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Amadeus Global Hotels Group
The Apollo 13 Lunar Module and the "Mailbox" complete with duct tape
It’s alleged that every manned NASA rocket carries a mandatory roll of duct tape onboard, ever since it came in so handy on Apollo 13 to cobble together parts for a CO2 filter, and so save the lives of the crew. Explorers with their feet on terra firma carry something equally versatile and portable – their smart devices. From checking flight times to navigating around a strange city, most people now rely on smartphones or tablets to help them explore a new environment.
Today’s travellers shape the future of traveltechnology around their own needs. Personalizing a journey is, after all, the best way to improve the overall experience, from airport to hotel and back again. Hotels are responding to this demand for personalization with a growing range of customized offers, which are increasingly available on guests’ smart devices.
For example, one hotel group is running a select pilot scheme that supplements traditional room service – summoned with a call from your room – with a system based on texts. To me, this sounds like a great idea. Guests don’t have to wait until they are in their room to order fresh towels, or a bottle of wine – they can do it from the back of a taxi, or as they sit down to dinner. The hotel group that uses this texting system says that guests enjoy the immediacy of texts, and many would prefer to send a text rather than make a call.
This example shows how one hotel chain is interpreting the consumer desire for personalization. But why stop at texting for a towel? We like to push technology even further in the quest for better personalization. The ubiquity of mobile phone ownership can be used to develop customer relationships by extending the dialogue hotels have with their guests. The capability for pre-arrival dialogue, ‘during stay’ dialogue and pre-checkout dialogue between the property and the guest gives the customer and the hotel more chances to communicate with each other, and this can be used to build up a personal relationship. In practice, this means customers could use location-based services to find hotels with available rooms based on their current location – making spur-of-the-moment bookings easier. Or guests could use a customer-facing app to check-in remotely while they’re still on their way to the hotel, just as you can check-in for a flight before arriving at the airport. And why stop at remote check-in? Why not give people the option to order room service at the same time, so a meal will be ready and waiting for them?
What you can see in these scenarios is technology acting as an enabler of better personalization, something that consumers often expect as standard. I can understand that some people might say it takes the human element out of the equation – replacing conversations with automated requests, for example – but I don’t see it that way at all. In each of the cases I’ve given, technology is being used to bring the hotel and the guest closer together. A lot of personalization is not just about offering a service that someone wants, but offering it in the way they want to receive it – and when they want to receive it. That’s the essence of outstanding customer service. The future of travel technology is to get to a point where I, as a traveler, have my entire travel itinerary – from door-to-door – on a single device. I know where I’m going, I know what I’m doing, and I can update or add to it in real-time. Getting to this stage will be a collaborative effort, that’s for sure.
On Apollo 13, necessity was the mother of invention. Just as a roll of duct tape has become a symbol of inventiveness, so has the challenge of personalization has led hoteliers to develop increasingly sophisticated ways of engaging with their guests. Instead of duct tape, they are looking at their IT systems for solutions. Already it’s possible to see the groundwork being laid down for the next generation ofn hotel IT, as hoteliers are switching from licensed hardware and software to cloud-based applications, which are flexible enough to accommodate even the fast and fickle evolutions of consumer mobile devices. If cloud-based applications become the prevailing model for hotel IT, then invention is only limited by imagination.