Ms. Rheams

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Winning Strategies for Personalizing your Guest Experience

By Connie Rheams, Global Business Development, Altiuspar

There is a lot of movement and focus towards personalizing your guest's experience in our industry today. What exactly is "personalization of the guest experience"? You could think of personalization as the next wave in product differentiation and creating and reinforcing guest loyalty. At the highest level, it has to do with delivering to all of our guests a more intimate stay, and on an individual level, delivering a unique service or product to each guest according to their preferences.

We have seen some great examples in the past of personalization at hotels for all customers. A great experience that I had recently was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. Upon arrival to the hotel, the porter identified who I was and from the time I got out of the car to standing in front of the elevators he knew exactly which room to take me to. The entire check-in process took place in my room. There was no stopping to stand in line at the front desk or to use a kiosk.

Kimpton Hotel Group also does a great job of delivering personalization. Think about the ability to have a goldfish in your room for the night or all the possibilities to include your own pet during your stay. Also, a favorite of mine is the special amenities and services for women. Both the Kimpton and Four Seasons examples are clearly delivering a more "intimate" experience.

Taking it to the Next Level

Now let's take this to the next level, to the individual. How can we offer personalization by guest? Let's look at an example outside of our industry, a consumer purchasing a Dell computer. Once the consumer chooses the physical size of the laptop, the outer case is the same. However, what goes inside, e.g. the memory, a CD/DVD drive, etc. is up to individual preferences. Also, what accessories the customer wants to go along with the computer can be customized. When you correlate that to a guest stay at a hotel, the guest is purchasing a stay in a room, which can vary according to size. The physical structure of the room stays consistent but what can change is what is in the room and all the other "offerings" during the stay.

Now at what point do hoteliers offer personalization and finally how do they go about delivering unique personalization by guest? In our industry, we have traditionally waited until the guest arrives to the hotel and then began offering some choices. I would argue that this must now start at the point you become engaged with the potential guest. Customers are used to having control and flexibility in most of their retail purchases and the ability to have that for travel will increasingly become important. Additionally, personalization should be used as a differentiator in the sales process.

Once a hotel has determined the personalization options they can offer to the guest, a delivery strategy must be formulated. How do you convey these options to the all your sales channels including; the GDS channels, calls to property or call center, third-party web-sites or the hotels own web-site? Each sales channel will all require a different strategy due to the opportunities and limitations by channel.

Choices

At AltiusPAR, we are working with a new, very innovative hotel company, which is bringing personalization of the room to the individual guest. This hotel company is offering the guest the ability to select the color of lighting in the room, genre of music, scent, entertainment settings, and more. The customer can select from one of 5 different preset "themes" or create their own "a-la-carte theme".

In this example of the new hotel company, they have decided to sell their product only on the major GDS's (SABRE, WorldSpan, Galileo, Amadeus) and Internet. So let's examine the strategy for both. We, at AltiusPAR, are providing the full enterprise suite of software for this company including the connectivity to the GDS's, a Booking Engine for their web-site and the Property Management System. The booking engine has been customized to allow the customer to select one of the 5 different themes or build their own a-la-carte theme. The booking engine sends this information to the property management system, which is interfaced to Phillips Ambient Server which delivers the services to the guest on property. Additionally, there is a customer portal area in the booking engine which captures and stores all this information so the guest can review his or hers past "options" and make changes as desired or customize per hotel stay.

For the GDS's, you can accommodate guest customization best through the Special Information field - the SI field. One strategy is to create standard codes for each preference, i.e. "lit" for light, "mus" for music, etc., and to advise travel agents to add these preference codes in the SI field. The Central Reservation System needs to be programmed to recognize these codes and confirm back to the agent the requests.

No matter the channel, the technology to support personalization should be as friendly and intuitive as possible. At AltiusPAR, we designed state-of-the-art graphical interfaces that hide the complexity of technology from the guests and makes it usable by anyone.

This example is truly the convergence of technology and marketing which is absolutely necessary if you are going to reap the economic factors of delivering personalization. Regardless of what system(s) you are using, they must seamlessly support the customization from the moment the guest is considering your hotel product to the moment the guest arrives at your hotel. Clearly, this is no easy task considering that most hoteliers are operating with multiple systems that are not always integrated. The demand for capturing, storing and utilizing individual guest data will become increasingly more important to hoteliers. Now is the time to review to your technology and ensure you have a strategy and plan to support personalization.

From a practicality perspective; the web booking engine, property management system, central reservation system and guest management/tracking systems must be integrated. If each of those systems are separate systems, interfaces will have to be created. Another option is to look at centralized systems which offer the complete suite of products. There are just a few providers (including AltiusPAR) that have a full enterprise suite comprising those systems that I detailed.

The "mass" approach to delivering the same product to all guest's, simply won't be enough to compete in the long-term. Today's hotel guest is becoming increasingly more demanding and seeking products that connect with their individual defined happiness. Building a strategy and delivery mechanism around personalization is a key objective for producing sales.

Connie Rheams heads strategic corporate initiatives at AltiusPAR, including partner relations, global business development and marketing. Ms. Rheams was VP of the Travel Distribution Hospitality and Leisure Group at Cendant Corporation. She led business development, management of sales initiatives, and implementation of programs. Prior to Cendant, she was president of TRUST Inc. She spent 14 years at AMR Corporation, where she served on the Latin American Task Force at American Airlines, led the hospitality division at TeleService Resources, and was head of product marketing for SABRE. Ms. Rheams can be contacted at 940-497-5300 or connie.l.rheams@altiuspar.com Extended Bio...

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