional ideas.

Digital and connected. The guests of the future (Millennials and Generation Z) will be digital natives. They will have a close relationship with technology and be hyper-connected (any time and any place). According to Cisco, in 2020, 70% of the worldwide population will have a smartphone.

Rejecting standardisation. Hotel guests will be less accepting of non-personalised services. They will be open to hotels knowing more and more about them, providing that this knowledge leads to a service that is more in-tune with their likes, preferences, priorities and lifestyles, for example. They will look for a made-to-measure service.

How is the hotel industry adapting to these changes?

Guests are taking an increasingly more central role when it comes to designing the services that hotels offer, so knowing more about them is critical. Aware of this challenge, the hotel chain Room Mate set up the digital consultancy service Room Mate X-perience for hotels wanting to know more about their customers and then use key learnings to improve their results.

However, knowing guests better will not be enough. Efforts have to be made to continue gathering high quality customer information AND then use it to further qualify needs and identify opportunities, not forgetting that the information must be transformed into actions.

We will see how the plans that the most advanced thinking hotels have recently implemented will play out. Some initiatives will: change the hotel’s positioning from being the customer"s "destination" to being their “doorway to the community". Airbnb has had extraordinary success communicating stays as a way of integrating with the local community, and it’s no coincidence that they have also branched out as a platform offering local experiences.

Propositions with distinguishing elements will also become more common, such as: hotels focused on social change and the local community (e.g. Trunk Hotel Tokyo and Good Hotel London); pop-up hotel concepts (e.g. Lifeguard Hotel Tel Aviv, ProPilot Ryokan Hotel Tokyo); designer hotels linked to the world of luxury (e.g. Versace, Armani, Bulgari).  

How is technology sparking these changes?

There is no doubt that technology will be the hotel sector"s biggest ally when comes to meeting new demands and creating them. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT); and big data andsmall datawill represent opportunities for the hotel sector to discover more about their guests and know them far better than they do at present.

As well as adapting to the guest of the future, hotels must design new services tailored to smartphones and redesign those that already exist. For example: alliances and services (e.g. Google’s Book on Google that suggests experiences to users by means of a predictive analysis tool) reinforced. New ways of communicating with customers should be developed (e.g. Meliá Hotel’s mobile app that doesn’t serve as just a booking tool, but connects the digital world with guests real world experiences during their stay) and the monitoring of users in the digital world improved by taking advantage of platforms such as, TripAdvisor and social networks (e.g. Four Seasons Hotels on Pinterest, Hotel 1888 on Instagram).

We will start to see the creation of immersive experiences supported by virtual reality (VR) that offer entertainment services in the hotel and rooms. We will witness the integration of voice-activated services and interactions drawing on the systems developed by Amazon (Alexa) and Google (Google Assistant).

Looking to the medium and long-term, there will be trials of: robot butlers; neuro-technology to help guests get a more restful sleep; restaurant meal options based on genomes; and 3D food printers in rooms, as suggested by analyst James Canton in an interview with Forbes. However, what is essential, and urgent, is for the hotel sector to address these emerging challenges by understanding their customers and the customer experience journey. What will guests expect from the moment they leave their homes, stay in a hotel, and then return back home. Businesses that put off this mission will have serious problems in order to continue hanging the "Welcome" sign at the door.

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