The Myth About Guest Personalization — It Takes Two
By Jos Schaap, Hospitality Software Executive & Entrepreneur
If you ask just about any industry leader what the secret to consumer engagement and long-term loyalty is, their answer is sure to revolve around the concept personalization. In this digital age, where previously impenetrable barriers between brands and consumers cease to exist and convenience and transparency are the norm, consumers want to be known, understood and valued. Personalization is, in many ways, the name of the game, and there are few industries to which this concept proves truer than that of hospitality. Modern guests expect an exceedingly comfortable stay. The key? Personalization. Modern guests expect a notably memorable stay. The key? Personalization. Modern guests expect a convenient and frictionless stay. The key? You guessed it — personalization.
Yet, while personalization has undeniably earned its spot as one of the primary industry buzzwords of 2019 and is, respectively, one of the most sought-after features of emerging technology, we still lack a critical understanding. Personalization may be the residing guest expectation and the focus of new-age PMS platforms, but just how far can it go? Is personalization really that easy? Is it as simple as a turn-key solution that hoteliers can purchase, turn on and walk away from while reaping the presumed rewards of happy, loyal guests?
The answer is, perhaps to our surprise and chagrin, no.
The PMS of today is, without a doubt, a far cry from the legacy models that once ruled the operational infrastructure of hotels. Modern systems are increasingly mobile, flexible, user-friendly and built (and customized) strategically with the needs of each hotel and their guests in mind. They are designed to improve the productivity of hotel staff, drive revenue, integrate with ease and — of course — cater to a more personalized guest experience model.
However, the ability to truly personalize the guest experience within an industry that is overwrought with OTA-generated leads and a lack of unique identifiers for new guests, is not the sole responsibility of a modern PMS.
As an industry leader specifically focused on the evolution of hotel technology, I find myself frequently faced with the same questions: "Why can't the PMS recognize my guests in the same way that a platform like amazon.com can? Shouldn't the PMS software act like any modern e-commerce app or site? What is missing?"
Consider the following — around 60% of a given hotel's guests are captured through an OTA, which means the only immediate information translated to that property's PMS is their first and last name. While a name is, of course, an important place to start, it often can't act as a unique identifier — after all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 44,935 John Smith's in the U.S. alone. This means that 60% of incoming guests are practically strangers to your hotel and, synonymously, your PMS. In fact, recent studies reveal that 80% of consumer-facing companies simply don't understand their customers beyond basic demographics and purchase history. While demographics might get you to a segment of possibly like-minded people, it doesn't get you the deep knowledge you need for true personalization. So the better question becomes, how on earth is your PMS going to determine the right John Smith, let alone gain access to the deeper data bytes that lead to enhanced personalization?
For hotels, the true path to personalization involves the enhanced analytic capacity of the modern PMS as well as some work on behalf of the hotelier. In many cases, something as simple as asking for a guests' email or cell phone at check-in can act as a catalyst — or rather, the first domino to fall — to deeper personalization. It's also important to remember that personalization is a guest-driven trend, and most modern guests are more than willing to trade data and information for a more relevant, positive experience. Back in 2015, American Express Travel reported that 83% of millennials would allow brands to track their habits in exchange for a more customized experience.
Any guest-specific data captured by hotel staff will enhance the potential for personalization offered by a new-age PMS. From the point at which a guest checks in and that initial information is integrated into the system, the hotel can leverage the power of their PMS to implement automated processes that personalize the stay of their guest in a truly memorable way. In that same breath, however, it's also essential for hoteliers to realize that the reality of personalization in hotels is not centered solely around single guest personalization. A better option, in many cases, is to begin by applying personalization that is based on guest type or market. These segments would include, but aren't limited to: business travelers, the OTA they booked through, tourists, families, millennials and baby boomers.
Utilizing the in-depth trends reporting of their PMS, hoteliers have the tools they need to develop personalization strategies around common guest segments and travel patterns. Of course, personalization is exactly that — entirely personal so that this approach won't hit home for every guest. However, by applying these basic principles, in tandem with the enhanced personalization capabilities of modern PMS systems, hoteliers are truly in a favorable position to leave a lasting impression on many of the guests that enter their property.
Ultimately, personalization takes two — the power of modern technology, and the continued investment of hoteliers to go the extra mile and get to know their guests and their guest segments.
Jos Schaap is a well-known hospitality software executive and entrepreneur, with over 30 years of experience in hotel management and software. He has a passion for hotels, especially staying in them, which has inspired his pioneering ideas for new technologies that have transformed the industry. As a great advocate for change and innovation, he has dedicated his career to developing new things, projects, applications, and companies.More from Jos Schaap