Michael Caruso

Digital Transformation Of The Guest Journey

Our industry has long focused on solutions that are operational in nature considered by many properties as enterprise systems. Other than solutions that directly interact with players within the casino, most guests have no idea about or never interact directly with a hotel’s PMS, POS or ERP except when one of those solutions is down which results in a negative perception of the hotel’s brand due to the poor guest experience.

It is no longer a luxury, but a need, for hotel operators to establish guest-facing solutions around a digital experience. A sound digital guest strategy can improve guest service scores and brand identification which directly impacts revenue per available room (RevPAR). At the same time, an improved guest satisfaction score of just 1.1% can result in a 1.5% increase in RevPAR just by making available these solutions during the guest travel experience.

Many hospitality companies invest millions of CapEx into their enterprise operational solutions oftentimes bringing in expensive consultants who spend a year writing and reviewing RFP responses to swap out these systems. You may achieve a more efficient, cost-effective operation, but still not directly change the guest’s interaction with the property through the digital, cloud computing, service and mobile platforms delivering a personalized travel experience. How many RFPs are being drafted today to explore implementation of a digital strategy that elevates your brand above the competition?

Guest Service Platforms

The core of these solutions is around the service layer cloud platform, which is the foundation of digital transformation that connects property information directly to the guest through multiple technology touchpoints. Smart messaging and mobile technology such as geofencing, beacons and Bluetooth transmitters (BLE locks) enhance mobile device use throughout the guest journey. Many hotel organizations, especially in the casino/gaming industry, have long developed customer-facing, downloadable apps. However, most are for players engaging in a casino gaming experience and aren’t connected to a higher over-all hospitality service platform inclusive of the integrated resort experience. Open architecture solutions that allow guest-facing apps such as mobile, digital signage, in-room tablets and even web service portal, can extend property and casino services directly to the guest, but only if a digital marketing strategy is developed that can drive adoption and change guest buying habits. The power of these service platforms comes in many forms: digital content management, integrations to multiple hospitality systems, analytics and BI and guest request management.

Integrating these property-wide services with the casino player tracking apps can open up a wide variety of possibilities on how staff can connect to guest requests in the digital world. Hotels of all sizes and types have taken advantage of features such as mobile and in-room dining orders, house-keeping and maintenance requests, digital information and compendiums and spa and restaurant reservations to name a few. These digital services are especially beneficial for large hotel properties like we see in Las Vegas, Macau and Dubai where there is often a language barrier or phone extensions cannot be staffed and ring no answer.

Mobile

Mobile apps have been around a while now. Almost anyone can build and deploy them to a variety of app stores. Just having a mobile app doesn’t make it sticky around your brand and most apps deliver a passive – not interactive – guest experience. How many hotel apps have you downloaded that don’t provide added value to your journey? They don’t allow for advance check-in/out, folio review, mobile payment, mobile key, dining orders or guest requests and eventually are deleted from your device. Mostly you’re relying on the point solution PMS or POS vendor to provide those features as part of their system and they often have limited guest features.

Think about the most used mobile apps on your phone right now. Starbucks for example offers the ability to order ahead, mobile payments, loyalty tracking and direct marketing offers that can be redeemed online or in store. Uber and Hilton are similar hospitality apps that travelers depend on during their travels. Most hotels and casinos have been slow to adopt apps that deliver this type of experience to their travelers although some are slowly seeing the value and investing in these solutions. Companies that have the scale, capital and own the transactional systems end-to-end have the ability to deploy apps the guests exclusively depend upon for their travel experience.

Independent hotels, casinos and management companies don’t often have the ability and resources to build and deploy mobile apps and have to turn to companies that offer these solutions to help them with branded service delivery. Hoteliers must establish a digital technology marketing program that drives guest adoption of these platforms beyond delivering a specific targeted offer or stay experience by using the branded app to drive adoption and loyalty.

In-Room Experience

In addition to downloadable mobile apps, digital transformation has moved inside the hotel room as well. For years we have read about or sat through industry panels regarding the “hotel of the future” and debated what technology hoteliers would adopt to transform properties. Ten years ago, that conversation was focused on HDTVs, more accessible power outlets to charge power-hungry devices and faster, free Wi-Fi service. As guests stopped watching and paying for on-demand movies, those companies were disrupted quickly by BYOD and digital content streaming like Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and YouTube. However, the guest still had the same overall in-room service experience as 20 years ago – locate the room service menu, pick up the phone, place a call and hope someone would answer.

Today, the in-room experience is being transformed in a modern, meaningful way by digitizing the guest compendium through hotel provided tablets, voice units or hotel web portals. Experts believe the room of the future will be “hyper IoT connected and have a personalized experience” with lighting, music and HVAC all preset based on known likes, loyalty CRM profiles and personal data. Requests will be activated by voice commands through ambient technology. AI connected to in-room tablets will understand the guest’s needs and become a portal to various services. Tablets also provide the consolidation of multiple in-room devices such as clocks and radios to deliver branded property information including local weather, streaming music and video.

The Future of Guest Experience

Hoteliers have to ask themselves, “do we have a digital service strategy?” Connecting travelers to hotel staff to facilitate delivery of digital requests has been available through guest optimization for several years now. In most cases hotel staff monitor various “channels” and are alerted to a request via a mobile app, email, SMS or desktop notification. All property information and requests are managed through the guest service platform HUB and usually logged for tracking purposes by the delivery system. However, this process in some cases still requires human intervention to monitor the incoming requests then communicate back to the guest when received and delivered. The more robust platforms can notify a guest through SMS that the request has been received or closed by staff.

Hospitality companies are now seeking to remove humans from the delivery chain altogether by using AI bots and the same machine learning systems we see with Amazon and Netflix. Going beyond SMS text messaging, hotels are connecting intelligent messaging through multiple social media channels like Facebook Messenger (2.17b users), Snapchat (favored by millennials) or WhatsApp (used by international travelers) to manage requests throughout the guest journey. Will intelligent messaging disrupt and eliminate branded mobile apps as the only touchpoint for the guest to enter a request? The success of these chat boxes and AI machines to streamline the guest experience will determine the future of apps.

The objective will be proactively communicating to guests how to start the request chat process.

Many travel-related industry websites offer bot chat boxes today. They are programmed with a variety of responses to answer common booking inquires. Wait, you thought Susan on the Hilton website was a real person when she asked you if she could help answer a question?Casino companies in Vegas are already implementing these intelligent messaging solutions to engage their thousands of guest requests throughout their integrated resorts. They are engaging companies such as IBM, Amazon and Microsoft using their BI platforms like Watson to build and deliver this experience directly to the guest’s device without an app.

What’s missing? The service platform and integrations to the property-wide systems to deliver the requests. This is where companies that have already built these hubs, platforms and integrations have the opportunity to partner with hotels, resorts and casinos using their open source architecture to connect and deliver an end-to-end digital guest experience.

Michael Caruso has over 20 years of experience in the casino, resort, hospitality and travel industries. Michael is an entrepreneur, thought leader and trusted advisor helping hotel companies with digital transformation of the guest experience and shifting legacy applications to the cloud. In addition, Michael enjoys working with software companies and contributing strategies that drive meaningful organic sales growth. Previously Michael worked in sales leadership roles managing global business development with Agilysys and Infor. Contact Michael.