More than a room

by Pratibha Salwan

The travel, transportation and hospitality industry spent the bulk of 2021 cleaning up after the pandemic and looking ahead and preparing for a new reality centered on “experience” for both for the traveler and the hotel employee.

Targeting technology to the traveler
When hotels suddenly emptied in early 2020—along with office buildings and retail establishments—comprehensive digital transformation projects ensued. Hotels realized that surviving the crisis would require them to adapt and pivot, using a base of technology that could bring products, features and functions to the customer faster.

Behind the desk, hotels upgraded back-end systems and started or accelerated cloud migrations. They built systems of integration so applications could to “talk” to each other and enabled data harnessing and analytics platforms.

This year, with a firm eye on experience, the focus will be on agility and velocity, reducing time to market and increasing the number of software releases. That may include offloading outdated mainframe systems, making comprehensive shifts toward agile, DevOps and DevSecOps and shifting operations from project- to product-based models.

Industry players will need to optimize their software licenses and rationalize application portfolios by deciding which applications to retire, re-platform or retain. They should not put off operationalizing their cloud strategy, a critical enabler for digital transformation. 2022 is the year for this because all front-end experiences must be hyper-personalized, while also being contactless and self-service.

Technology for 2022 and beyond will leverage advanced analytics and data to achieve hyper-personalization, and systems will be able to deliver optimal engagement through personalized, online or mobile-led experiences. The goal is to deliver a seamless experience that leads the customer from planning through booking and traveling and into an ongoing relationship, post-travel.

For example, hotels with personalization-enabling technology and data analytics in place would know which customers regularly travel to which of their properties, what time of year they visit, how they like their room, activities they prefer and other important information. With that knowledge, the hotel can proactively reach out to help plan and book the next trip, meet the customer’s likes and dislikes as they travel and stay meaningfully connected once the trip is done.

Many hotels can also leverage the opportunities presented by the rise of “bleisure” travel—business and leisure combined in one trip for the work-from-anywhere population. Loyalty programs that previously targeted business travelers can evolve to include bleisure and staycations. 5G and advanced networks will support and attract visitors who are both working and playing and enable better experience, personalization and sustainability.

Minimum contact, maximum experience
Customers want—and the ongoing pandemic demands—experiences that are as contactless as possible. Hotels can leverage mobile channels, IoT, sensors and biometrics to deliver “self-service 2.0.” Augmented and virtual reality can give travelers an immersive look at hotel rooms and facilities to help pre-travel decision-making. Online pre-check-in and digital keys take guests directly to their room without stopping in the lobby. Chatbots and the Internet of Things (IoT) improve the in-room experiences for everything from setting the temperature to programming the television to ordering room service and booking activities.

As much as customer experience is key, employee experience is also critical. In this era of the “great resignation” following downsizing during the pandemic, talent acquisition in hospitality a major challenge. Workforce retention and employee engagement need to be at the top of management’s priority list, and a strong organizational change management program must guide the business and digital transformation and align the goals, ownership and responsibilities of all stakeholders.

Defining Success
As every organization in every industry looks to improve resilience and business continuity in the face of unexpected events, hotels are at the forefront, having been seriously tested over the past two years. There’s still room to improve back-end processes like accounting and HR with automation, specifically robotic process automation (RPA). Awareness and regulations around sustainability and eco-friendliness will gather momentum, and travel companies that fail to consider their carbon footprint are likely to face pushback from climate-aware consumers.

The intermittent lockdowns and frequent cancellations of the COVID era have created a huge pent-up demand for travel. Hospitality providers need to up the ante on safety while delivering a personalized and differentiated experience. Success will be powered by technology and will come when hotels have the capability to engage with the right customer at the right time using the right channel with the right product to deliver the right experience.

Pratibha Salwan leads the Travel, Transportation, Hospitality and Logistics (TTHL) sector for ISG. 

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.