The hospitality market has witnessed incredible growth over the last decade. With 4% year-on-year growth, the UK hospitality sector has turned over in excess of £100bn for the first time in 2018.
But traditional hotel brand identity is evolving. The demands of a digitally connected guest and ever-flexible workforce place new pressures on a market already grappling with the entry of outside players. Equinox, the high-end gym chain, has just debuted the first of its much-heralded hotels (‘It’s not fitness, it’s life’, being the brand ethos).
Detroit watch-and-bicycle retailer Shinola plans to open a 130-room hotel in Detroit later this year. Meanwhile, Airbnb continues its transformation into a full-service hotel and travel service platform.
Brands are having to forge decidedly unique and compelling guest experiences, choosing today to experiment with what might be possible tomorrow. While the principle of truly knowing the guest has always been (and will always be) at the cornerstone of good hospitality, the guest experience is realised in entirely new ways today than it was 10 years ago. One can now plan, book and embark on an entire holiday – including checking in, dining and returning home – without ever actually speaking to another human being.
While it’s certainly not guaranteed that the hospitality industry will maintain its decade-long period of growth – especially given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit – technology continues to be a vital part of the story. Effective deployment of digital innovation, one that supports and enriches the guest experience as opposed to mere automation, is a central part of this transformation.
Now, we’ll look at the state of digital innovation in hospitality today, addressing key case studies across wellness, sustainability, big data and game-changing brand partnerships.
Next Level Wellness
We live in an age when “wellness tourism” brings in upwards of $563 billion to the global market. No longer is wellness a differentiator but a key cost of entry for hotels. Yet digital engagement continues to enrich wellness in often surprising, highly personalised ways.
Take the notion of sleep – a pillar of wellbeing witnessing increasing hotelier attention. Research shows that just one night of bad sleep can derail health goals.
Equinox’s aforementioned first hotel is a behemoth in New York City’s Hudson Yards, with each room designed to be “a temple to total regeneration”. The hotel is fully equipped with infrared saunas, cryotherapy chambers and post-workout recovery pods. There’s even a restaurant menu devoted to sleep and recovery complete with bedtime golden milk and melatonin smoothies; as well as a promo campaign fronted by Naomi Campbell.
“Ninety percent of our members said if they could, they would stay in an Equinox hotel because they like the idea of the extension of their lifestyle into their travels. That’s a huge, huge number.” Christopher Norton, CEO, Equinox Hotels
Equinox isn’t the only hotel to capitalise on digital accessories to form the perfect sleep.
Guests can book suites in Gregory’s Ultimate Sleep Room, with smart LED bulbs that work with your circadian rhythm and advanced air purification systems. Westin Hotel & Resorts Global Brand Leader, Brian Povinelli, spoke to MBG about the hotel’s in-room digital capabilities:
“The new guest-room design will integrate advanced lighting technologies including sensory devices, cast shadow lighting, intuitive lighting controls that will have ‘scenes’ that match morning, noon, and night lighting conditions, and more to help with jet lag, promote restful sleep, and encourage mindfulness.”
While wellness extends beyond a nights sleep, the ability to mould the sleep experience to our own personal taste is symptomatic of the personalisation digital capabilities allow. Most in-room amenities are controlled from your mobile device via seamless digital integration. And devices that now connect to the internet of things can harness this data, helping to personalise choices for the following stay. The opportunities for up-sells and better CX are endless.
The wellness trend arrived in synchronized step with increasing demand for sustainable practices across hotels, enhanced authenticity and reduced food waste. No longer does ‘sustainable practice’ lack digital creativity or design flair. Rather, it has become an experience in itself.
See the visionary work of architecture and design firm Snøhetta who recently unveiled Svart – a ring-shaped “energy-positive hotel” opening in 2021. Not only will this utopian hotel reduce its yearly energy consumption by approximately 85% compared to a modern hotel, but will entirely produce its own energy as a result of cutting edge design and technology choices. To optimize the hotel’s harvest of energy, the architects conducted extensive mapping of solar radiation behaviour in relation to its mountainous surrounds (hence the circular structure). 1Hotels is also a leader in this space – using recycled or repurposed materials to enrich communal space. They even offer Teslas to their guests.
Even the big players are paying attention. Late last year, Hilton Hotels launched its pioneering new lifestyle hotel, Motto. With sustainability a driving focus, all rooms are equipped with ‘Connected Room technology’, including built-in occupancy sensors for thermostat and light switches as well as a LightStay data program that accurately reports and measures the hotel’s energy consumption. Even their promotion of paperless check-in – conducted entirely from the guests’ mobile devices – helps reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint. Yet, the return on green technology exceeds mere aesthetics or design. In early 2018, the Couples Negril luxury resort in Jamaica installed clean water technology in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint and annual operating costs. The system now produces 100% of the required domestic hot water. Within 2 years of purchase the investment will have paid off, yielding energy savings of approximately 40% annually.
Modern travellers are decidedly more eco-conscious. They demonstrate a clear preference for those hotels actively and authentically working to minimize their footprint and implement greener processes. Whilst grand projects such as Svart certainly impress, even small actions – such as farm to table style programs – serve to support the local economy and impress on a more intimate level.
Today, self-service is king. The empowered consumer of today can sift through hundreds of brand propositions, choosing exactly what they want, whenever they want.
Self-sufficiency rings entirely true for travellers also. They can order a rideshare, order delivery from local restaurants, and schedule a fitness class all from their phones in seconds – no matter which hotel they are staying in. Research conducted by Deloitte found 85% of guests used digital devices during at least some part of a hotel visit and 41% used their devices to stream entertainment while they were there.
“Guests with computers in their pockets can self-create experiences that involve the hotel but do not begin and end with what the hotel offers.”
Brand partnerships with these digital solutions now permeate the hospitality space. From luxury retailers and travel adventure companies, to famous fitness experts and music events organizers, hotels are working with like-minded brands to create a point of difference and offer a unique experience to delight and surprise their guests.
To foster an “open platform, open partnership, open connectivity” philosophy, LG has introduced a new hotel TV smart ecosystem that enables end-users to work with a range of external partners, including compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Offering an innovative variation from the typical in-room workouts, Marriott has created a bespoke programme through its partnership with The Joffrey Ballet — the premier ballet company in the US. Titled Behind the Barre, guests can pick from three on-demand workout videos that focus on full-body barre method, core strength, and stretching workouts, specifically tailored to the hotel room environment.
Deloitte describes this as the integration of experiences by the curator: “As curator, hotels can offer a variety of environments that support the mood and mindset guests want, delighting guests through choice and the ability to explore new hotel experiences”.
Digital capabilities across wellness, sustainability or mobile integration serve to inspire guests in profoundly unique ways. Inevitably, some will impress more than others depending on varying personal preferences. Hotels must truly understand their guest to predict and ensure the success of any GX venture. How? Big data.
Cognitive data intelligence helps brands to understand, remember and predict individual preferences: a foundational pillar of digital innovation.
Big data offers the opportunity for hyper-segmentation; in other words, the tools to deeply personalise value propositions and the guest experience. But hyper-segmentation must be based on interest and needs, not socio-demographic criteria. It is a question of who your guests are, not what.
Despite the incredible digital progress across wellness, sustainability and in-room experiences, human engagement will always remain critical. While data can’t replicate human authenticity, attentivity or empathy, it can help hotels work to proactively alleviate guest pain points.
“What is important to remember is that the foundation for delivering on all guest needs, particularly in hospitality, is still an art. But it can be executed best as a blend of human art and data science, delivered through people and technology.” Deloitte
In this digital world, our hotel journey begins well before we sit on the plane or enter the lobby. Next-generation guests require flexibility and access that lets them shape their own experiences when and how they want to. Off-property, this can be brought to life through personalised interactive trip planning tools and communications. On-property, it comes through engagement with relevant information and tools to help tailor experiences to the guest’s unique needs in the moment.
Here’s where digital capabilities offer the means to inspire and sustain the impressive growth seen across the hospitality sector. To supplement experiences curated by hotels with seamless access and delivery, hotels should pay due thought to how people and technology, powered by specific data insights, weave together to deliver truly authentic hospitality.
For more information about the world of hospitality, particularly in regards to its transformation in the face of a tech and workforce revolution, head to our Eat, Stay, Shop whitepaper.
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