The Digital Guest Experience: How technology benefits hotels' operations

In an industry driven by customer contact, digitization has been driving change for most businesses of the hospitality industry, as the customer journey has shifted towards a more digital approach. Nowadays, lodging companies use different technologies for distinct purposes, one of them being to make the guest´s stay easier by offering digital solutions to procedures such as check-in or check-out. Within the context of Covid-19, hotels can reduce the risk of contagion by offering a contactless check-in and check-out experience.

Elmar Derkitsch - Mariott Lisbon

Following an interview with Marriott Lisbon´s General Manager Elmar Derkitsch, interesting insights concerning the implementation of digital technologies at a renowned brand´s location in the Portuguese capital were collected.

After having started offering online check-in three years ago for Marriott Bonvoy users, it is only now that a share of those is regularly making use of it. Mr. Derkitsch argues that the pandemic has led many clients to not only use this online check-in feature, but also to benefit from the mobile chat function available to communicate with the staff and to proceed requests, namely to ask for a new bed or for fresh sheets. Such a chat function is nowadays indispensable, as it gives guests a very easy and comfortable way to express their needs and feelings during their stay.

However, the check-out experience is not yet fully digitized. As guests very often have some items due to pay, such as a parking spot or minibar consumption, they are still required to turn up by the hotel´s reception and cannot process the payment via the app. Nowadays, the basic technologies such as online check-in or the chat function are essential even for small properties. Many of Marriott´s customers would stop coming to their hotels if they knew that they would have to stand in a row because Marriott doesn´t offer an online check-in option, says Derkitsch.

Within the Marriott conglomerate around the world, the implementation of such technologies has not been homogeneous, as it depends on the openness of the clients to these changes and on the easiness of the processes. For instance, three years after Marriott started rolling out mobile keys within their properties, Marriott Lisbon is still waiting for its implementation. As a technology which started out as a project launched by IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group) as early as 2010, this feature has become very popular in the past five years and is expected to be launched in most geographies and customer segments.

An enhanced way to ease guests´ check-in experience is by using facial recognition software to, for example, conduct check-in procedures or proceed payments. In partnership with Alibaba Group, Marriott implemented facial recognition technology in Hangzhou and Hainan (China) for an estimated check-in time reduction of two minutes. Guests would now need to show their ID to a machine, which would check their identity and would then deliver the room keys to them. In the booming Chinese tourism market, hospitality players are pioneering to offer customers the most digitized experience possible. For instance, in a market in which 60% of tourists argue that mobile payment is essential for the accommodation choice, lodging companies need to keep up to pace with the strict customer requirements by designing the hotel experience mobile-friendly.

Another technology that is being established in China and which will shape the way hotels conduct operations is the integration of smart home technology in hotel rooms. At the Minimax Premier Hotel in Shanghai Hongqiao, guests can now regulate the temperature, move curtains, lock the door and even control the lighting by using WeChat. Furthermore, IHG is already operating rooms in China which are equipped with voice recognition technology for guests to set the room conditions to the ones preferred by just speaking to the system. The implementation of such technologies can help hotels save money on energy, for example. If a guest schedules her return to the room in the evening, the guest will not need to be heated or cooled during the whole day but only half an hour before she arrives.

While these technologies have already been settled in China, the path is longer for the lodging industry to benefit from them in Europe. However, some other hotel groups are also implementing several techniques to transform the customer experience into a digital one. For example, the French group Accor hotels is about to open its first digitized hotel. Located in Central London, the Ibis Style will not only include an online check-in and check-out option, but also digital guest relations and food and beverage services via WhatsApp. As the Far East is leading by example, lodging companies in Europe can benefit from the Chinese pioneering. By implementing technology that makes the guest´s stay more convenient, hotels can differentiate themselves from competitors.

Guillermo Rodriguez.

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