Humanising the digital experience

How can hotels address the challenge of humanisation before robotisation? Hannah Béraud-Hindi looks at how a digital relationship can also be a more human relationship?

Our society is currently experiencing a drastic change of paradigm, impacting every industry and sector: economic, political, financial, cultural… A new world is rapidly emerging with new spaces, new actors, new rules, new tools, new media. The Digital Natives, as the media have labelled them, 18-35 years old are the ones embodying this revolution. They are breaking the barriers between: professional and personal, time zones, experts and beginners, and their values are dramatically different from their parents’: authenticity, trust, transparency.

These are the values at the basis of their world and companies they are creating, using the Google or Uber model. From a hotel point of view, a gap has suddenly emerged between hotels’ rigid offers, structures and organisations and the new profiles of over-connected, unpredictable and experience-seeking travellers or guests.

Like any unstable situation where one is tempted to ignore the change rather than evolve, many hotels’ first reflex reaction to the digital revolution was to ignore any new promotional, communications, or information tool and stick to their traditional media.

Other hotels however, encouraged by the American ‘pro-science’ movement, have jumped on the digital bandwagon, implementing every single new tool available on the market. Both groups, dazzled by new technologies, seem to have forgotten about the most complex machine of all times: the human being. Let’s do a test: compare two hotels’ websites, two mobile apps or two Instagram accounts. They all look the same!

So how can guests or travellers looking for a hotel online make a choice between  hotel A, B or Z? (Too) many articles have been published about how Airbnb is “stealing market share” from hoteliers, and how hotels are giving away large sums of their revenues to OTAs. But have we asked why travellers, especially the new generation, are more interested in sleeping in service-less accommodation rather than in a friendly boutique hotel?

Incredibly enough, it is the brands which have no assets in their balance sheets such as Airbnb, Deliveroo or Uber that figured it out. Their secret? A human relationship with their users. The criteria for their success?
• A digital strategy
• Personalisation

Think before you act!

Many hotels have adopted easy or cheap, short term digital reflexes instead of a thought-out strategy linked to business objectives, with a short, mid- and long-term goal. This is reflected by three trends:
• Hotels that have activated too many social media platforms but don’t share content consistently on any one of them.
• Competitive brands copying content from one another online,
• Hotels using referral websites such as OTAs.

The 60-year-old luxury hotel collection Relais & Chateaux, with 520 properties across 64 countries has taken the ‘reflex’ option last month. They have gone the partnership way: R&C will soon be accessing an enormous database of millennial travelers by listing their properties on the Airbnb platform. Is it a smart move? Maybe! A ‘human’ move? Not sure. The unique properties of R&C, where guests and travellers have enjoyed exceptional service and been provided with incredible brand experiences thanks to dedicated staff, for 60 years, will now:
• Be competing vs. other individuals’ private houses with no service at all
• Be lost in the middle of other offers. Users will not choose the R&C properties based on the brand and its values but based on a price.

Unfortunately, all the easy, cheap, short-term digital reflexes ignore online the brand capital that was created and its real-life values on which it has been built. Instead of giving up and reflexing, hotels challenge for 2017 onwards is to start reflecting!

Honour the personalisation deal

The new generation of travellers and guests are increasingly using digital tools to research, book and review hotels, giving them access to their personal information on the way. In theory, it is the hotels’ responsibility to listen to this information and use it intelligently to create tailored experiences. In practice, however, not many hotels choose to honour this deal. Based on this failure, how can luxury hotel brands promise personalised experiences, and always for more expensive prices? This is something that OTAs understood and are increasingly taking advantage of to earn more market share.

By implementing a strong digital strategy linked to the business objectives and creating personalised experiences for their guests in real-life and online, hotels will be able to create more human relationships with their guests. The challenge brought by the digital revolution, for hotels and other industries will be to understand how old and new skills, traditional and digital media, personal and professional spaces, generation X and generation Y can merge and complete each other.

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