For decades, travelers, whether business or leisure, were satisfied with the status quo. They’d check into a hotel, make it a base of operations for however long they were staying, and maybe expect some friendly faces and information at the front desk. But ultimately going with the flow as dictated by the property.
All that’s changed as travelers’ goals, needs and desires are shifting to reflect personalization expectations. Now, to remain a traveler’s first choice and build brand loyalty, hotels must offer today’s travelers an experience tailored to their individual lifestyles.
Richard Solomons, CEO, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), points to a study the company undertook to better understand what travelers around the world are likely to want from their relationship with hotel brands, “We have found that the future success lies in brands simultaneously managing three macro trends: globalization, localization, and personalization. These are not trends that come today and are gone tomorrow; they are big trends that have been developing over past decades. What we are seeing now, however, is their collision, accelerated by the rapid rise of technology-enabled personalization. This collision is shaping the experience our guests want when they travel,” he says.
Work and travel expert Stowe Boyd comments, “I've read about a silent/invisible traveler. I would like to be able to do a whole number of things without engaging.
If the right hotels did the right things, I would be loyal.”
What is particularly interesting is that the report, which surveyed more than 7,000 travelers, showed 21st century consumers lean towards booking at global brand hotels as those are perceived as having the most innovative features and services. While travelers want the reliability, safety, and authority of global brands they also seek the reflection of their local and regional values and want personal uniqueness respected and addressed. Research uncovered the "new global explorers" (a group of travelers originating from emerging economies), have higher expectations for personalization than travelers from developed markets: 78% of Russian and 64% of Chinese expect a hotel to tailor the experience they have to their personal needs, compared to 43% of US and 42% of UK travelers.
Balance and wellness was a primary topic of a panel discussion IHG hosted in New York City. Here Stowe Boyd joined moderator Barbara DeLollis and fellow panelists – Jim Anhut, Senior Vice President, Americas Design & Quality
, IHG; wellness expert David Kirsch, Editor in Chief of Women's Health magazine Michele Promaulayko, and personal technology expert Becky Worley in discussing a significant wellness touch points that build loyalty. Not just the ‘hey we have converted a storage room at the end of the hall to a gym’ variety that many hotels and travelers have found sufficient until now, but a hotel’s well-integrated approach to wellness experience that taps into the guests’ need not to be forced to halt their healthy routines while traveling and instead, enables them to maintain their balance on the road and maybe even bring home a new wellness experience to integrate into their daily lives.
Promaulayko’s readers are explicit about what they need and want on the road and she shares their feedback, “Their perspective and definition of wellness is a 360 experience; a good night’s sleep, fitness, healthy eating, being in a room that's never been slept in, and having non-toxic products in the shower. Just a state of the art gym isn't enough.”
Anhut notes the unique approach to menus at IHG’s newest brand, EVEN hotels, which was developed to meet the needs of wellness-minded travelers and features healthier options like scrambled eggs with quinoa wraps; customizable yogurt bars, and smoothies. He adds, “At EVEN there's a refrigerator in every single room. We know people travel with food as well as medicines and so we are not pre-stocking like a mini-bar.
Kirsch is pleased to see those empty refrigerators. He says, “I like to take away my clients’ excuses when they come back heavier. EVEN hotels are on the cutting edge here with the idea that eating well and being more productive is easy and you can have a sound mind and sound body, if everything is in front of you. It is almost impossible to fail.”
Where many brands have failed is in that work-life balance desired in one’s hotel room. Worley, who would be thrilled to find mobile check-in just like the airlines do, shares a secret, “Business travel is a rare moment to reduce stimulus.” Boyd adds, “Sitting is the new smoking. Provide a stand-up/sit down desk. I’m sitting in some chair that can’t be adjusted and if you’re actually trying to work for more than a few minutes it is terrible.”
Anhut is pleased to announce, “We got you covered. Look for stand up desks at EVEN. And, if you need to be plugged in and want to be plugged in it is accommodated easily with ports and large screens. But you can also quiet that room down. We have light that allows you to change color of the rooms and go from subdued all the way over to the orange part of the spectrum.”
Customizing the room experience with adjustable lighting is one way to create a personalized experience, data mining is another. But, as Worley, cautions, it must be handled carefully. She says, “I think predictive data mining is dangerous in this field.
But it all goes back to the question about personalization. There are very few people I trust with my data; what it all comes down to is consistency. If we're going to be in this relationships, let's talk for real. If you ask me I might tell you, what I like, what I hope for. For example I just want know that I can tell you ‘could I please just have some fruit in my room?’ That's a negotiation we can have. It's a clear specific ask for information with a direct reward or transaction as opposed to an upsell or secondary data mining.”
Anhut concurs, “It isn’t just about wellness, it is really about balance. I destress by turning lights down, someone else does it by chocolate. In our industry we turn to technology for personalization, but realistically, at the end of the day, personalization is delivered by people.