Bart Buiring, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Marriott International Asia Pacific
Over the last 20 years in the hospitality industry, we have seen how technology transformed the customer experience. It has been the key driving factor to create personalized, memorable experiences that keep guests coming back. So the question for many marketers now is: how can we further harness the power of technology to drive customer loyalty? More than a quarter of the reservations at Marriott International comes through direct digital channels, and we expect to see it further increase by 3 percent this year. As customer behavior changes, technology is vital for us to capture consumer demands.
The pandemic has heavily impacted the travel and hospitality industry, forcing many restrictions to be set. Now more than ever, the acceleration of digitalization is crucial in providing seamless, contactless experiences for all guests to ensure a safe yet personalized experience. A holistic process that is customer-centric–putting customers first and addressing consumer needs in every touchpoint of the customer journey coupled with technology can enhance loyalty. Here are just some ways:
Planning a stay
Leveraging technology is critical at this stage. Today, consumers expect relevant and timely content when planning a trip. Whether it’s scrolling through Instagram or checking their personal emails, the ever-connected consumer’s mindshare can only be achieved if companies can pinpoint how they can reach potential guests, capture their attention effectively and appeal to their interests.
We have increasingly seen that in our travel and hospitality industry, guests want to engage with brands that offer curated and personalized experiences. They are constantly seeking to forge authentic, unforgettable memories. They are compelled to interact with loyalty programmes and personalized rewards as they feel more connected to brands that take the effort to understand them better. Advances in technology, data and analytics have allowed marketers to create a more personal and “human” experience across touchpoints in the planning stage.
However, bringing data from multiple sources together can be challenging. It also requires extra caution to protect the privacy of personal digital information.
During their stay
With the pandemic, hotels are held to even higher standards of cleanliness. Guests also expect seamless and contactless options. Most hotels now offer apps with features including digital keys, chatbots, and contactless payment, minimizing the need for physical contact. With the help of several pilots, from mobile-centric touchless experiences at selected Marriott Bonvoy select-service hotels, a proof-of-concept for contactless grab-and-go marketplaces, and ‘mobile-dining’, users are given more contactless options. With mobile-dining, guests have the option of viewing and ordering through scanning of QR codes on their personal devices with fewer contact points than they desire.
Taking it a step further, some hotels even customize their guests’ rooms based on their information provided, from delivering their favorite pillow types to specific air-conditioning temperatures or drinks they want in their rooms. Hotels can leverage guest’s preferences and interests to enhance their offerings, providing moments important to creating memorable and personalized stays crucial to creating loyalty that ‘sticks’.
In China, for example, Marriott Bonvoy launched four robust, easy-to-use WeChat mini-programs to provide localized experiences, book rooms, purchase F&B vouchers, and enjoy exclusive campaigns and member rates by linking their WeChat account to their Marriott Bonvoy membership number. Fully harnessing the power of this platform, plans are underway to enhance the digital experience through sharing functions and featuring inspirational content to create unique touchpoints that will allow us to engage with our customers and members.
A request that has been gaining popularity, specifically from businesses, is the need for enhanced technology to host meetings and events. The pandemic has dramatically impacted the MICE industry, and companies are desperately looking for ways to host conferences and events as business travel slowly picks up. Transforming underutilized hotel meeting venues into virtual and hybrid ready spaces with the help of technology has proven effective in facilitating these requests. As a result, virtual and hybrid meetings are on the rise, with a steady increase of requests streaming in. Providing exceptionally reliable technological offerings will result in customer retention based on the quality experiences they have had.
The customer journey to building loyalty does not end here. Gathering feedback from guests is essential to retain customer loyalty. With the help of loyalty apps, surveys on emails and websites, hotels can gather customer insights and recommendations to provide a broader range of unique offerings. Seeing feedback implemented into action or genuine offerings makes them feel valued as a member of the hotel.
Through every step of the consumer’s journey, technology plays a crucial role in helping hotels develop personalized, memorable experiences that focus on forging interpersonal interactions that keep them coming back.
With vaccinations underway and international borders slowly reopening, the hospitality industry needs to be prepared for new travel requests and demands that might arise. While technology cannot replace the human touch, it can facilitate smoother guest experiences, especially with the younger and more digital-savvy travelers. Therefore, we should count on technology to lead the way forward for hotels to adapt to the new world of travel.