How to personalize tech offerings to enhance independent hotel stays

Independent hotels don’t always have the same resources that some of the branded hotels do when it comes to technology. Hotel Business caught up with Max Spangler, director, technology, Charlestowne Hotels, for some of his advice for hoteliers:

What are three simple ways that hoteliers can utilize technology to engage with their guests and increase brand loyalty?

  1. SMS text messaging is an important communication channel for guests prior to checking in and during their stay. This allows hoteliers to personalize information and recommendations and it opens a direct line of communication between the guest and hotel staff.
  2. Utilizing email communications and social media keep your brand top of mind for guests, alerting them to the latest news and offers. This can lead to repeat visitation, word-of-mouth recommendations and increased engagement.
  3. Think like the guest—what would make your life easier? Prioritize technologies that allow for convenience and personalization, including mobile check-in, keyless entry, and real-time communication with hotel staff through digital channels.

Is an omni-channel tech approach important?
Yes, since it enables hotel staff to communicate with guests via their preferred method of communication. Guest engagement and loyalty increase if hotel teams put in the work to meet guests where they are, providing information across multiple channels like social media, email and SMS. At Charlestowne Hotels, we take the extra step and provide personalized recommendations and promotions based on guest behavior and channels of communication.

How do you foresee hotel visits changing in the age of ChatGPT? 
In the age of advanced AI language models like ChatGPT, hotel visits are likely to undergo several notable changes, driven by enhanced communication and improved service offerings. Here are some ways we foresee hotel visits evolving:

  • Personalized guest experience: ChatGPT can analyze guest data and preferences to provide highly personalized experiences. From tailored room amenities and services to activity recommendations and dining options, AI-driven personalization will lead to a more customized and enjoyable hotel stay for guests.
  • Efficient communication: ChatGPT and similar AI models can be integrated into hotel communication channels such as messaging platforms, mobile apps and websites. Guests will be able to access real-time assistance, make inquiries and resolve issues promptly, resulting in a more seamless and efficient communication experience.
  • Streamlined operations: AI-driven chatbots will handle routine guest inquiries and requests, allowing hotel staff to focus on more complex tasks and personalized guest interactions. This will result in more efficient hotel operations and improved overall service quality.
  • Enhanced pre-arrival and post-stay engagement: AI-powered chatbots can be used to engage with guests before their arrival, providing them with relevant information, upselling opportunities and personalized recommendations. Similarly, AI can be employed to gather feedback and maintain communication with guests after their stay, encouraging repeat business and fostering loyalty.
  • Multilingual support: ChatGPT and similar AI models have the capability to understand and communicate in multiple languages, enabling hotels to provide multilingual support and cater to a diverse range of guests more effectively.
  • Smart concierge services: AI-driven virtual concierges can offer guests personalized recommendations for local attractions, restaurants and events. These AI-powered services can provide real-time suggestions, making it easier for guests to explore and make the most of their stay.
  • Improved staff training: AI language models can be utilized to create interactive, scenario-based training modules for hotel staff trainings, enhancing their skills and improving their ability to serve guests effectively.

While the adoption of ChatGPT and similar AI language models will undoubtedly transform hotel visits, it is important for hoteliers to strike a balance between technology and human touch. Emphasizing personalized service and genuine human interactions will remain essential when providing exceptional guest experiences.

What percentage of guests utilize technologies outside of social media and email, and where should hoteliers invest their energy in 2023?
It is difficult to provide an exact percentage of guests utilizing technologies outside of social media and email, as this varies widely depending on factors such as the hotel’s target demographic, location and technology offerings. However, there is a growing trend among guests to use various technology platforms and solutions for a more seamless and personalized travel experience. In 2023, hoteliers should consider investing their energy in the following areas:

  • Mobile apps and messaging platforms: With the increasing adoption of smartphones and messaging apps, hoteliers should focus on integrating mobile solutions and messaging platforms into their offerings. This can include mobile check-in, digital room keys and real-time communication with hotel staff through messaging apps or SMS.
  • Contactless services: As guests continue to prioritize safety and convenience, investing in contactless services like touchless payment systems, self-service kiosks and contactless room service options will be crucial for enhancing guest experiences.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) and smart room features: Implementing IoT devices and smart room features can provide guests with more control over their environment and access to personalized services. Integrating voice assistants, smart lighting and climate control systems can enhance the guest experience and contribute to energy efficiency.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and chatbots: Invest in AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants that can handle simple guest inquiries, freeing up staff to focus on more complex tasks and guest interactions. These solutions can improve response times and offer personalized recommendations.
  • Data analytics and personalization: Leveraging data analytics tools to gain insights into guest preferences and behavior can help hoteliers tailor their services and marketing strategies. Investing in data-driven personalization can lead to higher guest satisfaction and repeat business.
  • Sustainable technologies: As sustainability becomes an increasingly important consideration for travelers, hoteliers should invest in energy-efficient technologies and eco-friendly practices to minimize their environmental impact and appeal to eco-conscious guests.
  • Cybersecurity: As hotels become more reliant on digital technologies, it is essential to invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect guest information and maintain trust.

Are technology enhancements helping to streamline labor costs?
The real benefit of tech integration is that it allows us to be more flexible with our staffing model—we can be more agile when it comes to staff placement, hours worked during a shift and hire a wider range of employees with skills that reach beyond knowledge for a particular method or system.  Flexibility for our team members, in a labor market as competitive as this, is paramount. Tech enhancements allow our staff to spend more time on the things that only a human being can do—and that’s creating a more personalized and memorable experience for our guests.

At Charlestowne, we always view tech additions through the lens of “How does this better the guest experience?” vs. “How does this reduce our labor cost?” If there’s a reduction in costs, that’s great—but it’s the guest experience that drives us first and foremost.

What’s been the most exciting element of introducing new tech tools or enhancing your existing tech stack?
The additional data points collected through technology have given us new insights about our guests, which will certainly lead to new and exciting engagement opportunities. We continue to discover new customer trends with pre-arrival questionnaires, learn and predict which offers or amenities a guest may choose during their stay, and continue to build more complete guest profiles to deliver a more curated experience before, during and after each visit.