Guests Expecting a Unique Experience, Not Just a Place to Stay

Modern travelers are looking for more than just a hotel room and a place to lay their head. The hotel industry has always understood that no one stays with them for their amazing towels. Guests choose their accommodation for a variety of reasons such as location, star rating, amenities and customer service.

By Michael Driedger CEO, Operto Guest Technologies

Recently, guests are additionally looking for unique experiences and memorable aspects of their stay. They're searching for the modern conveniences of home combined with something that makes life even easier than home. Accommodation is becoming a larger factor in the overall travel experience and guests are looking for elements that make hotels outstanding and are worth sharing with their networks.

Court Williams recently wrote about how there may be too many hotel brands. The rise of these sub brands is an effort to keep pace with the desire of most travelers to uncover a bespoke brand and experience something exclusive during their stay. Williams talks about the poshtel trends of larger community spaces for people to socialize and meet. Poshtels are found in unconventional locations and buildings with emphasis on design. They offer intriguing bars, restaurants or rooftop lounges with amenities. Their allure is the experience provided to guests in addition to clean, basic accommodations and affordable prices.

Currently, the largest challenges in the industry are the gaps in expectations between the guest and the hotels in which they stay. Guests are now instant booking through online travel agents, jumping into an Uber or Lyft and arriving at their accommodation the same day, all paid for through mobile apps without ever even looking at their plastic credit card. All the major and minor brands are rushing to keep up with this culture of instant results but the pace of change is dizzying.

If hotels are hoping to capitalize on these new trends, which in addition to impressing guests, have potential to vastly increase their efficiencies, it's time to start looking closely at how expectations are changing and expanding.

The Booking Experience
It's becoming increasingly rare for a guest to call on the phone to book their stay. Even rarer are the guests paying by cheque or cash. In an increasingly connected and online world, the new expectation is for a guest to instantly search for a hotel based on where they want to stay and what they want to experience. With questions, guests are more likely to want to text or email than call and speak with the front desk. Texting bots are beginning to emerge for this very reason as the types of questions are becoming more predictable and standardized. This raises issues of its own as there isn't currently a replacement for a real person at the other end of the keyboard.

Photos have historically driven decision making around bookings, but increasingly there is an even greater reliance on the ratings or shared experience of a stay by other guests. The star rating of the hotel is quickly being replaced by the score given in real time by thousands of guests. In the digital era, online reviews are read by 78% of people before they make any purchasing decision and 87% of people need to see between 3-5 star ratings for a space before considering a booking.

The Check In Experience
One hotel where positive reviews are driving bookings is The Annex in downtown Toronto. This 24 bed boutique hotel opened in September of 2018 and is operating at over 80% occupancy rates and regularly receiving outstanding guest reviews. Almost all reviews mention unique features like the vinyl record players in the rooms and the absence of a traditional front desk and reception staff. Instead the hotel does all check in online whereby the guest is given a 4 digital access code for their stay through the booking email or the hotel's loyalty login.

If the room is ready before check in (the advanced systems knows when the room is clean) guests receive an alert that they can go up to their room. If guests have questions about this very convenient and easy to use code lock, they visit or call, the well-appointed and stylish bar to ask for clarification.

This experience is in stark contrast to a guest attempting to operate a check-in kiosk. The movement towards self check-in kiosks is really no different than turning the guest services desk around and asking guests to check themselves in using a system they aren't familiar with. Its less than ideal when the alternative is to walk up to your room gaining access with information you had before arrival. The informal, yet efficient nature of The Annex's no check-in system is appealing to the way guests now prefer to operate independently.

The Entertainment Experience
In the rising era of online content, hotels are struggling with the future of their cable channels and the overall entertainment system. Given that complimentary WiFi remains the #1 preferred guest amenity, it's no surprise that online content would be a logical offering. Most guests travel with their entertainment system either in their hand or in their carry on (laptop, tablet or smartphone). With new casting technology like Chromecast, Roku and others, a guest can now cast their favorite Netflix content straight to their hotel TV. It makes the experience personal, much more like being in their home which most guests appreciate because entertainment (music, movies and TV) are very individual decisions. It also allows guest to pick up entertainment where they left off at home, the night before, without interruption.

Many hotels have also started using the in-room TV to cast welcome and information messages for guests on arrival. While this is generally manually done (someone at the front desk types the name on the screen and the cleaner leaves the TV on) the world of home automation is quickly being commercialized so that this information can be pulled directly from the guest's booking info and placed on the TV while a trigger from the smart lock on the door when the guest checks in, can turn the TV on to save energy.

The Comfort Experience
While energy savings are important to hotel managers, it's also equally as important to make sure that guests are comfortable. The four biggest factors of guest comfort are noise, temperature, humidity and air quality (best measured by CO2).

A room can feel very stuffy if the CO2 (which all humans breathe out at a constant rate) is too high (around 1,200 ppm). It can also feel uncomfortable if the humidity is too high (above 70%) or too low (below 30%). The human comfort range is much narrower than most people realize but those in the hotel world know how even a few degrees can mean the difference between a happy guest and a negative review.

Ensuring guest comfort while trying to save energy means that all your systems need to communicate with each other. While some establishments have tried to use motion or infrared to save energy, turning off the lights or setting back the thermostat when the guest stops moving to watch TV has not proven overly effective. However using door information, activated when the guest unlocks the door and leaves, and CO2 and noise data (when the room is really quiet and is there no longer someone breathing out CO2 in the space), are most likely to allow hotel managers and guests to both get what they want, a balance of comfort and energy, and additionally cost, savings.

The Check Out Experience
Especially paired with an early check out, guests are unlikely to visit the front desk to check their bill and return their keycard before hopping in an Uber, Lyft or taxi to catch that 7am flight. Most guests will check their bill online at home or back at the office. Many with keycard still in pocket will look at the branding on the card and think they'd like to return it to the hotel but unfortunately the vast majority of these well-intentioned keycards will end up in landfill.

With the rise of instant online booking systems and seamless travel experiences like Uber and Lyft, guests are looking for that style of speed and efficiency in their accommodation. Hilton has made great strides towards offering guests the choice of room they book but are struggling to get their members to use an online app to check out. A recent survey shows that about 1% of guests will use a hotel app to check out. Check in is only marginally better at a 4% usage rate. This is largely driven by a concept called app fatigue which sees most travelers not interested in downloading apps they'll use infrequently and most apps staying completely idle on a phone or tablet.

The Overall Experience
There is a rise in both millennial business travel and for all travelers looking for more unique experiences in their stay. In addition, there remains a demand for consistency and standardization in a hotel stay. Guests expect the room to be a certain temperature, and for there to be standard amenities like towels, shampoo and more importantly, Wi-Fi.

There is also a growing trend toward the changing amenities offered to travelers. Juliana Shallcross wrote a compelling article recently about how some brands get it very right adding co-working and flex spaces and some get it very wrong with dancing robots making room deliveries. It's hard to imagine that some universal amenities will disappear but the demise of in-suite cable may very well be on the horizon. As might a front desk where guests are required to stand in line to check-in and receive a plastic card that ultimately ends up in landfill.

As the expectations of travelers and the offerings accompanying modern accommodation is changing rapidly, establishments must start looking to the future and preparing for rising guest assumptions and requirements. Starting with their check-in and welcome, the impressions guests have at their accommodation determines the foundation of an experience, one they're likely to share with friends and online strangers alike.

Hotel Executive
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