Hospitality in the digital age

Anton Schubert • Principal Consultant / Design Strategist

Two interesting things happened to me recently. I watched a really great movie called Hotel Budapest (highly recommended) and I started working as a consultant for a Hotel brand. As you can imagine, I'm thinking alot about hotels at the moment and in the months of October and November I've spent at least 3 days a week, every week sleeping in hotel bedrooms, eating hotel breakfasts and having late night drinks at the hotel bar. It sometimes feels like I'm living in a movie. I do enjoy it though, because I've always thought there was something rather glamorous and bohemian about living in a hotel. I guess it makes me feel like the rock star I never was :-)

I've met lots of people who work in the business from senior managment level leaders to hotel managers to IT guys to front desk staff to room cleaners and hotel guests, it's been a blast and very inspiring.

One of these people told me an interesting story. He was talking about the old school Bell Boys that you (still) have in some hotels. The role of these Bell Boys was to greet every guest at the front door. If the guest was a regular then it was customary to say "hello Sir/Madam, repeat the name of the guest, if known and welcome them back warmly. If the guest was a first timer then the Bell Boy would recognise that fact and greet the guest in the appropriate way.

The clever thing that the Bell Boy would then do was to signal to the front desk if the guests were first time customers or regulars before the guest actually met with front desk staff. This meant that the front desk staff would always know whether to use the "hello Sir/Madam welcome back" greeting or the "hello Sir/Madam welcome to the hotel, we are really happy that you are staying with us for the first time" to the delight of the guest thinking either WOW they remember me, or their amazement, wondering how the hell do they know that it's my first time?

The lobby boy at Hotel Budapest

Now this story for me was quite insightful and reinforced the thinking we have been doing around digital for hospitailty. It's really the little things that can make all the difference between good service and bad service. Simple yet powerful feelings like recognition, convienience, efficiency, personalisation and belonging are feelings that (good) front desk staff deliver day in, day out, through their many face to face interactions with guests. The big opportunity for this industry currently is how can digital services add to this positive customer service, enhancing and enforcing these feelings, but at the same time working seamlessly alongside the tried and trusted human way of doing things?

For your regular, high frequency, loyal business guest in particular, living in a hotel should be as easy and as comfortable as living in your own home. 

For example, imagine these backward scenarios:

There's a queue down your street waiting to get into your house and you have to join the line at the end - how would that feel?

When you finally get to your door you have to explain who you are every time, even though you've been going there every day for the last 10 years - how would that feel?

You enter your own appartment and your family ignore you like you're a stranger, even your dog is too lazy to get out of his basket and greet you - how would that feel?

You open your laptop and you need to type in what seems like a 10,000 word essay just to get online - how would that feel?

You then get kicked off the WiFi after 30 mins because you didn't use it - how would that feel?

You finally get to you sit down in your living room, stick on your TV and you get a whole bunch of channels that you've never heard of and besides, you need a PHD to work out how to use the TV remote - how would that feel?

Your air conditioning is either stuck on full blast or it's broken and whatever you do with the controls it does not seem to change the situation - how would that feel?

You can't find any mains plugs anywhere and have to re-arrange the furniture just to charge your mobile - how would that feel?

You can't work out the complicated light switch heirachy and have to sleep all night through with the lights on - how would that feel?

You're bumping into 300 hungry strangers at breakfast all eagerly raiding your fridge and getting in the way - how would that feel?

You have to queue at your front door for 20 mins every morning before you leave for work - how would that feel?

You get back from work and find more strangers have been in your house cleaning up, which is nice, but weird especially when your sheets and towels were not even that dirty - how would that feel?

Yeah you got it, it would feel pretty wrong and I'm sure you wouldn't put up with it for very long. So when we look at the opportunities for digital in hotels, these I think are the problems that we must strive to solve. The areas where good well designed and implemented digital services really help the guest. How long do we need to accept these age old problems that continue to irritate guests the world over every time they check-in.

Is digital in hospitality really about robotic luggage carriers, autonomous room cleaners, or in room tablet apps that open your curtains?

Yotel's "Yobot" luggage carrier

I doubt it.

See you next time, Ant.

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