Emotional loyalty is when customers identify with a brand, are brand ambassadors, and make habitual buying decisions that defy rational explanation. In contrast, behavioral loyalty, which is largely practiced by hotel brands today, is transaction-based and driven by incentives like discounts, making the customer likely to switch if a better deal comes along.
For hotel brands, focusing on emotional loyalty means creating a customer base that is resilient to market fluctuations and competitive pressures. The emotional bond not only ensures increased customer lifetime value, but also turns customers into brand ambassadors, elevating the hotel's reputation and standing in a crowded marketplace.
Emotional loyalty is fostered when brands resonate with essential human needs like trust, serendipity, significance, and connection, and AI can be instrumental in making this connection possible.
Enabling Trust and Certainty
Guests value reliability and consistent quality when choosing a hotel. These factors instill a sense of certainty and trust, which are the essential components of emotional loyalty.
Predictive analytics can provide guests with accommodations that meet their preferences, right down to the preferred type of pillow. AI-driven conversational experiences can address customer queries in real-time, making service more responsive. Furthermore, AI helps to identify customer preferences, creating more personalized loyalty journeys that go beyond transactional rewards to foster emotional loyalty.
An AI assistant can act as a co-pilot for hotel team members and take over routine tasks and data management, allowing them to focus more on meaningful, face-to-face interactions with guests. For instance, the co-pilot could quickly pull up a returning guest's preferences—like a favorite room or dietary restrictions—enabling staff to personalize their service without being bogged down by manual data look-up. It can even prompt staff to ask about a guest's recent stay or any special occasion they're celebrating, making the interaction feel genuine and attentive. This approach significantly boosts the hotel's capacity to assure guests that their needs will be consistently met.
Creating Variety and Serendipity
While guests appreciate consistency and trust, they also value new and unique experiences. Offering something unexpected but delightful can greatly contribute to emotional loyalty.
Here, AI acts as a co-pilot for hotel teams, using real-time data analytics to suggest tailored experiences. For instance, if a guest is in New York City for a business trip and has a day to explore, Generative AI can create a unique itinerary. It could suggest a walking tour, choosing the activity based on weather conditions and even personal preferences like favorite cuisines for meal stops.
Fostering Significance and Identity
Making guests feel valued and significant can turn them into advocates for your brand.
AI algorithms go beyond basic data points to personalize the entire guest experience, from room amenities to restaurant recommendations. AI can also predict customer churn by flagging warning signs, enabling the hotel to implement retention strategies like conversational experiences to keep the customer engaged and loyal.
Hotel front-of-house staff could use AI co-pilots to recognize returning guests and remember their preferences. The co-pilot could sift through data to identify high-value or frequent guests, prompting staff to offer an elevated level of service that creates a feeling of significance.
Developing Connection and Belonging
A sense of community and connection significantly enhances guest loyalty.
Sentiment analysis algorithms can scan customer feedback and online reviews to identify areas for improvement. By better understanding guest sentiment, hotels can foster a stronger sense of community. Additionally, AI can facilitate the "connected customer trip" by sharing valuable, secure data among different sectors of travel and hospitality, creating a more integrated and enjoyable experience for the traveler.
AI co-pilots could manage social interaction recommendations based on guest behavior and interests, making it easier for hotel teams to initiate and sustain meaningful connections. A co-pilot could alert the team members when guests who have shown a preference for social activities check in, enabling staff to invite them to specific events where they are likely to form meaningful connections.
The Role of AI-Driven Marketplaces
Hospitality enterprises can launch AI driven marketplaces that elevate guest loyalty. These virtual arenas can serve various purposes: matching guests with personalized services, connecting them with local experiences, or offering access to community events. Importantly, AI refines these offerings in real-time, maximizing guest satisfaction and emotional engagement.
Challenges and Mitigation Strategies
Hotel enterprises face several challenges in implementing AI to drive emotional loyalty. First, the availability and quality of data can be a stumbling block. Second, are the complexities of integrating AI with legacy systems such as property management or CRM tools. Finally, there are issues of model transparency and skill gaps in managing AI technologies. These challenges require keen attention to ensure seamless operation and to maintain the industry’s inherent transparency and accountability.
To mitigate these challenges, technology leaders must invest in robust data management and data cleansing practices to guarantee high-quality data for AI algorithms. Custom APIs, middleware, and collaboration between AI solution providers and in-house IT teams can address integration concerns. The utilization of explainable AI can provide the necessary transparency, and talent development programs can help close skill gaps.
AI can be a catalyst for creating emotional connections with guests. Whether it's an AI co-pilot aiding your hotel teams or a marketplace connecting guests with curated services and experiences, AI isn't replacing the human heart in hospitality; it's empowering it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ravi Evani has spent the past decade at the forefront of strategy, execution, and delivery of large-scale transformations for Publicis Sapient’s marquee clients. In his work spanning across digital channel experiences, data platforms, CRM and loyalty, Ravi has been instrumental in helping integrate AI across his clients’ digital ecosystems, enabling them to achieve high value business outcomes through technology.