From the very beginning, hotels have prioritized the guest experience. It’s at the core of the hotel business. And as modern technologies have become available – from Wi-Fi to mobile apps to chatbots – the hotel industry has been quick to adopt new technology to continually enhance the guest experience.
Today, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are the latest technologies to reach a tipping point, with the promise of enabling a “connected experience” for guests. Most major hotel chains are piloting IoT and AI in their properties. Some, such as Hilton, have even deployed it at scale. But hotels can’t effectively deploy IoT without AI – the data is just too massive and without intelligence, the value of IoT insights is often overlooked.
A typical connected experience should empower guests with access and control. Using a mobile app, guests can check in and out, use a digital room key, control the room temperature, make a restaurant reservation, order room service, request extra towels and more – all from their fingertips.
Yet, despite the promise of ultimate convenience, guest adoption is a challenge; and waiting in line at check-in is still a common scenario – even at the best hotels. A primary reason may be that today’s connected experiences are still largely “one size fits all,” lacking a personalized value proposition for guests. As a result, the impact of technology is limited, because one size does not fit all. Each guest values different things. Some value a room upgrade, some a free gym membership, others a complimentary bottle of wine. Even the same traveler may have different preferences based on their reason for travel – business, vacation, family reunion, etc. – the travel occasion will prompt different wants and needs. If hotels expect their human capital to define these rules and execute personalization manually, they are bound to fail. AI is paramount for achieving personalization and a differentiated experience.
So how do hotels redefine the connected experience as a seamless one that offers fast, easy access to information and amenities, while being personalized to the individual guest? The key lies in using AI to unlock vast amounts of data to understand guest behavior and drive automated decisions that ultimately deliver meaningful experiences.
Many hotels approach the connected experience as a series of point strategies executed by disparate teams, fueled by disparate data sources. But the true potential of a connected experience can only be achieved with an integrated strategy across three distinct but interconnected data-centric capabilities: Data Sources, Integrated Data Foundation and Guest Engagement.
- Unlocking Data Sources
Interconnected (IoT) devices embedded throughout hotel properties can provide digital access to amenities, such as room keys, entertainment, and room lighting. However, beyond the bells and whistles, the real value of an IoT strategy is in the data that it generates. IoT can be a valuable data source that allows hotels to track individual guest behavior, as well as operational data that can inform asset management decisions. This data provides insight far beyond a guest’s account profile and travel patterns, and it can help hotels truly understand their individual preferences.
2. Integrated Data Foundation
Data is a powerful enabler. It can offer real-time intelligence, drive hyper-personalized offers and organizational agility. But data is only effective if it can be harnessed and applied. This requires a sophisticated data platform that can aggregate the immense volume of data that exists, often in disparate formats, and turn it into valuable insight that will inform decisions for both guest experiences and operations.
Data modernization paves the way for hotels to drive analytics automation at scale (AI) that can create big advances in customer experience and open up new revenue opportunities. Advanced analytics such as Evolutionary AI can help hotels decide which offers are most relevant both prior to arrival and throughout a stay. The data platform must be integrated with other systems such as PMS, CRM, POS, mobile and web platforms in order for recommendations to be activated in real time.
3. Guest Engagement, Driven by AI
While AI can never fully replace the human touch, there are many opportunities for hotels to automate customer engagement in ways that enhance the guest experience. Take, for instance, common frustrations such as a guest calling the front desk to extend their stay and being put on hold, or a request for extra pillows that goes unanswered.Instead, an integrated AI-enabled messagingplatform that uses asynchronous communication can engage immediately and interact with guests on a personal level. Because it’s integrated with other systems, it can access the necessary information to resolve common requests. Automating repeatable tasks will also boost employee morale, drive operational efficiency and reduce costs.
Elevating the Guest Experience
By using AI to unlock data and harness it through a sophisticated data platform, hotels can leverage predictive insight to drive curated, highly personalized connected guest experiences and automation to increase convenience and efficiency. AI is key for moving beyond “one size fits all” to “just for you” experiences that will surprise and delight guests.
Joseph Rajadurai has led Cognizant’s Travel and Hospitality Industry vertical since 2015. Cognizant’s travel and hospitality vertical team serves clients across the entire travel value chain – OTAs, GDS, airlines, hotels, restaurants and car rental companies. Rajadurai brings deep expertise in technology execution models, implementing digital transformation for retail, travel segments and technology driven efficiency improvement. He has a proven track record of developing high performing teams that have led their clients’ technology transformation. Under his leadership, the T&H unit was named to the “Winners Circle for 2017” by the advisory firm –HfS. Rajadurai has been with Cognizant since 2003 and has played different roles ranging from business consultant, to engagement leader to global client partner. Before taking up his current role, he was one of the leaders of the Retail industry team at Cognizant and prior to that has worked in consulting and manufacturing.