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01/20/2022

Digital Transformation and the Travel Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a large amount of digital transformation in the hospitality industry, but it isn’t enough.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Majorly disruptive events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes offer a silver lining. For the hospitality industry, the pandemic created an enormous amount of digital transformation. For example, many common travel headaches such as waiting in long lines for food, paper tickets, or renting vehicles have – in most cases – been digitized or simplified with the use of mobile apps.

But, in order to succeed in this new world of travel, organizations across all touchpoints of the travel experience must optimize their apps to accommodate heightened consumer expectations of mobile platforms. From pumping gas to budgeting a new trip, C-Stores, restaurants, banks and travel-centric companies must all prepare for a dramatic and perpetual uptick in the use of digital platforms. Here, Hospitality Technology speaks with Mike Welsh, Chief Creative Officer at Mobiquity to learn how digital transformation has and will continue to impact all aspects of the travel experience.

Broadly speaking, how has digital transformation impacted the travel experience?

Digital transformation is all about getting good at anticipating behavior. Technology has created convenience and personalization of experiences across all industries, including travel, and companies are starting to realize “one size fits all” actually fits very few. Anticipation and adaptation are now fundamentally required.

Whether we’re talking about hotels, airlines, or rental cars, the ability to anticipate the needs of travelers and adapt to changes on a one-to-one level is only going to become more important, and not just by location or floor or membership groups. It’s got to be personal to each customer while being enterprise-wide for the company.

Additionally, you can’t just design for the happy path. Look at all the videos of furious customers acting out in airports. Those incidents can be largely avoided or defused by better anticipation and communication - anticipate challenges each customer may face on their journey and communicate proactively. And most importantly, care enough to want to solve the issue.

We’ve seen tools such as contactless check-in rise in popularity. Are there any other aspects of the hotel experience that stand to benefit from digitization?

First, the concept of contactless check-in is mostly a lie. It might mean you don’t have to touch the human being helping you check-in, sure. But you still have to go in and verify your identity, you still have to do certain things with the bell cap, you still have to figure out parking, if you want your loyalty points, you almost always have to swipe a card.

People are really looking for seamlessness. It can’t be all about technology looking for a problem to solve. We have to flip that and make everything about the consumer. What do they want? The goal should be context as a service, which means the digital tools meet you where you are as you move through an experience in a hospitality environment. Payments are a good example. None of us want to punch in our credit card information, so your digital experience needs to be built with an understanding of the plumbing on my phone - my digital wallet, Apple Pay, etc. Make it easy for me as a customer.

Are hotels and hotel chains currently doing enough to support and appease an increasingly digital-savvy customer base? Why or why not.

No. Let’s think about personalization. Personalization is not a confirmation email that says, “Hi, Mike!” Real personalization is knowing I’ve stayed four nights, analyzing the digital footprint I left, and serving up several opportunities for me to confirm interest based on that result.

Small example, but if a hotel works with you to better understand the context of your stay and learns you go to a particular location for a getaway with your significant other, and they stock the room with a bottle of wine and some fruit, that’s a personalized experience, and that creates a memory. If a business, especially in the hospitality industry can change their focus from lifetime value or likelihood of a return visit and instead focus on creating memories, the results will speak for themselves.

How can hotels use technology to better compete with popular rental apps, such as AirBnB & Vrbo, digital experiences?

They should focus on anticipatory concierge derived from AI and ML. If you get all of the hospitality data you have and let the system create profiles of intent. Think about the use of facilities. If you see that a customer’s card swipes them into the gym ten times, you can immediately say, “how about a free yoga class?”

The potential to create intent as a service is there for hotels willing to invest in the operational infrastructure needed to better understand their customers.

How might digital transformation impact long-term customer loyalty in the hotel industry? 

It starts with focusing on the customer. That sounds simple, but it’s not as common as we tend to think it is. Most loyalty programs are focused on the business, or what the business wants their customers to do. If hotels truly focus on the customer and invest in personalized experiences that create memories, they will generate actual loyalty, not just the extra trip through the turnstile that most businesses in most industries seek with their loyalty programs.

Integrate with other organizations to better understand my travel habits, ask me for information and permission, and explain why it’s valuable for me to share that information. If you do that, you will have created the context needed to make me seek you out every time I travel. We want memories and experiences more than we want points.